Pitchside

David Villa: The superstar who never forgot his roots

Pitchside

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David Villa went to Spain's bench, sat down, covered his face and cried. Spain's all-time leading goalscorer knew that was it for his country which he's served so well. He didn't expect it to end like this for Spain, with the world champions eliminated from the World Cup finals in the group stage. Nobody did.

After two defeats, Spain salvaged some pride with a 3-0 victory over Australia in which Villa scored. His goal was one of his party pieces, a glorious back flick after letting the ball run through his legs. Villa loves flicks and tricks and this was an apt 59th and final goal for Spain. He's the country's all-time leading scorer, with his goals coming in 97 appearances.

Australia will be seeing a lot more of Villa for he'll join Melbourne City on loan ahead of another move to New York City, Manchester City's MLS franchise. Villa has been intending to learn English for a decade and is now serious about it. There are not too many people who speak Spanish with an Asturian accent in Melbourne.

Villa wasn't thinking about the future on Monday in Curitiba's Arena da Baixada. When he was reluctantly substituted in the 56th minute, his mood appeared as black as Spain's kit as he left the field slowly, with his eyes down. When he got to the bench he put his head in his hand and began to weep. He was consoled by his team mates.

It was the end of a disappointing tournament for La Roja, an emotional day too and some handled their feelings better than others. Defender Jordi Alba threatened a journalist in the mixed zone and accused him of being "a grass".

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The story was Villa, though. He's a legend of Spanish football, the top scorer in Euro 2008, just as he was at all the clubs he played for before joining Barcelona. Villa was a fan favourite at his local club Sporting Gijon, at Zaragoza and at Valencia before his huge €40 million transfer to play alongside Lionel Messi. He was one of the best players as Barça beat Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final and is treated like a hero whenever he returns home.

"I’m Asturian, a Sporting (Gijon) fan," he said. "I’d watch them play in the stadium with my father when I was 12, 13, 14. I sang the Sporting anthem and loved the rivalry with Real Oviedo, our big derby. When I was older, Oviedo did not think I would be good enough to play here."

Villa followed Luis Enrique and Quini as Sporting heroes who joined Barça, but he never forgot his roots. While other Spanish players celebrated their 2010 World Cup win in the nation's finest bars and restaurants, Villa went home.

"There’s a penya (supporters’ club) in my village (the former mining village of Tuilla, population 1,491) and I went there," he said. "They were really happy, not just because I’d won the World Cup, but because I waved a scarf of CD Tuilla, the football team from my village, on the pitch in South Africa. I had some of the local cider with friends, a little too much maybe."

Known as El Guaje (‘the kid’ in his native Asturian brogue), which now seems a misnomer. Though when I interviewed him last season and described him as 'veteran Spanish striker', the word needed some clarification by the Villa camp. Was I inferring that he was past it at 32? When his English gets up to scratch he'll realise that 'veteran' is no slur.

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When he didn't go home, he got away from football by going to Ibiza with his family and the family of his close friend Pepe Reina. Villa would take a budget airline to Liverpool to see Reina once a year at Christmas when the Spanish league had a break. Of one visit, he said: "We celebrated New Year’s Eve in their house and then I watched Liverpool v Bolton the next day. The game started in the morning which was unusual.

"Liverpool won 3-0 and Gerrard – great player - scored. It was cold but I liked it. The atmosphere was sensational. Some people recognised me but not many. We were going to visit the Beatles museum but went for a pizza instead!"

Villa was viewed as a striker's striker, a classic '9' but he claimed he was happy playing more on the left at Barcelona.

His magnificent Spain career ended bleakly in a provincial Brazil on Monday. He didn't realise his dream of playing in Rio's Maracana and never again will he wear the red of Spain and hear “Villa, Villa, Villa; Villa maravilla” – ‘Villa, the marvellous’ - from the stands. Players seldom get to choose their ending in football, not even the greats like David Villa.

Andy Mitten (on Twitter: @AndyMitten)

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