BRONX - In the shadow of Yankee Stadium, someone asked New York City Football Club’s first-ever signing whether anyone had told him about what it’s like to be a winner in the Big Apple. It’s the question that seemingly always has to be asked by the typical New York media gaggle upon the arrival of a star who’s won elsewhere, but never a place that reveres its champions to a degree that they deem acceptable.
David Villa – winner of the World Cup, the European Championship, the Champions League, La Liga, the Copa Del Rey – has enough silverware to brag about for a lifetime, if he were so inclined. But the former Atletico Madrid and Barcelona striker repeated the same message often and with a similar conviction: he’s going to work hard, he wants to win and he wants to leave a legacy at the club he’s helping launch. That it happens to be in New York City is a fringe benefit. Besides, one would be hard-pressed to argue that Villa has anything left to prove to anyone.
Still, his enthusiasm for the task of leading NYCFC’s maiden voyage caught even Claudio Reyna, the club’s Director of Football Operations, by surprise during their initial four-hour meeting in Madrid.
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“What was interesting for David, is that he wanted to be the first, he wanted the challenge, he didn’t shy away from it,” Reyna said. “It’s a big challenge, building a team from nothing in New York City. There are no players, and he says he wants to do this instead of the other opportunities he had in front of him. It was a brave decision. And that’s what we wanted to hear because we believe in him.”
“The vision of City Football Group was enticing, but to be the first player in that vision was even more so,” Villa said. “That made me really, really happy.”
Villa was recently joined by Frank Lampard from Chelsea, the team’s second designated player signing, and the new teammates attended the friendly between Manchester City and Liverpool at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night. While Villa has agreed to join Melbourne City, another City Football Group club in Australia, on loan until the MLS season kicks off, Lampard’s immediate future hasn’t yet been sorted. Melbourne City has ruled out Lampard accompanying Villa, and Lampard himself has said he couldn’t go on loan to Manchester City out of respect to his former club Chelsea.
“We’re discussing what’s going to happen with Frank,” Reyna said. “It’s been a key topic for us this week and I think we’ll have an announcement soon. We need a good solution for us, selfishly for NYCFC, to make sure he’s playing at a good level.”
Villa, meanwhile, has very few doubts about how he and his new compatriot will mesh on the field.
“I’m super excited,” he said. “Lampard’s a legend, his style of play is great, and between the two of us, we’ll only get better.”
NYCFC still has another designated player slot open, and while there’s been plenty of speculation about who the third star will be (can you imagine if you combined transfer rumors with the insanity of New York sports fans on one message board?), Reyna said the club is in no rush to make a decision, and expects to bring that player in during January. One of the names that’s been brought up is Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, who just happens to be Villa’s best friend. The two are so close that Villa named one of his daughters after Torres’s wife. What better place to reunite the families than New York, right?
“Funnily enough, we actually spoke yesterday,” Villa said with a grin, and then paused. “But we’re more family friends and that’s what we talked about – family.”
As for the rest of the squad, Reyna said there’s only a general timetable for each major phase of the roster build. In addition to the two designated players, NYCFC has acquired goalkeeper Josh Saunders, defender Jeb Brovsky and midfielder Andrew Jacobson. Reyna hopes to have about 12 by December before another designated player and the expansion and college drafts help fill out the rest of the squad, short of some final touches.
It all still feels far away, but maybe less so than just a few weeks ago. As an endless wave of kids adorned in NYCFC shirts played pick-up games with Villa in the park in the background, Reyna could only be optimistic about the hurdles ahead. Beyond the designated player that needs to be targeted, he said the team’s kits will be unveiled hopefully by November, and a mutually beneficial stadium deal with the city seems within reach. There’s a sense within the club that the momentum is building, especially as the club’s logo and apparel begins to dot each of the five boroughs.
“We saw a huge spike in interest over the summer,” Reyna said. “I’m seeing t-shirts and hats every day when I walk through Grand Central, so that’s really cool to see developing. That buzz is starting to grow.”
A buzz that Villa helped built. But when you’ve won everything, what do you consider a success as the flagship signing of a growing league’s newest club? What’s the legacy supposed to look like in five or ten years?
“For me, it’s about hard work, more hard work and dedication. I’m ready, but for the fans, it’s about dedication. We want to come out winning from day one and we want their support,” Villa said. “I want to leave a winning legacy, one built on hard work that will help people remember the name David Villa.”
Presumably – as a winner in New York City.