Melbourne City football chiefs are confident that Spanish superstar David Villa will return to Australia after a short break in New York and could play until after Christmas, when the A-League goes into recess for the Asian Cup in early January.
That would enable the club’s high-profile guest player to take part not only in this weekend’s round-three derby clash with Melbourne Victory, but the pre-Christmas blockbuster at AAMI Park – a City home game – on December 20.
Under the terms of the loan deal with his employer, New York City FC, Villa can play up to 10 games with Melbourne City. The period during which he is available to the club began at the A-League kick-off, but he doesn’t have to play consecutive matches.
Club sources said on Tuesday City coaching staff knew Villa would want to return to New York at some point during his stay to see his wife and three young children, all aged under six, and to help them settle into their new home base.
Villa is set to play against Melbourne Victory this weekend and in the round-four game against Adelaide United on October 31. He will then return to New York for an unspecified period.
While it is possible he may decide not to come back to Australia at all, City officials think that’s unlikely as he needs to train, keep fit and match sharp for the start of the Major League Soccer season in March. His new teammates all come together for pre-season on January 24.
Melbourne City officials are banking on the fact that Villa would rather come back here and train in a football environment with a group and play in competitive games than run laps or work out in a gym alone.
While Villa is expected to do promotional work for New York City while he returns, there is a possibility he could bring his family back to Australia for an extended holiday while he sees out the terms of his guest-player deal. That, City hope, might see him stay until the Boxing Day home game with Perth Glory.
City has an away game at Suncorp against Brisbane Roar on November 8 and then entertain Central Coast and Sydney FC on November 16 and 22nd, respectively, before travelling to Wellington the following weekend.
He will definitely miss the Roar clash, but City staff would dearly love to have him for the two home games that follow that trip north, even if they’re not concerned about him missing the trip to New Zealand.
The club issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying: “We are incredibly fortunate to have David as a member of our squad for the first part of the Hyundai A-League 2014-15 season.
“We would obviously want a player of his calibre to represent the club in as many games of the guest allowance as possible between now and the commencement of MLS pre-season training in January.
“The precise number of Hyundai A-League games that David will play will be determined by the best interests of the player and his now New York-based family and the prioritisation of the requirements of both New York City FC and Melbourne City FC.
“That means that his playing and training schedule will be the product of all of those factors and subject to ongoing assessment.”
At his first press conference in Australia early in October, Villa made it clear there was no guarantee he would stay for the first 10 weeks of the season, saying it was up to New York City and Melbourne City to work out the details of his schedule. Both clubs are owned by English Premier League champion Manchester City.
Villa was pivotal in City’s first two games of the season – against Sydney FC and Newcastle – scoring draw-saving goals in both games. In fact, it looked as though he may have been the team’s only route to goal in those fixtures.
David Williams has only just come back into the starting line-up, but he’s a striker who can be hot and cold, while Mate Dugandzic is not a regular goalscorer. Premier League title-winner Damien Duff is a tremendous attacking talent, but he’s better known as a creator than a finisher. James Brown is young and not a guaranteed starter.
Another former Premier League player, Robert Koren, would ease the burden – he was on target 45 times in 277 games between 2007 and 2014 for Premier League clubs West Bromwich Albion and Hull City while they were in England’s top two divisions.
But the former Slovenian captain is injured, has missed the first two games of the season, and will miss the derby this weekend.
If City’s confidence is misplaced and the Spanish World Cup winner does not return, thousands of supporters who bought memberships on the back of Villa’s arrival will be entitled to feel aggrieved.
The statement released by City on Tuesday said it now had 10,000 members. Its crowd on Sunday for the visit of Newcastle Jets – rarely one of the league’s big drawcards – was 15,000, far in excess of its usual home gates, bar games against Melbourne Victory.
It is impossible to think that Villa’s presence in the line-up did not account for a significant proportion of that crowd.