By Jack Tarrant
KOBE, Japan (Reuters) – David Villa is happy to chat about many things — the various leagues he has played in, his family, how travel broadens the mind and even beef — but when the question of retirement comes up, it draws only a wry smile to his face.
Unquestionably one of the greatest strikers ever to emerge from the Spanish game, Villa has won enough medals for two or three careers but, despite having entered his 38th year, he is still hungry for more.
So, fresh from the treatment table at his eighth club on a fourth continent, the Spanish national team’s record goalscorer will offer only a nod towards his legacy when asked about hanging up his boots.
“I don’t think a lot about this now, because I am still playing, I am still creating my history,” he told Reuters in an interview at Vissel Kobe’s training centre just outside Japan’s sixth largest city.
“But, if you ask me, then I would like to be remembered for… if you asked the teams that I played for then they would say a player that gives everything for the club, day-by-day in training and in games.
“(Someone who has) respect for the team, the shirt and everybody in the culture of the club 100 percent.
“That is the most important for me and is the things I have tried to do in the teams of my career, that’s it.”
Villa’s goals have helped win a World Cup, a European Championship, the Champions League, a hat-trick of La Liga titles and the Copa del Rey with three different clubs.
At Kobe, he has already scored three goals in five games as he bids to add a J.League winners’ medal to his cluttered trophy cabinet and said anyone who expected a drop in standards was always going to be disappointed.
“I try to lead by example,” he added. “I don’t believe in any other way, other than working day-by-day to be stronger.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re playing for Barcelona, Vissel Kobe or Sporting Gijon, where I started, or the national team when I was top of my career.
“It doesn’t matter. The secret for me is to work day-by-day to be better and I don’t have any other secrets.”
The small, quiet Kobe training centre does not look like the centre of a lucratively-funded revolution in Japanese soccer but this is where Villa and his fellow World Cup winners Andres Iniesta and Lukas Podolski come to work every day.
Bankrolled by Rakuten CEO and Japan’s seventh richest man, Hiroshi Mikitani, Kobe have never managed higher than seventh in the J.League and last year, with Iniesta and Podolski on board, finished mid-table.
Following Mikitani’s investment –- 24-year-old midfielder Sergi Samper is the latest high profile recruit from Barcelona — there is an expectation that the most expensive squad ever assembled in Japanese soccer should coast to the title.
With three wins from their first five games of the season, Kobe are fourth in the league and trail early leaders Nagoya Grampus by two points.
Villa understands the expectation and said it was something he had dealt with all his life from his early days at Sporting Gijon, through his time at Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid as well as in 98 internationals.
“The pressure for me has always existed, it doesn’t matter the country, the team or the position you have in the team,” he said.
“I always put pressure on myself because many people are waiting for you to do well.
“It’s not about being more high-profile than other players or something like that, it’s only because I want to be good.”
Villa and his family — he has three children — have embraced all that Japan has to offer and he is particularly partial to the local speciality, Kobe beef.
“I am happy with this experience, it doesn’t scare me. The most important thing for me is that my family are well in the country and they can accommodate themselves quickly,” he said.
“Here in Vissel, everybody has helped me a lot from the start, me and my family to accommodate ourselves in the country well.”
Villa arrived in Japan after a four-year spell in Major League Soccer with New York City, which included a four-match guest stint with sister club Melbourne City in Australia.
Now a confirmed footballing nomad, Villa said it was not something he even considered when growing up the son of a miner in Asturias.
“It is things that have arrived in my career,” explained Villa.
“When I was a kid, I always dreamed about playing soccer and playing soccer for the national team.
“But things in soccer arrive –- the same thing happened when arriving for Zaragoza, Valencia, arrive to New York, going to Melbourne and now I am here in Kobe in Japan.
“I try to enjoy and not think too much in the future, think of today only, and go day by day.”
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Nick Mulvenney)