Let’s cut to the chase: David Villa is the best striker in Spain. In fact, you could make a case for him being the best out-and-out striker in the world. He may not have the grace and elegance of Thierry Henry or the searing pace of Samuel Eto’o, and he is certainly not as media-friendly as them, with barely an advert or headline-grabbing interview to his name, but when it comes to scoring goals he has it all.
A recent survey in Spain’s best-selling newspaper, Marca, asked correspondents from all over the world what they thought of Villa. Although they were undoubtedly swayed by Eto’o’s long-term absence through injury, they all described the Valencia man
as the most deadly No 9 in Spain.
The question had been prompted by Villa’s inclusion on the shortlist for France Football’s Ballon d’Or award, following a debut season at Mestalla that Marca rightly described as “the most brilliant from a Valencia striker in decades”.
Villa has won such eulogies the hard way. He may have earned himself admirers in the press, but he has no cheerleaders. He is not a golden boy at Real Madrid or Barcelona, he is just an exceptional striker whose statistics brook no argument, whose performances simply could not be ignored any longer.
The miner’s son, born in the town of Tuilla, Asturias, in December 1981, might well not have played football at any level after breaking a femur aged four. Doctors wanted to operate but told his fearful parents that he could end up a cripple. They decided not to go ahead with the operation, and fortunately the bone fused well.
Villa’s first team were local side Union Popular de Langreo, where he was picked up by second division Sporting Gijon – the club he, like most kids in the region’s industrial hinterland, supported as a boy; the club whose chaplain conducted his wedding.
Villa scored 41 league goals in his first two seasons in the Sporting first team, then in 2003 made the leap to Real Zaragoza for £2million at the age of 21. He was far from fazed by top-flight football, hitting 17 league goals in his first season, 15 in his second, a third of Zaragoza’s total of 98.
No wonder Valencia paid his £8m buy-out clause, and what a bargain it turned out to be.
“Best striker in Spain”
“Villa is the best striker in Europe. He was born to make history and he is on course to do so. He’s a phenomenon,” says legendary Sporting Gijon striker Quini, five times Spain’s top scorer. Villa remains closely identified with his home region and Quini, also from Asturias, is biased of course. But few doubt that he is right.
Villa has great technique, is quick, skilful and capable of scoring from anywhere, with either foot and his head, and yet he remains impressively unfussy. Last season, he scored 25 league goals for Valencia, just one fewer than Samuel Eto’o, the league top scorer. But while Eto’o got his sackful for Barcelona, who created countless chances and scored 80 league goals in all, Villa’s came for a far more defensive team that racked up just 58.
Villa’s consistency was also apparent – he scored in 20 out of the 38 league matches – as was his ability to create goals. Only playmaker Pablo Aimar made more assists than the forward, who takes the majority of the corners and free-kicks.
This season, Villa has carried on in the same vein. He has scored six times in eight league games and, according to Gazzetta dello Sport, “made idiots” of the Roma defence during Valencia’s 2-1 Champions League win in September, with the forward scoring the winner. Not surprisingly, he is the one man coach Quique Sanchez Flores does not dare to rotate.
Villa has also been peerless at international level, hitting nine goals in 17 appearances, some of which have been brief and in an unfamiliar left-sided role.
With his best years surely still ahead of him, Villa’s career record stands at 104 league goals in 233 games. They say there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. But when it comes to Villa, they couldn’t be more wrong.
By Sid Lowe
This profile originally appeared in the December 2006 edition of World Soccer