The Spain international recently left La Liga champion Atletico Madrid for a chance to be part of building up MLS expansion franchise New York City FC.NEW YORK — For many pro athletes who make the decision to play in this ultimate of big cities, it is often the lure of Manhattan and the vibe of the city that draws them to want to come here. You can look no further than to Thierry Henry, who left Europe behind four years ago to play for the Red Bulls and even has had the city’s skyline tattooed on his arm.
For David Villa, none of this matters. He didn’t sign with New York City FC because of being drawn to the city or for any other reason than to play soccer and help a new team find its footing. There is no sentimentality in Villa’s view, only the reality that what he cares about is the game, and not the draw New York City can have.
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“I came to New York strictly for sporting reasons, not because of anything else,” Villa told Goal USA in an exclusive interview. “The team presented me with a great project that I want to be a part of. Realistically, living in New York is like living anywhere else so the opportunity to live there really wasn’t a factor for me joining the club.”
That might come as a surprise to some considering Villa is set to play outside of Spain for the first time in his career, but his first move away from his home country was more about wanting a new challenge than about wanting to spend time taking in Times Square or on Broadway.
“I thought it was the right time and the right opportunity. I take it as a new challenge,” Villa said. “In Europe I had won all the championships possible so I saw this as a good challenge to help a new club reach important goals.
“When the officials from the club presented me with the option and showed me the project and what they wanted to do in the future, it was an easy decision.”
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In joining MLS, Villa is becoming the first truly high-profile Spanish player to play in the league, something he sees changing in the near future.
“The league is improving rapidly and becoming more attractive for the soccer player, and you are seeing more European players wanting to come play here,” Villa said. “I think for the country and for the league, this is an important change.
“I don’t have any doubts that more players (from Spain) will start coming here. Not just Spain, but from all of Europe, and for those of us who come here it is important to keep helping the league grow.”
Coming off a disappointing World Cup that saw Spain crash out in the group stage Vila squashed rumors of an impending retirement from the national team, stating very clearly he is available for selection if the Spanish national team decides to call him.
“No, I haven’t made a decision yet to retire from the Spanish national team,” Villa said. “If the team calls me up then there I am. Obviously with the months of inactivity things are a bit more complicated but I have not retired.”
Villa heads to MLS having won his third La Liga title as a player, one that few could have seen coming before last season began. His dream season with Atletico Madrid provided the perfect sendoff from Spain.
“It was very important because it had been so many years since the club had won the league,” Villa said of Aletico’s championship. “So for the fans, the club, and everybody, it was a special experience."
When asked if he thought Atletico could maintain its recent heights considering the exodus of talent that has seen the likes of Villa, Diego Costa and Ander Herrera leave the club, Villa sounded very confident that Diego Simeone and Atleti could continue to challenge powers Barcelona and Real Madrid.
“I think they can do it again. They are a candidate to win it because of the people who are still there, who stayed, and the quality of the people still there,” Villa said. “I don’t have any doubt they will have a good year.”
As much as Villa insisted that no sentimentality went into his decision to come play in New York City, he did speak glowingly about Yankee Stadium, which he had the chance to visit this week, and which will be the home for New York City FC in the upcoming seasons.
“It’s a beautiful stadium and thousands of stars of all kinds of sports have passed through there so it’s an honor to be able to play there next year,” Villa said.