Four years ago Spain did something they never had done before: win the World Cup. By most accounts, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez were the two outstanding performers.
The midfield dynamos were at their absolute best that summer. But, many forget another key player who, without his goals, La Roja probably would not have lifted the trophy in Johannesburg. This player is David Villa.
The then-Barcelona striker scored five times as Spain went all the way. Each of them was crucial. He scored two in the defeat of Honduras – Spain’s first win of the tournament.
Then in the final group match, it was his opener that settled his country’s nerves in a must-win game. He got two more in the knockout stages, one in the round of 16 and one in the quarter-finals. Both were match-winners.
Villa ended the tournament equal on goals with Thomas Muller, who won the Golden Boot award. Villa’s goals also saw him become his country’s leading World Cup scorer with a total of six. They also contributed to his overall tally for La Seleccion, which today stands at 56 goals in 94 appearances, making him the country’s all-time top scorer.
Given his record, it could be said that El Guaje is Spain’s best ever striker. But Spain Coach Vicente Del Bosque clearly will not be swayed by sentiment when he finally picks who goes to Brazil and who does not, judging by a recent comment. “We’ll be playing with a striker…but we haven’t found one we all like,” he said.
It is a fairly damming statement by the former Real Madrid boss. But, with Spain’s tiki-taka approach to the game, strikers have found it tough to shine. Many have been tried and tested, from Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente, Fernando Torres and even Diego Costa. So far however, it is clear none have impressed Del Bosque quite enough.
Of all Spain’s front men, in recent years only Villa has been able to really shine for his national side. And this makes one question the reasoning behind Del Bosque’s claim. Perhaps he feels that at 31, time is catching up with Villa. But is it?
Barcelona sold Villa to Atletico Madrid last summer for a criminally low fee. This season he has enjoyed one of his best campaigns to date. He has scored 13 goals in La Liga thus far – his best return since 2010-11 – and his contribution has helped Atletico go top of the table.
He may be on the wrong side of 30, but what Villa has demonstrated this season is that he retains the ability to score goals. This is because he has does not, nor has he ever, relied on strength, speed or power. Instead he is diminutive but intelligent. He knows where to be and in front of goal he remains a clinical finisher.
Given the struggles of Torres at Chelsea, Negredo at Manchester City and Costa’s lack of experience, it wouldn’t be a sentimental decision to take Villa. Rather, it would make perfect sense.