The arrival of Neymar at Barcelona from Santos meant only one thing: That David Villa’s days at the Spanish champions were numbered. With the young Brazilian starlet disembarking on the back of a very successful Confederations Cup campaign – where he was named Most Valuable Player – his slot on the left side of Barcelona’s attacking trident next to Lionel Messi was evident. The only thing was for the Asturian to leave the club, which he did for Atletico Madrid.
Many Barcelona fans will be sad to see the departure of Spain’s leading goalscorer. The former Valencia man had developed a close bond with the club’s supporters during his three-year tenure at the Camp Nou. It was during his stint that Messi reached the highest heights in his career, after sharing dysfunctional relationships with Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the man Villa was entrusted to replace.
Yet for president Sandro Rosell and his side, it was more a matter of cutting losses. Brought for €40m, Villa’s stay at Barcelona could be divided into two timelines: Before and after breaking his leg in the FIFA Club World Cup in December 2011. After the break, it was mostly downhill for the decorated striker, and Barcelona’s decision to sell him for a mere €5.1 million – a sum that could be boosted by 50% of a future sale fee – was the clearest indication that the board wanted to offload the Spain star.
The injury was never one he could easily overcome: From making 32 league starts during his maiden season with Barcelona, to just 17 last season, Villa could not hold his own against the competitiveness of Pedro Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez and Andres Iniesta.
Now at his third “big” club, he has the chance to relaunch his career in the Spanish capital. 31 years old now, Villa’s best days may be behind him, however, his physical fitness is still very good and he can be an important part of Atletico Madrid’s campaign next term.
Perhaps Villa’s greatest advantage will be the fact that he is going to be deployed as a true striker under Diego Simeone, after having been relegated to the left wing in order to accommodate Messi as a “false 9”. At the Mattress Makers, Villa will be played as one of two strikers, alongside Diego Costa, Adrian Lopez or fellow new signing Leo Baptistao.
The imminent future looks set to be bright for Villa with regular playing time aplenty, but perhaps less for his new-found club.
In the departure of Radamel Falcao in a €60m move to newly-promoted Ligue 1 side AS Monaco, Atletico Madrid have lost their most important player. Other team members managed to shine next to Falcao, but it was the Colombian that was at the very core of last season’s Copa del Rey success and Champions League qualification. The board might have received a large bag of money to splash on new signings, but there is still that feeling that Atletico Madrid were on the losing end of the deal.
Aged 27, Falcao was at the pinnacle of his career when he decided to join Les Monegasques. The man who has been bought on board to replace him is 31. The fact that Atletico Madrid looked elsewhere and linked themselves with names such as Mario Gomez and Alvaro Negredo was an indication that the board were eying a younger option.
In the end, the club eventually turned their attention to Villa, a capture that president Enrique Cerezo welcomed. “The signing of Villa meets all expectations. It has been one of the signings that were most welcomed by our fans in the history of Atletico. Everyone is happy. We are delighted that Villa is with us. It is an honour.”
And fans will be relishing that prospect. A look at Villa’s official presentation and the amount of supporters that invaded the pitch in order to catch a closer look at the player that will don the number 9 shirt says it all. The masses perceive the former Real Zaragoza forward as their hottest commodity.
In the end, all three parties involved look happy with their business. Barcelona bid farewell to Villa, pleased to remove his hefty wages off their books. The player himself joined a team where he will definitely be a first-choice starter. While Atletico Madrid paid a small sum for La Roja’s leading goalscorer. Villa comes at a very good price, but whether he will be the man that is able to carry Falcao’s mantle remains to be seen. At his age and given his injury record, it remains highly unlikely; however replacing the Colombian's goals entirely may not be needed.