La Liga Legend #3 | David Villa

Mateu Lahoz blew his final whistle. Atlético Madrid had done it. Their 1-1 draw with Barcelona at Camp Nou was enough. They were La Liga champions.

For Atlético, it was their first since 1996. For Diego Simeone, it was his greatest achievement in football. For Diego Godín, the scorer of Atlético’s goal, it was his crowning glory as club captain.

For David Villa, it was the end of his La Liga story. It was the final chapter – a happy ending.

It was the last of Spain’s premier striker’s 353 matches in the Spanish top flight. He had scored 185 goals, across 11 seasons with Real Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona and Atlético.

And his impressive résumé is headlined by his 59 goals for Spain between 2015 and 2017, making him his nation’s top scorer ahead of Raúl and Fernando Torres.

Born in the northern town of Langreo, he made his professional breakthrough with Sporting Gijón with 38 goals across the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons in the Segunda División.

This was despite his manager, Pepe Acebal, claiming his lack of stamina could hold him back from developing into the stellar striker his goals promised he could be.

But when Sporting hit financial difficulties, he became available for €3m in the summer of 2003. Buying him was almost risk free and a no brainer, and Real Zaragoza won the battle to sign him.

He scored 21 goals in his first season, having featured in every La Liga match, which included scoring all four of his side’s goals in a thrilling 4-4 draw against Sevilla.

But his most important goal for the club came in the season’s Copa del Rey final, against the Galácticos of Real Madrid. He coolly dispatched a penalty to put his side 2-1 ahead of David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and co., and they eventually triumphed 3-2 after extra-time.

Patently, sides featuring Villa as their focal point were destined for success.

“lla illa illa, Villa maravilla,” sang Zaragoza’s La Romerada faithful. It is a play on the Spanish word “maravilla”, which means “marvel”; he was the toast of Los Maños.

Another goal-laden season in Aragon, which included a foray into the UEFA Cup, drew interest from one of the country’s premier clubs: Valencia. They were looking to bolster their attacking ranks, having won La Liga in 2003-04.

One of his first goals for the club, having made the move in the summer of 2005, was a late equaliser against Zaragoza within a minute of being introduced as a substitute.

He would finish the season with 25 goals, the best tally in a single season for a Valencia player since Mundo almost sixty years prior. His total included a five-minute hat-trick against Athletic Club at San Mamés, as Quique Sánchez Flores’ side finished third, one point behind second-placed Real.

He made his Champions League bow in 2006-07, and scored crucial goals against Roma and Shakhtar Donetsk as Valencia progressed to the knockout phase. They eventually succumbed to Inter Milan, but not after a stunning Villa free-kick at the San Siro.

His form continued throughout his career at Valencia, under the management of Flores, then Ronaldo Koeman and Unai Emery, and he top scored at EURO 2008 as Spain celebrated a remarkable victory.

He was lauded as one of the world’s best players by Quini, a fellow Sporting luminary, after 21 goals in 32 league matches in 2009-10.

The World Cup in South Africa followed: he scored three goals as Spain topped their group, followed by goals in the knockout phase versus Portugal and Paraguay as Spain claimed their first world title.

His goals had attracted one of the greatest sides of all time: Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.

He moved to Catalonia ahead of the 2010-11 season, in a new-look attack headlined by Lionel Messi after Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thierry Henry both departed. Few players could replace two of world football’s gargantuan strikers at once – but Villa could.

He celebrated his first season in Barcelona with the first of his three league titles, and 18 goals in 34 appearances. The campaign was capped by a thrilling Champions League victory, after triumphing 3-1 against Manchester United at Wembley in which Villa scored a stunning, curled goal.

His 2011-12 season was marred by a tibia injury, which also saw him miss EURO 2012. He returned to the fore in 2012-13, but largely as a substitute behind Pedro and Alexis Sánchez.

Barcelona were willing to let him go, and his reputation preceded him. Atlético, who harboured hopes of ending Barcelona and Real’s monopoly of Spanish football, took a gamble on him – and it paid off.

He scored braces in pivotal matches against Real Betis and Getafe, and played 90 minutes as his side clinched the league title at the home of his former club, Barcelona. In all, he played 36 league matches for Diego Simeone’s side, partnering Diego Costa in attack.

Patently, then, Villa had proven that clubs who were lucky enough to sign him were guaranteed quick success. He had scored cup final goals, free-kicks, penalties, long-distance stunners, headers and tap-ins. He had also forged dangerous partnerships along the way, from Messi to Nikola Žigić.

He left Spain for the first time in his career to join newly-founded New York City after only one season in the Spanish capital. He has also played for Melbourne City and Vissel Kobe since leaving Madrid, and he retired at the Japanese club last year.

He was a world class footballer, who made his mark the world over.

Ryan Plant

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