This is a guest post written by reader SiempreBarça07 (twitter here). The BFB staff would like to them him/her for this lovely post and for giving us all a break from the action. Please note that this was written prior to the Getafe loss. Any mistakes are almost assuredly the editor’s. -BFB staff
Our #7 has been under constant attack since he has joined the blaugrana side because the goals have not been flowing for him as with his previous teams. With arguably the world’s best midfield behind him, everyone expected Spain’s top hit man to be even more prolific. Following the World Cup, the media, fans, his ex-teammates, his friends and family all placed bets that Villa would achieve one of his lifelong goals to be Pichichi of the league he didn’t dare leave, the league he loves so much – La Liga.
Before he joined Barça, Villa equated himself with the goal. And if you watched or read any interviews asking others such as Xavi, Casillas, Pique, and Iniesta how they would describe Villa, they all answered with one word: goals. Few knew – and few know – that for Barça, the job Villa was signed to do was not so simple. It seems that only two men really knew what el Guaje was in for: Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff.
Cruyff knew with Barça’s system already set to revolve around the world’s best player in Messi, Pep would assign Villa to the left. In his weekly column for El Periodico published on March 28 2011, Cruyff wrote in defense of Villa:
Just as Xavi is not in the field only to give assists, Villa plays not only to score. As they are two of Barça. Xavi was needed to be champions of Europe and the World, and reached 100 to receive the praise of all. With him, the selection is a bit of Barça. And a bit of Barcelona is a lot. Xavi brings style, balance and ball control; Villa, depth. His problem, not yours, is the burden up front, is that of a forward. And for that there is no field, there is no coach – the striker stands alone on goal. The error of appreciation is enormous.
Villa is no less dangerous at five games without scoring for Barcelona. Or does any less of a good job for taking three caps to overcome Raúl for the record. The strikers are selfish. The team can win, but they will not sleep easy if they do not meet with a goal.
But if he is already the top scorer in the history of selection, if the percentage of goals per match is high, it is because he does much more than wait for the ball and push it. Villa is synonymous with depth. It means being always ready to open passing lanes, to draw defenders and thus freeing space for others.
Will he always score? No. This failure is part of football. For me, whether a forward plays badly or not has nothing to do with the goal. Or just by moving near the penalty area and marking more numbers than any other. Playing good or bad depends on whether he does or does not do a number of details that mean just as much as a goal. In his case, we are talking about depth.
Cruyff emphasizes that Villa is used to allow Barça to play with its signature philosophy and style. Furthermore, time and time again, Guardiola has also defended Villa and reiterated his confidence in el Guaje, saying that he is “indisputable.” More tellingly, in his October 24th press conference, Pep said: “Thanks to Villa, we can play as well as we do. We do not find many like him. I would like to have more players like Villa by my side in my career. He has adapted and has the humility to do it… few would have the modesty to sacrifice themselves like that.”
And that’s what Villa is for at Barça: sacrifice. Guardiola knows well that he is not using Villa optimally – but Villa is being used to help Barça in the best way possible. In a team sport, sacrifice is a necessity and in this team, Villa is a necessity.
Guardiola doesn’t fully utilize Villa’s excellent control with long balls and his searing directness in counterattacks. Longs balls are not Barça’s style – though some variability now and then really can’t hurt. However on the second point, the counterattacks, the team really needs to work on. When space is cleared for once, Barça’s counterattacks are miserably slow. Too many players pass sideways even when there is space ahead, throwing the advantage of counterattacking in the bin. But returning to the main point, it is clear that unlike with Messi, the team does not play to Villa’s strengths – Villa is made to play to make the team stronger.
Football Without the Ball
David Villa is one of the world’s best players with his off-the-ball movement and with his ability to desmarque – to lose his markers, draw defenders, and wreak havoc in the back line with his tireless and intelligent runs. Especially against teams that park the bus, Villa creates space so that the team, so that Messi and Cesc – or whoever is allowed to play centrally – can score. Maintaining the width of the pitch like he does requires strict discipline and patience – the latter of which, many have failed reciprocate with Villa.
Taking on a lot more defensive duty and constantly pressuring, Villa became a more complete player but ceded his role as being the focal point through which goals are scored. And nominally known as a striker (and I say nominally, because at Barça he is really a winger), the primary thing people expect of him is goals, and lots of them. Failing to realize that his off-the-ball movement and link-up play up front is what helps create Barça’s goals, many continue to question Villa’s place on this team.
Moreover, Villa always expects himself to score more because that is what he truly loves to do. He achieves this mainly by cutting in from the left, connecting with his teammates, and playing clever one-twos. He also by making runs across the backline waiting for thru-balls. The second strategy has drawn criticism due to the number of offsides he has accumulated – last season. This season, he is in fact onsides a lot more, but the reputation has stuck so that for any 50/50 situation, the linesmen would now raise the flag.
Not Only Barça’s Rivals Are Denied Possession…
Perhaps compelled to fit into the Barça way of passing and eager to prove he’s compatible with Messi, Villa sometimes hesitates, overthinks, and is less bold than his former self. However this is a psychological matter – maybe one of confidence – rather than a matter of ability. He needs to feel that he won’t be reprimanded for not passing and for taking shots. In this team known for possession, he is afraid of losing balls. But look at Messi and you’ll see that he loses plenty – it’s only natural with forwards because they are the ones responsible for taking those risks. Villa needs to know that he is allowed to take those chances too. David Villa has shown and he is continuing to show with Spain, that he has plenty of technique and ability with the ball. With his national side, he still plays on the left but he is given much much more freedom to float between lines and move around. As a result, he receives the ball a lot more and scores at a much higher rate. It’s simple in this respect: in order to put the ball in the back of the net – you need the ball.
1-on-1s is not one of his strengths, but he rarely gets the opportunity to make those individual on-the-ball plays on a team of players who all love to play with the ball – Messi, Iniesta, Thiago, and especially now Fabregas. Often flailing his arms and screaming in frustration in attempt to receive the ball, the amount of ball this footballer sees is minimal. Even Guardiola has recognized that Villa’s runs too often go ignored. Why is this though?
Ignoring any biases players may have with each other and strictly tactically – the space in the middle has now opened up because of Villa and Pedro on the flanks; Messi is free to face the goal. And since it is obviously easier to score right in front of the goal rather than having to come in from an angle, the midfielder would opt to pass to the centrally located false-nine. Also, it must be noted that because Dani Alves is so much better at pushing up and playing the ball in from the right than any left-back at Barça is capable of replicating on the left (with absolutely no disrespect to Abidal), there is simply more action and goal scoring opportunities on that other band.
Behind the Numbers
Any player in Villa’s position, with his job and on this team, will have difficulty scoring as regularly as they may have on other teams. Too often is the work behind the goals ignored. Too often are people blinded by the score-line and statistics – the number of goals, assists, shots, etc. The work Villa does (and Pedro too) is immeasurable – often unnoticed and off the screen because it is accomplished without the football. However that work has a very tangible effect on the game and on the success that Barça has achieved.
Not many players of Villa’s quality – top scorer of a Euro and World Cup winning national team – will be able to fulfill that job description with as much grace and professionalism as he has. In addition to what he adds in the locker room (I hear from Pep that he’s a real joker), let’s not forget all the goals he has scored for Barça. David Villa is already a part of Barça history and I say he has done and is doing enough to merit a place in its future. El Guaje is here because more than he loves goals, he loves the team and he loves the game.
This piece was not written as an excuse for any lack of goals; on the contrary, this piece was written in condemnation of people who mistake goals as the sole means to victory and the end to the game. This piece was written to remind spectators, especially culés, that football is més que the numbers, and that there is much more to see behind those statistics. It was written with the hope that they will see the game… and the most beautiful game there is: Barça’s game.
The original El Periodico column is no longer available but the quotes can be found on these other news sites: