See Chris Buzelli’s illustration of David Villa for issue 05 of Eight by Eight
In 1986, a kid of four breaks his right leg in the small northern Spanish town of Tuilla, in Asturias. That summer, despite the hopes of a nation, Spain are knocked out of the World Cup Finals in Mexico by Belgium.
Who would believe that diminutive David Villa would recover from his injury to become Spain’s leading goal scorer of all time (at the astounding rate of 59 in 97 games) and lift the World Cup for the first and only time in the country’s history?
His father, the miner.
Throwing balls to him and helping him strengthen his left side so that Villa is functionally ambidextrous, José Manuel Villa wouldn’t let young David quit—even when he was left on the bench as a youth player.
That belief stayed with Villa while coaches thought he was too small, too short, or too slow. Slowly, his constant stream of goals convinced coaches at his local club, Sporting de Gijón, then La Liga’s Real Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona, and finally Atlético Madrid, where his 13 goals helped bring Atlético’s first league title since 1996.
Though he won a slew of medals with the all-conquering Barcelona team in the 2010–11 season, the majority of his exploits came during the previous five years at Valencia. He scored 128 goals in 217 appearances and won plaudits from pundits and players alike for his rapier finishing and sharp passing in front of goal. The Mestalla crowd loved their slightly built hero who, though now grown up, was still El Guaje (“The Kid” in Asturian).
Accused of lacking ambition after turning down a move to Real Madrid, he lifted the 2008 European Cup (winning the Golden Boot on the way) and the 2010 World Cup with Spain. Then, at a Club World Cup game in 2011, just after Barcelona’s annus mirabilis, Villa broke his leg again.
He was out for a season, and journalists speculated that he’d lost the mobility and agility that made him world-class. Atlético Madrid didn’t write him off, and after moving there at the end of the 2013 season, Villa’s goals played a vital part in their 2014 La Liga title.
Throughout a career that has seen him win almost every conceivable individual and team honor, Villa has repeatedly defied injuries and dismissive expectations. It might just be that in 2015 this 33-year-old has a trick or two left to help fledgling New York City FC.
The Kid’s not just coming to the Big Apple to grow old.