Andrew Smith: David Villa lacks the ego of his contemporaries

IT MIGHT seem contrary to suggest that David Villa does not have the profile his prowess warrants. The Spanish striker is most bookmakers' favourite to be top scorer at this World Cup. And his frontline partnership with Fernando Torres is recognised as the most fearsome in world football. So much so in fact, that Spain have edged out Brazil as many people's tips to triumph in South Africa.

The favourites tag has been wedded to the Euro 2008 winners – a tournament in which Villa claimed the Golden Boot despite missing the final with a thigh injury. Villa's stock has never been higher. It is

little more than a fortnight, after all, since his unprepossessing 5ft 9in frame, decked out in full Barcelona kit, was pictured on news sites throughout the planet following his 40m move to the Nou Camp from


And yet there are still some who don't recognise Villa's worth and would have balked at a headline on one blog this week which proclaimed: "David Villa: a legend in the making." This is despite the statistics which show a player at the very top of his game. In 2009, with a sixth double, the 28-year-old equalled his own record, 12, for highest number of goals scored by a Spanish international in a calendar year. His prodigious efforts at international level mean he is now only seven goals behind Raul Fernandez in Spain's all-time scoring list, with 37 strikes. Villa, though, has racked up his total in 57 games; Raul took 102.

The Gaujre (kid) from Langres, Asturias, a region in northern Spain, is a man who knocks off goals as if the act of doing so comes as naturally as breathing. Not that they are delivered without industry. It is indeed his speed of movement and thought, and the intelligence that frames both, that make him so devilish for defences. Not particularly aggressive or strong in the air, he does his damage by popping up everywhere, and popping them in from anywhere. He is the perfect foil for Torres, the pair mutually destructive and mutually respectful. "We complement each other very well. We get on well on the pitch and very well off it too. We're a good partnership. We both chase down defenders, put pressure on and fight to create chances for each other," he has said of a combo that has 60 international goals so far.

Across Villa's five years at Valencia, whom he joined for ?12m from Real Zaragoza in 2005, the goals flowed in torrents. He scored 129 in 225 appearances, aping records set by Mario Kempes and, 60 years earlier, club great Edmundo Suarez. He was calculated to have been the most prolific footballer in the world across his time at the Mestalla, during which he scored a six-minute hat-trick. Samuel Eto'o scored more times, but he did not take his team's corner kicks and box-delivering free kicks. Villa does because he is the complete attacker, and one with an assists record unrivalled for so gifted a predator. Considering that the sloth-like Zlatan Ibrahimovic bagged 21 goals for the free-scoring Catalans last season there does indeed seem no limit to the carnage that Villa could wreak in the coming years. One of the striker's heroes, Barcelona legend Quini, who was top scorer in La Liga five times in the early 1980s, agrees and has dubbed Villa a "phenomenon" who is the "best in Europe".

All of which begs the question as to why Villa is not afforded the acclaim or celebrity heaped on other players in his elite bracket. The answer might lie in what he had to say when asked about the qualities he would bring to Barcelona. "Hard work, humility and a desire to try to help the team be a little better," he offered. Villa may endorse products such as Hugo Boss but the man who married his childhood sweetheart and now has two young girls has no great interest in self-promotion, or sharing his thoughts with the world. Ultimately, he is not a "brand" footballer, who sells a lifestyle or a superstar aura. Indeed, when it became apparent that all the major footballing powers should be attempting to prise him from Valencia, he was dismissed by one of the Real Madrid powerbrokers precisely because he was devoid of galactio hallmarks.

Equally, former Real coach Bernd Schuster accused Villa of having "no ambition" when the player said he wanted "to spend all my sporting career here" at the Mestalla Stadium on signing a new six-year contract with the club in 2008. "Footballing ambition is not about your mouth, it is about your feet," Villa retorted. "You can accuse me of lots of things – of having a bad day, of missing chances, of many things – but I have always had ambition and always will have. I think I have proved that on the pitch with Zaragoza, Sporting, UD Langreo, and the national team."

On the day he signed on at the Nou Camp, Villa posted an open letter to Valencia supporters on the club's website to "share the most difficult and emotional moment of my entire career". He described the move as "a good thing for the club" since ultimately he was sold because of Valencia's precarious finances rather than him engineering an exit. For two years, he could have had his pick of any of the top clubs, Chelsea and Manchester United among them, but he continued with the club he said had been his "home" since his first day at the club "and no-one can doubt that will continue forever".

Yet, Villa's five years yielded only one trophy, the 2008 Copa del Rey, which his goals in the final helped secure, as they had at the end of his first season with Zaragoza, whom he joined for ?3m from Sporting Gijon in the summer of 2003. The son of a miner, he credits his father with supplying him the principles and ethics by which he has pursued his career. These may also be traced to his grandmother, who was called Libertad (Liberty) and the fact her father was nicknamed Trotsky.

Yet, as much as giving his offspring an ethos, Villa's dad was also instrumental in ensuring he was physically equipped . After he broke his right femur, his dad would throw the ball at his left leg while his other was in plaster and so made him two-footed. And, it seems, obsessive about scoring. "I can't remember every goal," Villa once said. "But if I sat down with a pen and a piece of paper I'm sure I could remember most of them." Considering he would have 270 goals to recall – these coming at the rate of two every three games – that would be a feat to rank up there with scoring them.