It was 0-1 and the match was looking good for Barça until David Villa went down awkwardly and immediately signaled to the bench that he was, er, screwed. It was the end of his match, his tournament, his calendar year, and possibly his season. A fractured tibia put him on a plane back to Barcelona while the rest of the team stayed to continue with the FIFA Club World Cup.
Villa is now Barcelona’s second long-term injury for the season, Ibrahim Afellay having torn knee ligaments in practice in September. That both men are forwards puts pressure on the remaining attackers and will probably signal a more regular shift to the 3-5-2 formation (as well as the increasingly usual 3-4-3) Guardiola has been experimenting with. But it’s not just any other forward that Barcelona are losing.
El Guaje, as he’s known, isn’t an easily replaceable cog; he is Spain’s all time international scoring record holder, he has scored 20 goals in each of the last ten domestic seasons (in all competitions, mind you), and he’s never made fewer than 40 appearances in each of those seasons. Last year, his first year with Barcelona, he scored 23 goals in 52 appearances. Those statistics are fabulous, of course, but there’s little one can say to naysayers or doubters, other than to direct them to this, of course.
Pep Guardiola has constantly lauded Villa’s contribution to the team and his willingness to self-sacrifice for the good of the squad. Principally a striker prior to his move to Barcelona, Villa was forced by Guardiola into the left wing role that had been such a major point of contention between Pep and Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Yet there has been nothing in the way of complaints from Villa, who began tracking back on defense and quickly learning how to occupy space on the wing. Yes, there have been unconfirmed media reports of divisions within the Barça camp, but their goal celebrations and continued results seem to suggest there’s something to the denials that have been issued.
How does one replace such a versatile and willing player? The short answer is you don’t. The long answer involves Pedro, Isaac Cuenca, and Alexis Sánchez stepping up their minutes as well as their efficiency. Between the 3 of them, they have 42 appearances and 12 goals. Villa alone has 23 appearances and 9 goals. Again, the statistics don’t necessarily say it all. It’s about interplay, it’s about understanding with teammates, and it’s about experience. Certainly there are qualities in the 3 forwards who will take Villa’s minutes that would make most fans swoon were they to join their team and this writer is not immune to their brilliance, but Villa was a central lynchpin in the Double of last season and to discount that contribution would be folly.
The team will miss Villa Maravilla’s presence in the squad, his versatility, and his willingness to subsume himself to the overarching Barça “philosophy”. If he can, as he says, return for the Champions League final, that would be fantastic, especially given the implicit presence of Barça in the Allianz Arena on that day. Fans of La Roja will also want to see his return for Euro2012, though he’ll have a lot of work to do given the impressive talent that squad carries with it.
For now, all that’s left is to wish him well: Animo Guaje!