Nothing could have been better for David Villa's reputation than the Club World Cup. Since breaking his tibia during that match against Al-Sadd, Villa, normally a national team stalwart, has found himself on the sidelines. Many have reacted to the recent accusations of Spain as a 'boring' side by pointing out the striker's absence as the reason it is lacking a cutting edge.
On one hand, that's completely understandable. David Villa was once a first-choice player for Barcelona, and his scoring record for Spain is frankly unbelievable. On the other, it's absolutely absurd.
Consider this: In the knockout rounds of the 2010 World Cup, for which Villa was both healthy and on top form, Spain won every single match 1-0. For much of the campaign, del Bosque used Villa as the left forward in a 4-2-1-3, with Fernando Torres in the centre. Although Villa managed goals against Portugal and Paraguay, none of Spain's tallies registered before the hour mark. Instead, they were pragmatic, pounced when they got their opportunities, and possessed teams to death as soon as they went ahead.
Consider too Villa's form prior to the broken leg. He had a fascinating debut season at Barcelona, meshing with his teammates much better than did the one-and-done (but far more talented) Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Villa ended his debut campaign at the Camp Nou with 23 goals and six assists, a good return for a striker, and he kept on scoring for Spain as well. But his form dipped significantly as the year progressed, and by the time the 2011-12 season came around, Villa found himself on the outside looking in as Pep Guardiola looked elsewhere during big games.
The arrivals of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez provided significantly more competition for Villa during his second season at Barcelona, and they (with some help from his poor form) quickly unseated him from his position as a regular starter. Villa started 32 games in La Liga during the 2010-11 season, appearing as a substitute in two. For 2011-12, prior to his injury, it was eight and seven.
It's fascinating to compare Villa's form with another Spanish centre forward. Fernando Torres has been ripped to shreds for his performances over the last few seasons -- the man who scored the Euro 2008-winning goal has struggled with both club and country since then -- and although things were bad during his final seasons at Liverpool, they got even worse after a £50M transfer to Chelsea, where the price tag combined with an incredible goal drought left him as the butt of jokes throughout England.
Torres scored 11 goals for Chelsea in the 2011-12 season, collecting a dozen assists on top of that (a very odd line for a striker). In Villa's 12 most recent healthy months, he managed 18 goals and three assists. Unless you're really, really obsessed with scoring goals, it's almost impossible to separate the duo's productivity levels, especially when you consider the caliber of team Villa played for vs. that which Torres did. Yet Torres is a failure, and Villa is the great, absent hero.
The David Villa who seems to have permeated the world's consciousness is a myth. A fraud. He was an excellent striker, certainly, but there's no reason to take the distinctly average player who chugged along in La Liga before an unfortunate injury and deify him simply because he's not there while Spain aren't playing particularly well (or attractively). It's not as though they did any better when he was there, and that was a Villa at the top of his game.
If Villa was at Euro 2012, there's no real reason to think that he'd add a particularly new dimension at centre forward, especially since his hypothetical opponents are running on anti-Spain tactics at least partially designed to shut down a side with Villa in it. It's not as though the Villa-as-striker experiment went swimmingly in the World Cup either -- the 1-0 win against Germany was secured thanks to a Carles Puyol header from a corner, and Andres Iniesta's goal against Holland came after Villa had been hauled off.
It seems to me as though Villa's rise to sainthood is the natural result of the media recognizing that Spain aren't really that popular anymore and looking to find a reason that might be. The failure there is the complete lack of recognition for the fact that Spain haven't really changed, that this Euro 2012 side is essentially the same beast that ground its way to a World Cup win in South Africa, David Villa or no. Instead, it's simply a matter of changing tastes on the part of football fans. Spain are boring to some on an aesthetic level, but mostly Spain are boring because we're bored of them.
Villa's absence is a pretty poor excuse for del Bosque's brand of football, at any rate. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but in this case it seems that we're taking it to hilarious extremes.
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