With David Villa failing to find consistent time in Barcelona's starting XI this season, speculation abounds about a January move to England or Italy (via Football Italia). Tito Vilanova seems to prefer the diligent work of Pedro and Alexis Sanchez alongside the irreplaceable Lionel Messi, and other clubs are looking to capitalize on Villa's unhappiness at the Camp Nou.
The following is an open letter to the Barcelona boss, pleading with him to play the long game and keep Villa around:
I admit it: you've had a great first few months. After that minor slip-up in the Spanish Super Cup, matches have been breaking in your favor left and right. You have a commanding lead in La Liga, you've weathered the storm of defensive injuries, and you won your group in the Champions League.
The coveted treble of trophies is well within your sights, and with Messi on form, who could stop you?
But perhaps things aren't going as swimmingly as they seem at first glance. Victories over Celtic and Spartak—both at the Camp Nou—required difficult comebacks. Another unlikely win came with the help of some dubious refereeing at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. The three most difficult matches you've played so far—against a team you will face many more times, should your tenure be successful—have resulted in just the single win.
Though Messi's form—and in particular, his poise in front of goal—have been spectacular, who can you call on in the coming months should his other-worldly powers wane? Who will step forward and take charge of games, and chances, when the opposition becomes stronger and the defenses smarter?
Does David Villa deserve more time in Barca's starting XI?
Sure, you have other players who have been scoring some goals. Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta will always throw in a few. Adriano will hopefully keep up the great work. But it only takes two matches to bounce out of the Champions League. If Messi gets marked out of a tie—and we've seen it happen before—do you really trust your other options to come through and exploit the extra space opponents leave in his wake?
Yes, we're told: Pedro and Alexis Sanchez will pull their shooting boots out of the closet. Sometime this year, decade, or century. No doubt, both are fabulously talented players, and no doubt they both deserve a role in the team.
But in the meantime, a truly world-class striker, a proven talent at all levels, a player who led Spain's attack to consecutive major tournament trophies, sits on the bench and, quite understandingly, grows frustrated.
Don't bother insisting that Villa's form has been poor. He has Barca's second-highest goal tally on the season, despite a dearth of playing time. He's only started seven games since his return from injury, many of them with a supporting cast of second-team players. Even in these less-than-optimal circumstances, he's scored eight goals, including some truly memorable ones against Sevilla, Rayo and Alaves.
I know that he and Messi have a tense relationship. So please remind me: Whose job is it to manage players' egos, ensure that they get along on the pitch and perform at their best? Whose job is it to take a bunch of talented individuals and make them into a cohesive unit?
As you seek to step out of Pep's shadow, consider this a test: Can you keep your stars happy? Can you make room in your team for a great striker whose name doesn't start with M and rhyme with Jesse? Your season, and your legacy, may depend on it.