David Villa: Ex-Barcelona striker was ‘90% sure’ of Arsenal move

Former Barcelona forward David Villa says he was “90% certain he would sign for Arsenal” before the move fell through and he joined Atletico Madrid.

Arsenal were linked with a move for the Spain World Cup winner in January 2013 before then-Gunners boss Arsene Wenger revealed Barcelona did not want to sell.

Six months later, Villa joined Atletico for one season before moving to New York City for four seasons. He retired from playing last December at the age of 38 after a season in Japan playing for Vissel Kobe.

“We were in a lot of meetings and a lot of calls,” Villa told Spanish football expert Guillem Balague for BBC Sport.

“I felt 90% in that moment that I [would] go to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.

“But in that moment we didn’t arrive to the deal, Atletico Madrid arrived and in three or four days fixed everything.

“I don’t know what would have happened if I’d signed for Arsenal. I’m very happy that I signed for Atletico Madrid, not just for winning the league but for everything. I’m very happy to have made that choice.”

In a wide-ranging interview with Balague, Villa discusses his love for the Premier League, playing with Lionel Messi, working under Pep Guardiola and why he would have liked to have played for Jose Mourinho.

‘I had many chances to play in Premier League’

During a highly successful playing career, Villa won three La Liga titles – two with Barcelona and one with Atletico Madrid – and enjoyed one Champions League triumph in 2011.

He scored a record 59 goals for Spain, helping his country win Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.

Throughout his career Villa was linked with a number of Premier League teams including Chelsea and Liverpool. So why did he not play in England?

“I love the Premier League. In my career I always watched a lot of games in the Premier League,” he said.

“I always thought about going there one time, but in the moment that all these offers arrived to me or to my agent, I made another decision. Why? I don’t know.

“Many times I had the opportunity to go there, but I chose another way.”

‘Messi is four players rolled into one’

After joining from Valencia in 2010, Villa spent three years at Barcelona, where he struck up an instant rapport with Messi.

Unsurprisingly, he believes the Argentina legend is the greatest footballer of all time – even though he is a quiet figure in the dressing room.

“I don’t know who said this but they said ‘Messi is Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi – and even Sergio Busquets if you want’,” added Villa.

“When I heard it I thought ‘that’s my thought as well’.

“If you ask me what’s his best position, I don’t know. He’s not a number nine but the top scorer. He’s not a number 10 but he’s the top assist provider. He’s not a tall guy but he scores headers – he’s good at everything.

“We were thinking sometimes he’s not shooting well with the right foot, then he scores amazing goals with the right foot. I think that he played as a keeper one time and he did well.

“That’s the reality of Messi. Everyone knows he’s a quiet guy. He’s very normal in the dressing room and on the field.”

‘Guardiola is all about evolution’

David Villa and his Barcelona team-mates lift coach Pep Guardiola after winning the 2011 Champions League final
Pep Guardiola signed Villa in 2010 and Barca won La Liga and the Champions League in the forward’s first season

Villa scored 33 goals in 77 La Liga appearances for Barca between 2010 and 2013, with two of his three seasons at the Nou Camp spent under Guardiola’s management.

Guardiola has since gone on to have success in Germany, where he won three Bundesliga titles in as many seasons with Bayern Munich, before moving to England and guiding Manchester City to back-to-back Premier League triumphs.

“He’s a type of guy where it’s all about evolution every time,” said Villa.

“He knows it’s not the same playing in Spain, England or Germany, with different styles.

“I’m not with him now and don’t have the opportunity to know him day by day, but I am sure with his mentality that he’s always finding new ways to bring soccer to another level.”

‘I’d like to have played under Mourinho’

Having enjoyed domestic, European and international success during his career, Villa does not have many regrets.

However, he does wonder what it would have been like to play under Jose Mourinho.

The Tottenham boss was manager of Barcelona’s bitter rivals Real Madrid during Villa’s time in Catalonia.

“I have thought about what it would be like to be coached by Jose,” he said. “He’s one of the best coaches in football.

“I always fought with him because I played in other teams that he was coaching, but even then I liked him because he’s one of the best coaches in the history of the game.”

Greatest goal, winning the World Cup… and retirement

David Villa celebrates scoring for Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League final
Villa scored the goal that sealed victory for Barca in the 2011 Champions League final

Ask Villa what the best goal of his career was and he provides an instant answer.

It was a 20-yard curler in the 70th minute of the 2011 Champions League final at Wembley and put Barcelona 3-1 up against Manchester United as the Spanish side went on to be crowned champions of Europe.

“We were playing very well but the reality is we were winning 2-1 and one goal for Manchester United would tie the game,” added Villa.

“That goal finally gave us the calm of taking the trophy. It was perfect.”

Villa was part of the Spain team that triumphed at Euro 2008 before winning the World Cup two years later in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“I think many situations arrived in the best moment – a good generation of players, good generation of coaches, a lot of work in the years before without success,” he said.

“Of all the players who were in that World Cup in 2010, 80% in the roster were in the best moment of their careers.”

And after scoring 381 goals in 765 club appearances, Villa believes he has chosen the correct moment to retire from the game.

“In the past two years I’ve only had three or four small injuries and three weeks out of the team, but I think my mind was starting to think about somewhere else – not football,” he added.

“I took the decision [to retire] because I felt the end was coming. I think I’m in the situation that I want right now.

“I will obviously miss playing, but I’m very happy. I’ll try to make my contribution to football in another way.”

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