Bronx, NY — As I walk through the door of the New York City FC locker room it looks like the aftermath of a warzone. Most of the players have gone home. Towels, flip flops, empty bottles and various pieces of uniform adorn the floor. The only player visible for a long time is Andrea Pirlo, who, alongside his translator, talks briefly with the slew of reporters before skulking out.
You almost don’t notice David Villa hustling around the locker room, gathering his things, and tidying his area of the locker room. “Lo siento, David,” I say as I move out the way. He nods and walks by me into position for his round of questioning.
When David Villa came to Major League Soccer, some saw the move as a step down for the Spaniard. His season at Atletico Madrid had hardly been awe-inspiring, but had still shown the kind of qualities in flashes that made him world class, and made it obvious that he would still be able to play at the highest level. Getting the chance to watch him again against Orlando on Sunday, both on and off the ball, was dazzling.
These days there’s so much talk about the magic of “Super Seba,” (Sebastian Giovinco) that David Villa’s brilliance gets slightly ignored – his winding dribbles, exquisite vision, sharp eye for goal and unselfishness, just the underpinnings of how good he is. If he were more selfish, perhaps he would have scored 20+ goals last season, and eclipsed Giovinco, instead.
A large part of Villa’s understated brilliance is that he doesn’t act like your typical superstar. Of all the people I have had the pleasure of asking questions of, Villa — “el Guaje” or “the Kid” as it translates to English — is perhaps the most humble, the most unassuming, and the most polite.
When Villa arrived in the United States he knew almost zero English. Within a year, he was conducting interviews without an interpreter, staying in the locker room for fifteen minutes (typically players stay for a few minutes, 5 or 6 at most) to answer every reporters’ questions — to make sure everybody got what they wanted. His dedication to learning the language and dedication to the New York City FC cause are part and parcel of why David Villa is who he is.
It’s that dedication and drive that lead him to be as genuine as he is. He takes losses hard, he carries the bad moments and the good ones with him at all times.
The stage was set, the Third Rail was bouncing, there was a feeling of relief and excitement throughout Yankee stadium. David Villa was about to step up and put the game against Orlando beyond doubt and maybe help flush out any vestiges of the 7-0 drubbing at the hands of the Red Bulls the previous week.
The penalty would have put NYCFC ahead 3-0 in the second half and NYCFC in control. Instead, Villa slipped and sent the ball high into the stands, allowing Orlando to came back and tie the game 2-2 in the 93rd minute. It was evident that Villa was crushed, and that he felt somewhat responsible for the tie.
“I slice the penalty,” Villa says, as he rolls his eyes and sigh’s heavily. “I score the penalty, its 3-0 and the game, done.”
Because of his dedication to the project NYCFC is putting together, and moments like the one that saw two points go to waste, it’s easy to forget that Villa is Spain’s all time leading goalscorer.
Villa’s 59 goals in 97 games for his national team are fifteen goals more than the next nearest player, Real Madrid hero Raul. The nearest active player to knocking David Villa down from his throne atop the Spanish all-time goalscorer list with 38 is Fernando Torres, whose career is undoubtedly winding down. Villa’s 0.608 goals per game clip will probably go unmatched, as well, unless you’re Alfredo Di Stefano. That’s the kind of company Villa keeps, but you’d never know it.
It is often asked of David how he plans to translate his experience and knowledge to the younger players on the team in order to help influence their development. When asked again, he simply responded by saying “not with my mouth, but with my body.” He added, “the best thing I can say to the guys is with my example when I train.” That’s what makes a good leader – the willingness to show people that you wouldn’t ask them to do something you personally would never do, and not make excuses.
New York City supporters love “el Guaje” for that approach. When the starting lineups were announced prior to the game against Orlando, the biggest cheer was not for Andrea Pirlo — the Italian with superstar looks and a following throughout world football that puts him amongst the best midfielders of all time — it was for David Villa, the captain, who leaves it all out there on the field for NYCFC.
Sebastian Giovinco is widely regarded as the best player in Major League Soccer because of the amount of goals and assists he produces, but when it comes to Villa, there is something more about him. His unwavering dedication to the sport, to the project, to the fans, and let’s not forget his incredible ability, seem to make him a better player to watch.
There is little doubt David Villa will help make New York City FC successful. Success follows Villa. His pedigree of being a World Cup, European Championships, and Champions League winner almost ensures it.
Follow Scott Nicholls on Twitter @scottnicholls
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