When David Villa replaced Pedro Rodriguez in Barcelona’s first Primera game of the season on August 19, he received a standing ovation from the Camp Nou crowd before going on to score for the Catalans after only seven minutes on the pitch, sealing a 5-1 win against Real Sociedad.
It was Villa’s return to competitive action for the first time since breaking his tibia in a Club World Cup game against Al Sadd in Yokohama last December, an injury that meant he missed the rest of the season with Barca as well as Spain’s triumph at Euro 2012. Despite starting only once this season, Villa has scored three times in just 127 minutes of football, including the winner in a 3-2 victory at Sevilla.
Villa made his name at Valencia, scoring 107 goals in 166 La Liga appearances for Los Che and earning his reputation as one of the deadliest strikers in the world. He has hit the target 26 times in 54 Primera games for Barcelona and, becoming the first Spanish player to reach 50 international goals, is Spain’s all-time leading scorer with 52 goals in 83 international appearances.
Now, with the predatory forward pushing for a starting place both in Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona side and Vicente del Bosque’s La Roja, talk of Villa’s possible departure is beginning to resurface, with Roma Coach Zdenek Zeman said to be tracking the striker with a view to a move in January.
It is not the first time that Villa has been linked with a move away from Camp Nou. Reports in August claimed Juventus had turned their attention to the 30-year-old after failing to sign Fernando Llorente from Athletic Bilbao, while Manchester City were also linked with a possible bid for him during the summer transfer window.
Even before Villa’s long injury lay-off, then Barca Coach Pep Guardiola dismissed reports linking the striker with a move just 19 months into a four-year deal following his €40m transfer from Valencia. Those reports claimed Villa had fallen out with Lionel Messi and been made available for transfer, with Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa all interested in chasing his signature.
That speculation arose after Guardiola had left the forward out of his starting line-up for a Clasico encounter with Real Madrid and the latest rumblings that Villa wants to leave Barcelona also coincided with him playing no part in the same fixture last weekend. Villa was observed stopping and looking pointedly towards the bench while warming up, with Vilanova apparently oblivious to the striker’s stares.
Villa has conducted himself admirably during his long absence and was the first to admit that he could not jump straight back into the team, but signs that his patience may be running out are beginning to grow. The former Valencia man has denied suggestions that the Blaugrana have become over reliant on Messi in his absence, but it is hard to believe the Argentine’s sustained brilliance is not a factor.
A spat between the two players in Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Granada at Camp Nou in September aroused suspicions of a rift. Messi was seen to react after Villa failed to lay the ball off to him and the pair had clearly become increasingly frustrated during the game.
Messi played down the incident, describing it as something that could occur in any match and justifying it as the tension of trying to score. Teammate Thiago Alcantara also moved quickly to dampen the flames, denying it represented a lack of respect by Messi towards El Guaje.
Whether there is room for Villa to play as anything more than an impact substitute remains to be seen as the season progresses. Villa may see regular football with Barca as a pre-requisite for a return to La Seleccion for World Cup qualifying and could be ready to leave the Catalan giants if that is no longer an option.