By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
When David Villa signed for Barcelona in the summer of 2010, the Spain striker was certain he would go on to become a big success at the Catalan club. Two and a half years on, however, he is ready to throw in the towel on a move which has not quite worked out as he had planned.
Villa agreed a switch from Valencia to Barca prior to the World Cup in South Africa and enhanced his reputation at the summer showpiece, scoring five goals as Spain claimed a maiden title. And, perhaps even more encouraging for Barca fans, he linked up almost telepathically with Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
At Camp Nou, however, the striker had signed up for something different altogether. Following the disappointing displays by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2009-10 and Lionel Messi's remarkable reinvention as a 'false No.9', coach Pep Guardiola was clear about his forward planning - the Argentine would be starting in the middle for Barca from then on.
Villa was forced to operate on the left, stifled by a system which allows for only one central forward. And when that player is the world's finest, there is little to be done. The Asturian was told right at the beginning by the coaching staff that he should avoid competing with Messi for goals and concentrate on helping his side as much as possible from the flank.
|VILLA'S CAMP NOU CAREER
Indeed, those concerns came right at the top, with Guardiola and then assistant Tito Vilanova unconvinced by the striker's showings. Indeed, in the early months of 2011-12, Villa found himself on the bench more often than he would have liked.
Things were not going well for the Spain striker and, in December of 2011, tragedy struck as he fractured his tibia against Al Sadd in the Club World Cup. That marked the end of his season and the striker also missed Euro 2012 in a bid to be fully fit for the start of the current campaign.
He finally reappeared after eight months out in a summer friendly against Dinamo Bucharest in August, and marked his competitive return with a goal as he came off the bench in Barca's first league game of the season, at home to Real Sociedad.
Villa now has eight goals in 20 appearances this term, but has still not been able to force his way entirely into Vilanova's plans. Tito has watched the player closely in training and believes the striker is yet to return to the form he was at before his operation. His failure to impress on the training pitch, despite working hard, has meant first-team opportunities have been rare, while his appearances this season have also flattered to deceive, despite a reasonable goal ratio.
Talk of a rift with Messi is wide of the mark, but the two have not always seen eye to eye on the pitch this term and the Asturian has largely failed to impose himself on the rare occasions he has started in La Liga. As things stand, then, Barca's coaching staff do not see Villa as an automatic first choice and that seems unlikely to change any time soon.
The player himself has grown extremely frustrated. Villa turned 31 in December and is desperate for first-team football in the twilight of his career. His reputation remains intact, however, and as Spain's all-time top goalscorer, he knows he would be a first-choice striker at most other clubs in La Liga and abroad.
Arsenal are keen to link Villa with fellow Asturian Santi Cazorla, while Valencia would be delighted to welcome back their popular former forward. Other clubs, such as Liverpool and Chelsea, have also been associated with the player and he is ready to listen to offers this month.
Barcelona, however, are not. Although aware that they will be unable to recoup the €40 million they paid out for the striker in 2010 and that his value will likely diminish further in the coming months, the Catalans are eager to avoid a repeat of last season when, with Villa sidelined, they were left with no real alternative to Messi in the key games and lost out to Madrid and Chelsea in the two biggest competitions - La Liga and the Champions League.
So while Villa is sad and out of favour, he will be staying put for the time being. Unless things change drastically between now and the summer, though, the striker will be playing his football for another team in 2013-14.
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