One year ago today, New York City FC made their first splash in the transfer market, signing world-class forward David Villa.
Despite not having a cavalry of teammates to train with initially, Villa was unfazed. He trained under the guidance of friend and former Atletico Madrid physical training coach Oscar Pitillas and New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis.
“He’s put in a tremendous amount of work and I know it hasn’t been easy for him to be in New York City for six-plus months without a team, without games to play, just training basically on his own,” Kreis said prior to the season. “We were fortunate to get together a group of guys to train with him and provide decent training sessions. He’s just worked extremely hard, so it’s always pleasing for me to see guys who work so hard and are such good people get positive results and score goals.”
It seemed fitting that Villa, Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer, was the first player in a New York City FC uniform to find the back of the net, scoring in a 2-0 preseason friendly victory over Scottish side St Mirren on February 10. Villa, who is tied for the team lead with three goals this season, was also the first New York City FC player to score at Yankee Stadium -- netting in a 2-0 victory over defending MLS Eastern Conference Champions New England in the Historic Home Opener on March 15.
“I gave him three weeks off after the World Cup, which he needed,” Pitillas said. “We spent about a month doing preventative work, focusing on strength and aerobics. From the middle of August we did a preseason of some sort -- just the two of us -- in order to get him prepared for his loan in October.”
After training with Pitillas over the summer, Villa was loaned from New York City FC to Melbourne City FC. The former Valencia and Barcelona forward played in four matches with the Australian side this past fall, scoring twice, including in his team debut on October 11.
“It really helped me on a personal level,” Villa said. “I had never been to Australia and immediately played with the team members I just recently met. It was an unforgettable moment in my career to join another City club for a short period of time and have the opportunity to compete in a different league immediately.”
Overcoming hurdles is nothing new for the 33-year-old, who grew up in the small mining town of Tuilla in the municipality of Langreo in North Spain.
When he was 4 years old, Villa fractured his femur in his right leg. Doctors wanted to operate on Villa, but warned there was a chance he could end up disabled for life. Fearing that, his parents opted out of their son’s surgery, so Villa instead donned a cast from his ankle to his hip for months until the fracture healed naturally.
That didn’t stop him from training, though. The right-footed player continued to practice with his father, Jose Manuel Villa, shooting with his left foot out of necessity.
“I recall my dad pushing me to train after the fracture,” Villa said. “He always pushed me to train. He helped me focus on shooting with my left leg because I had injured my right leg. The most important thing is my parents didn’t let me give up.”
Ten years later, Villa faced another obstacle. His youth coach seldom played Villa, with the teenager often feeling bored and frustrated, wanting to play with his friends in the streets instead.
“The trainer I had always put in the other players and I would get bored waiting to play,” Villa said. “I would much rather play with my neighborhood friends. While I would head to practice I would see them play on the streets. I wanted to leave the team because I didn’t get to play anyways, but my dad did not allow it. My dad kept taking me to practice and I’m glad he did because it has paid off.”
Villa’s list of his personal and club accomplishments towers over other soccer players’. He’s won the Copa del Rey (2003-04, 2007-08, 2011-12), Supercopa de Espana (2004, 2010, 2011) and La Liga (2010-11, 2012-13, 2013-14) three times each. Villa has also won the UEFA Champions League (2010-11), UEFA Super Cup (2011), FIFA Club World Cup (2011), UEFA European Championship (2008) and FIFA World Cup (2010).
Individually, his resume is just as extensive and impressive. Villa was the Spanish Player of the Year in 2005-06, won the UEFA Euro Golden Boot in 2008, won the Zarra Trophy (2005-06, 2006-07, 2008-09, 2009-10) four times as the league’s top goal scorer, was named to the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team (2010), won the 2010 FIFA World Cup Silver Shoe and Bronze Ball, was named the USSA Male Athlete of the Year (2010) and to the FIFA/FIFPro World XI and UEFA Team of the Year both in 2010.
“David is the best player I’ve ever played with,” said midfielder Pablo Alvarez, his former teammate at Sporting Gijon and current teammate on New York City FC. “He’s a very good friend of mine. It’s great to play together again. We have a very good relationship on the pitch; we understand each other. I hope I can help him score a lot of goals this season."
“We see him every day in training and it’s just amazing to see what he does on the field,” New York City FC forward Tony Taylor said.
The list of achievements continues to grow as Villa embarks on a new journey in Major League Soccer. Villa was named New York City FC’s first-ever captain.
“It’s an honor and I’m proud to be captain,” he said. “Overall it’s a big responsibility to be a good example off and on the pitch for the rest of squad. I have big expectations. I’m very eager for myself and for the team to play well. We are training very well, and when the time arrives we will be prepared.”
Whatever challenges New York City FC may face in their inaugural season, Villa will pave the way on the path to overcome them.