MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – From Sporting Gijon to Barcelona to New York City FC, reigning MLS MVP David Villa has seen it all when it comes to title chases, relegation battles and playoff pushes.
His conclusion? What works in Spain may not work in North America, especially when it comes to the hotly-debated topic of promotion and relegation.
"Here it’s different [than Spain]. You don’t have relegation, but when the league starts on March 3, 22 teams have a chance to win the league,” the World Cup winner told reporters at Tuesday's MLS Media Day. ”This is amazing for the league. You can’t see this in a lot of leagues around the world. I think in any [other] league you can’t see that 22 teams have a chance for winning the league and this is our reality. This is interesting without relegation.”
Villa also argued that relegation is more feasible in Spain in part because unlike MLS, “it’s impossible for 15 teams to get the trophy” at the start of the season, effectively creating a separate league for fans to take interest in.
In his 20 minute round-table discussion, NYCFC’s talisman was also pressed on a range of topics from his own personal future to the team's outlook for 2017, but took the questions with the calmness he displays in front of goal. Villa credited head coach Patrick Vieira for changing the club’s mentality, which led to a strong 2016 campaign that saw NYCFC finish just three points shy of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
"The improvement of the team was in great part for him and his staff,” Villa said of Vieira. “He gave us a lot of identity.”
The Spanish striker also touched on the topic of retirement. Villa just turned 35 last month, but said he is not setting a target to hang up his cleats after feeling better than ever in 2016.
“The most important thing for me was that last year I only missed one training.” Villa said. “It’s my first time I didn’t have an injury during the year. I was fit. I was very comfortable in each game, in each training.”
Villa, who scored 23 goals and had four assists last season, hopes to continue this season in the same vein. In fact, he will only consider retirement when his body begins to wear down.
“If I get to be fit, comfortable and my mind is happy, I want to play more. I will play more for sure,” Villa said. “But, if those two things don't happen, no problem. I accept the moment and go out. But I am not thinking of this now.”