Soccer schools preach official doctrine. Midfielders should play one or two touches. Simplify. Avoid errors. Thus Spain produces flyers in industrial quantities. Technically flawless, well profiled, disciplined. Like farmed fish, they look like drops of water. Until, without quite knowing why, an astonishingly different individual stirred up the assembly line. It could have happened in Barcelona, Las Palmas or Vila-real. It happened in the quarry of Valencia. The youth’s name was Gonzalo Villar, he was born in Murcia in 1998, and he insisted on driving the ball by making fun of rivals while he changed his feet with the greatest naturalness, perhaps from imitating Andrés Iniesta so much.
“I had a coach at Valencia youth who told me: ‘You can’t do that,'” he recalls. “You always think: ‘Is this advice that the coach gives me is going to help me in my career or is it something that serves him, for his game model?’ That advice I decided not to take; because I think that a midfielder who is capable of dividing, breaking a driving line and playing forward, the benefit he brings to the game and to his team is brutal ”.
The voice rings out sparkling on the other end of the phone. He speaks from the concentration of Spain that disputes the European Under-21 in Slovenia. Pivot for Roma, the only Italian team to survive in UEFA competition; dedicate these weeks to playing indoors La Rojita, where he exhibits his entire repertoire of setter and finisher. This Saturday in Maribor (9:00 pm CEST) the place will be played for the quarterfinals against Italy.
“I remember when I got to Elche, Pacheta took me and asked me:” What are you good at? ” “Drive the ball.” “Well, drive …”, he told me, “as long as you know when to do and when not to!” And I thought: “How nice to have this coach!”
“My process with Pacheta was not to arrive and kiss the saint,” he warns. “The first year was difficult. It was a tug of war until I understood what he was asking of me. He taught me that he was not worth the offensive part; that quality players also have to get used to defending. That in elite football you have to scratch, you have to be aggressive. He taught me to compete. He told me that the technical players are flattered and that I didn’t have to pay attention to that, because on the field flattery would be of no use to me ”.
The boys who have made Spanish football the most advanced of the century have been characterized by a multifaceted versatility. Supportive to defend, cunning to associate; tough on long runs; and in some cases even skilled at dribbling and finishing plays. Like Dani Ceballos, his predecessor in the sub-21, Gonzalo Villar feels reflected in that long saga of interiors. “Moving constantly is one of my characteristics,” he says. “I enjoy when my teammates are finding me easily, when I touch the ball continuously, when I don’t throw myself long stretches of the game without catching the ball. There are players who can make a difference without having the ball, because when they receive it they can score a goal. My game is about feeling dominating the game and seeing that the team works at my pace ”.
“In the field I’m a bit heavy, yes,” he acknowledges. “It helps me get into games. In Rome I can’t stop talking. If you are seeing that the best thing is for the teammate who carries the ball to pass it to a certain player, I shout the name for him to give it directly to him. It happens to me a lot with the centrals and the wings. I try to order to save time ”.
“In lower categories I have been told off by a coach who asked me to be more positional,” he recalls. “But I am always looking for the ball, for the passing line, for a solution for my teammates, and that leads me to remove myself and think about where I can be better positioned. It seems to me that this is how you do more damage to the rival ”.
“Before I saw myself more as a eight, but in Roma I’m playing more than six and I feel very comfortable, ”he explains. “I honestly have an internal debate about what is my best position. Nor do I think it is a problem because I manage well in both, as long as I am close to the base of the play ”.
On Wednesday against Slovenia he began attacking maneuvers with Zubimendi, stole, counterattack, signed a great goal and even officiated from the left and right, swapping with Cucurella and Brahim in actions that unhinged the local defense. “At Roma, due to the position we occupy on the pitch with three central centers and long wings, that space is not usually usable for me,” he says. “But whenever I come to the national team, we do it. I remember a pass from Ferrán Torres, an uncheck from me, a back pass and a goal from Cucurella ”.
The associative game of the U21s encourages freedoms that I could not afford in Roma. Anchored in front of the centrals next to Diawara, the Murcian has become accustomed to living dangerously in the rigor of the position that most penalizes the lack of precision. “In the midfield there is not much time to think and I think that most of the midfielders have a first idea before receiving the ball,” he reflects. “But then I usually leave enough to the imagination so that if an opponent is closing me on one side, come out the other, make a feint, turn around and turn around to change sides… I don’t want to be automatic. I really like dribbling. Sometimes the coaches get angry for taking risks in dangerous areas, but since I usually do well, I usually do them ”.
Dribbler and midfielder are terms that very rarely married. Orthodoxy forbids it. But Gonzalo Villar, who is 1.84 meters tall but changes direction as if he were a tall man, declares that he is willing to try. “To find your place at the start of the play you have to profile yourself and look at where the rivals are to know how much time you have,” he says. “I feel comfortable with the opponent close by, feeling him on top. Because that way you can go out to the other side, or do a dribble. I bargain with the body. When opponents squeeze you, they have less reaction capacity and it is easier to fake them. I’m not fast, but I do have that first step. I paid attention to Iniesta a lot: he dribbled for intelligence. He taught us that you don’t have to be so fast to haggle. He was so fine with the ball that he could wait for the defender to put his leg in to give his touch ”.