For many Atletico Madrid fans, replacing Radamel Falcao this summer was paramount. The Colombian had left the Spanish capital for Monaco with a scoring record of 70 goals in 90 games and the concern was that Atletico would struggle to find somebody to replicate El Tigre’s brilliance, despite the €45 million he was sold for.
Step forward David Villa, Barcelona’s 31-year old who was pushed out to the periphery of Tito Vilanova’s squad after his long term tibia injury eighteen months ago, that he was allowed to leave for just £4 million. The supporters seem to approve, mobbing the Spanish striker in hoards as he was unveiled to them at the Vicente Calderon on Monday.
It was little surprise, after all Villa is Spain’s top-scorer with 56 goals and has won every trophy on offer, including a World Cup. He was an integral part of Josep Guardiola’s brilliant Barcelona side as a left-sided striker, scoring 48 times in 116 games. Before that, he was Valencia’s top scorer for five straight years, forming a total career goal record of 235 strikes from 481 games in Spanish domestic football, as well as 62 assists.
At just 31, he is already a legend of Spanish football, there was little wonder why waves of fans rushed to swarm their new hero like the club had just negotiated with heaven to sign God and unveiled him in the middle of the pitch.
There was also little doubt of the quality of business Diego Simeone has pulled off here, pouncing on Barcelona’s €49 million acquisition of Neymar to pluck Villa from his discarded position in Catalonia for pittance. Villa’s decline was apparent, as Vilanova only entrusted him to 17 starts last season and there was an expectation his role would be further diminished by the arrival of the expensive Brazilian.
With first team football on offer at Atletico, the move gives the ex-Zaragoza and Valencia striker a platform on which to stake a claim a place in Vincent Del Bosque’s Spain squad for what could be his last World Cup, as they travel to Brazil to defend their trophy.
The shrewdness of the deal was best expressed by Alfredo Relano, the editor of AS Marca, saying that the contract will involve “one year, then another year, then another year. Not much cash upfront, in case it doesn’t work out”. It seems like Villa is in Madrid with a major point to prove at a club offering a very exciting future, with a clear incentive to impress.
Simeone has managed to significantly negate the loss of Falcao to his Copa Del Rey winning squad for a fraction of what he recouped for the Colombian as he prepares to take Los Colchoneros back to the Champions League after a three year absence. It represents a major coup for Atletico, who could offer the commodity of top level European competition to edge other potential suiters like Tottenham out of the race to sign the Spaniard.
Villa is likely to return to the focal point of attack at the Calderon after having to settle for the left-sided position in support of the imperious Lionel Messi at Barcelona. He will be flanked by Leo Baptistao, a summer arrival from Rayo Vallecano, as well as Arda Turan with Diego Costa lurking in support behind them. Simeone also has the cover of Cristian Rodriguez and Adrian Lopez to call upon in attack, as well as the youth produced Borja Gonzalez and Pizzi, who both heavily impressed whilst out on loan last season.
With three trophies secured in little over a year, next season promises to be another exciting campaign for Atletico under the growing reputation of the brilliant Simeone and the addition of a hungry and determined Villa. Falcao may have departed, but the replacement is a player with a phenomenal scoring record and the vast experience of a career that has yielded a plethora of silverware, all with €40 million saved.
It was no surprise to see Atletico’s fans go so mental over their beloved new number 9.