David Villa will not return to New York City FC in 2019, ending his four-year stay at the club. He has been the perfect pillar to build the organisation on.
Whenever a new expansion club starts their new life in MLS, they want something to build on, an identity to act out of, a culture to be recognised by, an individual that can lead the way for the whole organisation to follow.
For Atlanta United, it was Tata Martino and a plethora of young south American talent. For Los Angeles FC, it was Bob Bradley, Carlos Vela and the celebrity presence of Will Ferrell. And for New York City FC, it was David Villa.
When the Manchester City expansion plan stretched to north America, they required a leading light, a shining star, a pillar of hope. In David Villa, they got the perfect one.
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Villa is the club’s only ever captain. He is the record goalscorer, record appearance maker, and one of the greatest players to ever grace MLS. In four years at NYCFC, he scored 77 goals and 36 assists. Only Bradley Wright-Phillips has scored more goals in the same period and only Sebastian Giovinco has recorded more goals and assists in the same period. Villa is one of the most influential players to ever play in MLS. And he was the very first signing that NYCFC ever made. That is what you call the face of a franchise.
After four years at the club, however, Villa has announced that he will not return for the 2019 season with his contract set to expire this winter. The soon-to-be-37-year-old is ready to move on. In a heartfelt statement, Villa peeled back a little on the relationship he held with many of the fans:
"“My experience here was amazing. It gave me everything as a soccer player, as a person, and as a family man. I’ll always remember this experience with love. My heart is here and I’m an NYCFC supporter forever.”"
And this, for me, is why Villa has been the perfect pillar for NYCFC. Not the goals. Not the assists. Not the brilliant pieces of play. Not the wonderful enterainment that he has provided. The humility, grace, self-awareness, connection and poise that he has handled his responsibility with.
It would have been very easy for Villa to take his foot off the gas. He was well into his 30s. He was no longer playing in the Champions League. MLS is far below his level. He did not have to try. But he was committed, applied, a leader, showing great character as the spearhead of this new venture. He embraced his position as a veteran and captain.
Many lesser men would have taken the easy out. He has won a World Cup, a Champions League, a plethora of league titles, a European Championship. He is widely considered one of the best forwards of the past 20 years. He had nothing more to win, nothing left to prove. But he came to New York with humility and integrity. He worked hard, he led with fire and honesty, and he was the captain that this club needed.
David Villa was the perfect pillar for New York City FC. Replacing him will not be easy.