By Chris Myson
After three trophy-laden seasons, Barcelona waved goodbye to David Villa on Monday as Atletico Madrid sealed a bargain €5.1 million deal for the Spain striker.
It was a day Barca fans will have known was coming for some time after he played a bit-part role for much of last season, but they will still be sad to see the departure of a player who won eight trophies and scored 48 goals in just three years at Camp Nou.
On the face of it, although they have got the forward’s considerable salary off their wage bill, Barca have made a massive loss on the €40 million they paid Valencia for Villa in 2010.
But to look at Villa's spell purely on the basis of losing €35m on an investment would be taking a simplistic view, failing to acknowledge his significant contributions on the pitch, a major stroke of bad luck and the fact his contract only had one year left to run.
The forward's Barcelona career needs to be analysed in two parts, before and after the broken leg suffered in December 2011, which kept him out of action for eight months.
|THE END OF AN ERA
|DAVID VILLA'S BARCELONA STATS
He scored twice against Real Madrid in the famous 5-0 Clasico triumph en route to La Liga success and a long-range beauty at Wembley as Manchester United were swept aside in the Champions League final.
After returning from the injury – suffered in the Club World Cup - that ruled him out from December onwards in the 2011-12 season he did score in a magical moment within 10 minutes of his La Liga return against Real Sociedad.
However, it took considerable time to recapture consistent form and critics claimed he was no longer the same player.
With Barca romping towards a 100-point Spanish title campaign, a regular spot in the first-team was understandably proving hard to come by in the early part of last season for a man still finding his feet after a serious setback.
There were question marks on whether Barca would be ready to sell but when Villa came on against Espanyol on January 6 at a time when his form had been hardly prolific – his last league goal coming over two months before – he still received a rapturous reception at Camp Nou.
The fans’ views had been made clear: they wanted Villa to stay and would get their wish, with that moment proof of the popularity Villa enjoyed.
He went on to make some important contributions towards the tail-end of the season, scoring against AC Milan as Barca launched a stunning comeback in the Champions League last 16 before setting up Pedro’s decisive goal against PSG in the quarter-finals.
But aside from when Lionel Messi suffered an injury or when the squad was rotated, most of the Spain international's contributions were from the substitutes’ bench and the writing appeared to be on the wall regarding his future - he remains too talented and high profile to spend another year on the fringes.
Despite being 31, there is still life left in Villa's career.
He now has the opportunity of a fresh start and regular football at Champions League level which will, fitness permitting, surely produce goals for Atleti and a chance to seal a starting spot for Spain at next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
For Barca, his exit clears a space in the squad but it is hard to see the Catalans’ powerbrokers delving into the market for another attacker. Neymar’s arrival for €57m has already been secured and fills up one of the spots in attack alongside Lionel Messi.
Pedro remains a regular option who provides a consistent end product, while Alexis Sanchez’s strong finish to last year may have earned him another opportunity and Andres Iniesta is often used in a wide attacking role to accommodate Cesc Fabregas in midfield.
So even though newspaper talk of a swoop for an unsettled Wayne Rooney continues, a vast array of options already in the current squad combined with the high potential transfer fee, wages and other costs involved in any move makes it hard to consider that prospect realistic.
The resources Barca do have for the remainder of the summer will surely be dedicated to strengthening the most pressing area of the squad – the defence which was so harshly exposed by Bayern Munich. The top candidate is Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil stopper Thiago Silva, who continues to cement his status as one of the best in his position in world football.
Having arrived at PSG at a market value of €42m, though, he would not come cheap – nor would Marquinhos, the Roma starlet, who is also being considered. David Luiz is another name who has been linked with a big-money switch and major work in the market is still required to secure the defensive addition many believe is needed if Barcelona are to make a realistic assault on the Champions league again.
There is also the uncertain future of Thiago Alcantara, who continues to be linked with Manchester United, to be determined before the new season kicks off after his starring role for Spain Under-21s last month.
All in all, the closure of Villa’s chapter at Camp Nou was a sad but necessary stage in this summer’s rebuilding project. His legacy at the club will be one of overall success, tinged with frustration at what more he could have achieved in different circumstances.
Now, after bidding the player a fond farewell, Barcelona will have to quickly move on if they are to achieve the success they crave next year.