This article is taken from For The City, NYCFC's magazine collaboration with Eight by Eight Magazine which was released in October.
There are three hundred and sixty teams in Spain’s regionalized, amateur Tecera, down, way down below the top six divisions, and only one of them has been at a World Cup final. At the end of the 2010 final, in the corner of Soccer City, South Africa, on the field where la selección had just become world champions for the first time in their history, the man who has scored more goals for his country than anyone else ever, stood before supporters. In his hands, he held a scarf, pulled tight so that the name could be read around the world, and 10,000km away in particular. CD Tuilla, it said.
Club Deportivo Tuilla is where David Villa aspired to play football; where his father Mel watches games on Sundays; and where his best friend Vicente became captain. A couple of thousand people can fit into the ground, El Candín, wedged into the green, wet hillside, but most weekends there are barely a few hundred. Tuilla is a pit village in Asturias, northern Spain, with a population of around 900 and falling. In the middle of one night in 1989, when David was eight, a fire in the Mosquitera mine killed five miners, including a father and son, and left others in a critical condition. Villa’s father Mel survived, but a few years later the mine closed.
Like many of the men in the village, Mel had spent most of his life underground. David never ventured below the surface, scared to do so. He, like his father, played football. When David broke his femur, aged, four, he was in plaster up to the waist. Mel threw the ball at him, over and over and David returned it – with his unplastered left foot. Maybe that was why, they say. As the village declined there were fewer kids to play with, the population getting older, as well as smaller, a place people left. Villa left too, but he returns every year. In South Africa, he took Tuilla with them. A picture hangs on the wall of the bar in the village.
He went to UP Langreo, Sporting Gijón, Real Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, and New York. Intelligent, sharp, a finisher of extraordinary variety, everywhere he went he scored goals, loads of them. He won everything and he had everything, except a lobby campaigning for him. He did it all himself. When the Spanish national team called him up again last autumn, long after his international career had appeared to come to a close, the manager Julen Lopetegui insisted: “what he can bring is what he has always brought: quality, intuition, attitude, desire.” This, like everything else he has done, was done on merit.
It might have been one night only, but the reception at the Bernabéu was eloquent: recognition for the greatest striker the country has produced. So was the fact that he was there at all; he had earned it, Lopetegui insisted. His last appearance had been at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and he left the way he came: scoring. It was his 59th in 97 games for Spain, his ninth in eleven World Cup games – another record. He scored across 43 different matches, his contribution constant, not coincidental. He had scored in his 37th stadium, in the same city where Spain had scored their first World Cup goal sixty-four years earlier. But then, it was over.
Sitting on the bench, the tears flowed. Afterwards, he said he would play until he was fifty-five but admitted: “realistically, you don’t think you’re going to be back.” And yet … three years later, he was back. What changed, he was asked. “They called,” he said. They called because although he went away, he never went away, never stopped competing, never changed. There were goals to get, after all. Sixty-six of them later, David Villa has passed 400, from Tuilla to New York and back.
By Sid Lowe