When asked in an interview with Spanish broadcasting station RTVE earlier this week about the three keys to Spain’s 2010 World Cup success, former Barcelona defender Carles Puyol was emphatic in his reply.
‘The goals of ‘Guaje [David Villa], the saves from Iker [Casillas] and the group, we were a family’, the former centre-back said.
Villa is also known as ‘El Guaje’ [the kid], a moniker similar to the one assigned to his former Spain team-mate Fernando Torres, El Nino.
David Villa was among the heroes of Spain’s World Cup win achieved 10 years ago on Saturday
The former Spain striker scored five goals on his way to helping his country lift the trophy
But Villa earned his in his early childhood after showing tireless work ethic from a very young age and commensurate skill, which yielded opportunities to play with older, bigger kids.
Yet this boy who started out as one of the younger players playing football on the streets and fields of Langreo in Asturias grew up to become one of the most important players of Spain’s golden age, as an ultra-reliable goalscoring machine who was worthy of taking Raul’s No 7 shirt in an equally relentless squad of winners.
Saturday marks 10 years since Andres Iniesta’s goal against Holland sent the country into unbridled bedlam as Spain secured a first ever World Cup title.
Villa himself had experienced disappointment as a fan of the national team at major tournaments over the years, but is delighted that Spain’s exploits in South Africa have served as a watershed moment for all of the younger versions of himself on the streets across the country a decade on.
‘Without doubt it is the biggest achievement of my career and judging by what people have always told me, it has been something very important for all the football fans in Spain,’ Villa tells Sportsmail.
Having experienced disappointment as a fan, Villa labelled the win ‘his biggest achievement’
‘The children of my generation grew up watching magnificent players but we never saw the national team win a big tournament.
‘To finally manage it with our own style changed the history of our football and was of great satisfaction.
‘We were one of the favourites once we had arrived in South Africa but perhaps the good thing is that everyone believed in our chances but also knew how difficult it was going to be to win a World Cup and therefore never expected it from us.
‘Obviously the closer we got to the final it became clearer to us that we would be able to achieve it. After winning against Germany in the semi-final, having controlled the game very well, we felt that we were on the verge of achieving it.’
Villa named his goal against Chile in the group stages as one of the most beautiful he scored
However, Villa encountered success the hard way. The former striker’s career appeared to be foredoomed to failure before it had even begun when he fractured his right femur at the age of four and was told there was a chance the injury could bedevil his mobility for the rest of his life.
Only the determination of his parents and the young Asturian’s desire to work on aspects of his game like his weaker left foot while still in a cast helped drive him to success.
Likewise, the development of Spain’s golden era may have seen the apogee of the final in Johannesburg, but the tournament began with the nadir of an opening-game 1-0 defeat against Switzerland, who would not end up even qualifying from Group H.
Such a shock defeat may predispose the likes of Puyol and Casillas – at the time the captains of Spain’s finest club sides – and even boss Vicente Del Bosque to rally the troops into action.
Spain’s campaign got off to a rocky start with defeat to Switzerland in the opening game
But rather than feeling chagrined, the squad as a whole appeared to harness its own drive for excellence than depend on their well-renowned leaders to lift their spirits.
‘This game hurt us because of the result, but the following day when reviewing the game, we were discussing that we hadn’t played badly. We dominated the game but we were not able to make our superiority count.
‘There was no individual speech. I would say there were shared feelings, many conversations between us every day.
‘Then also being capable of confirming these ideas with victories in the following games is what made us feel stronger and stronger.
But he says his side did not rely on Iker Casillas to lift them but took collective responsibility
‘More than a blow, it was something that motivated us to improve in our next game, where we started to achieve what all of us had had in mind.’
Villa’s tournament undoubtedly went from strength to strength, scoring five goals altogether as a group of players who had suffered an inauspicious start became a side led by Del Bosque who were obsessed with possession and relied on their no.7 to pick off the opposition with his unwavering efficiency in front of goal.
The strikes themselves were varied in technique and style, from the guided effort with his weaker foot over Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo who had rushed out to intercept but only managed to clear the ball to him, to curling home off both posts against Paraguay in the quarter-finals.
‘In a World Cup all goals are special. The one against Chile is one of the most beautiful goals I have scored in my career and helped us at an important moment.
‘The one against Paraguay helped us to unblock a very difficult game. But they were all special.’
Villa had popped up at defining moments over the course of the campaign, having also scored the winner in another 1-0 win against Portugal in the round of 16.
Villa’s tournament then went from strength to strength as he took the few chances created
But having at times single-handedly ensured they reached the showpiece event, Villa was not the man to deliver the piece de resistance.
Instead, it was performed by Iniesta, the eventual poster boy who fired home past Maarten Stekelenburg on the half volley, before removing his shirt and swinging it above him like a propeller as if to signify that Spain’s golden generation had truly taken flight.
The forward was also denied the Golden Boot accolade having been edged out by a young, vibrant Thomas Muller, with the German having registered more assists than Villa and Wesley Sneijder as well as netting the same amount of goals.
A monumental individual effort had failed to yield the rewards in terms of personal awards, but it is not in Villa’s nature to bellyache despite having to adapt to a new role in every side he has represented.
‘It does not annoy me in the slightest [that I did not score in the final] because I feel very happy to have scored these goals which helped us to reach the team’s and the country’s objective.
Andres Iniesta however became the poster boy after scoring the winner in the final
But Villa insisted he did not feel that the limelight had been taken away from his own genius
‘I always felt very supported by my friends and very loved by the fans. For me it has been a privilege to be able to enjoy a successful career such as the one that I have had, and obviously the World Cup was the most important moment.’
A move to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona from Valencia transpired after the World Cup, where Villa would form part of one of the most feared three-pronged attacks in history on their way to winning two LaLiga titles, a Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Ask many Barcelona fans though who their favourite triumvirate acronym to have represented the club is, and they are more likely to punt for MSN than Villa’s work in tandem with Lionel Messi and Pedro.
A move to Barcelona after the World Cup saw Villa win a Champions League and two LaLigas
But questioned if he felt Suarez and Neymar’s achievements in combination with Messi have overshadowed his own partnership with the Argentinian and Pedro, Villa insists the issue of perhaps being underappreciated is not as vexed as it may seem.
‘I don’t feel undervalued. There were always big clubs who took a chance on me and I always felt the affection of the fans of my clubs and from the national team. I am proud of the goals that I scored to help the teams I played for and the national team.
‘The same goes for Barcelona. I was lucky enough to play in a team that many experts have defined as one of the best teams in the history of football and it was not just because I played with Messi and Pedro but also because I was part of a squad full of excellent professionals.
‘After us other great players have come so it is normal that in each moment the fans support their idols.’
Messi has often been the ever-present idol in the Barcelona setup ever since his debut in 2006, but recent reports suggest he is considering his future at the Camp Nou and has been linked with moves to Manchester City and Inter Milan.
And he believes his combination with Lionel Messi and Pedro holds its own place in history
But whether due to injury or a transfer away, Villa believes the club already have the tools to replace the Argentinian and has backed the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Ansu Fati to step up.
‘Messi is the best player in the world. It is normal that any team suffers without him.
‘But Barcelona have great attackers like Griezmann and Suarez and youngsters with a lot of talent like Ansu Fati who normally manage to ensure the team wins even when Leo is not there.’
Yet Barcelona’s troubles extend far beyond the future of their talisman, with questions increasing over the club’s recruitment policy after the club announced the swap deal involving midfielder Arthur and his Juventus counterpart Miralem Pjanic.
The Brazilian joins compatriot Philippe Coutinho as well as the likes of Ousmane Dembele in failing to live up to expectations since their arrival at the Catalan giants, but Villa believes the strain of representing the club is not a burden every player can bear.
Villa also insists Barcelona have the players to step up if Messi decides to leave Barcelona
‘To play at the biggest clubs in the world is never easy because your maximum is demanded every day.
‘Barcelona is one of the biggest clubs so it is normal that there are players that despite their quality do not manage to produce to the best of their abilities.
‘Nobody doubts the quality of these players nor their ability of the various executives who have recruited them for the project.’
Just before his retirement on New Year’s Day this year, Villa began a project of his own in a journey which has seen him not only found a football academy in America but also invest as an owner of USL Championship side Queensboro FC.
Having spent four years of his career in New York, Villa saw the hunger for the game from children, and decided to provide them with a platform from which their dreams, just like his, could be realised.
Villa also believes the pressure of playing for the club has taken its toll on Philippe Coutinho
‘During my time in New York I founded DV7 Academy, our schools football project for children, and I realised the passion there was for the game in the Queens district.
‘Due to its diversity there are many football supporters who however didn’t have the possibility to get the complete experience and cheer on a team based in this borough with more than two million inhabitants.
‘Therefore we started to work to give Queens ‘its’ team and from there everything emerged. I am also very happy because we are providing a path towards professionalism for all the children who dream of becoming football players in Queens.’
And his Queensboro FC project took another step forward towards completion this week when they announced Josep Gombau as head coach and sporting director ahead of their inaugural season in 2022.
Villa retired from football on New Year’s Day and has now invested in USL side Queensboro FC
The 44-year-old has a wide range of experience from youth coaching with Espanyol and Barcelona to top-flight experience in Australia and India, and is an appointment that Villa believes is just the start of the ‘young but winning and competitive’ side he is hoping to create.
‘I have followed Josep’s career for a very long time, and had the opportunity to work with him to create the methodology of my DV7 Soccer Academies globally, as well as launch my very first academy in New York.
‘He is the perfect choice for Queensboro FC and I am happy to welcome him back to New York. Together, we will oversee all sporting aspects of the club, laying the groundwork for us to succeed at the highest level and be recognized all over the world.
‘For certain, a coach of this calibre will help take football in this country to a new level.’
His project received a boost earlier this week when they confirmed Josep Gombau as coach
The 44-year-old has a wide range of experience and will also serve as sporting director