… And Still Ricky Villa
by Ricky Villa with Joel Miler & Federico Ardiles
Published by Vision Sport
Ricky Villa was the tall, dark, handsome and silent type out of the Argentine duo who arrived at White Hart Lane one July day in 1978. His very limited English saw Ossie Ardiles be the one who did the talking, while Ricky was happy to let his football do the talking for him.
The dichotomy between the two players was clear to see as they played out their careers at Tottenham, but it is also a surprise when reading this autobiography, that Ricky is an articulate and thoughtful person, belying his assumed reticence while playing over here.
There are stories of hard times in his family, who worked a rented plot of land and struggled to pay the rent if the crops failed. As the one who was to have a talent for football, Ricky was able to repay the dedication his family had to his rise through the game to become a World Cup winner. But the hard times don’t necessarily end there, as Villa explains about the concerns within the game in Argentina from players who may not get paid, corruption and the issues surrounding crowd violence.
Of course, the largest chunk of the book covers his time at Spurs, with the isolation felt through not speaking the English language initially causing a variety of problems, from not understanding opposition’s abuse to not being able to navigate when out driving, as they didn’t know where they were going ! Being thrust into a completely different culture was difficult and not like nowadays when there is a coterie of officials to help you integrate and settle. And the cultural differences weren’t just off the pitch, as training was very different and the customs surrounding the game were alien to the Argentine version too.
Success came the club’s and Ricky’s way in 1981, when he scored the incredible goal that gives the book it’s title from John Motson’s commentary. The first game that ended 1-1 was a different story though and the author explains how he felt when he was substituted when all he wanted to do was to perform in a FA Cup Final. The goal he scored in the replayed final has made him world famous, with people stopping him to talk about so often. The contrast from the end of the Saturday match and that on the following Thursday was drastic and it made him a legend among Spurs fans.
When the Falklands War broke out in 1982, Villa chose to stay in England, while Ardiles returned to his home country to prepare for the World Cup finals. Like his compatriot, he was torn between his homeland and his adopted country, wishing it had never happened. Robbed of paying in a second FA Cup Final, the following season was one where his form was inconsistent and eventually, he felt a change was needed, moving across the pond to play in America, but realising it was a hasty move. Further moves followed until a bout of hepatitis at the age of 33 meant he realised that his playing days were over.
A move into management followed, with all the politics of Argentine football which that brought with it and politics off the field interested the midfielder, with his views providing an insight into the man’s beliefs about how his countrymen and women should be provided for.
Given the platform to speak, mainly through Ossie’s son Federico, a more fully fleshed out personality is formed rather than the memory of a bull of a man gracefully dodging blue shirted Manchester City players as he enjoyed his moment in the sun. Nowadays he has plenty of those back on his ranch in his home town of Roque Perez, safe in the knowledge that his name has gone down in Tottenham Hotspur history … and he’s still Ricky Villa.
When most people hear the words “Ricky Villa”, they usually think of his most famous moment in a Spurs shirt. That weaving, stuttering run at Wembley in 1981 that brought Spurs a trophy and the player world-wide notoriety for a very special goal in a very special game.
But remembering the forlorn figure that tramped around the running track at the old national stadium in the original game, it showed that there were two sides to this man. This book shows even more facets of a personality that is surprising and enlightening.
The bull like striker came to Spurs on a wave of tickertape just after the 1978 World Cup with his compatriot and great friend Ossie Ardiles and his team-mate for club and country features throughout the book, with Ardiles Junior having a hand in producing this autobiography. But Villa’s upbringing was very different to the life that he was thrust into in England. A hard farming background perhaps ensured that Villa was more grounded than many footballers and stopped him getting wrapped up in the glitz surrounding the game.
His stories about the time at Spurs and the Falklands War are probably of most interest to Tottenham fans, although, the whole book is very readable. While the football world engulfs him, family is the one thing that keeps his feet on the ground and what comes through is how that is the most important thing to him. Money and fame might come and go, but he is happiest among his loved ones.
Ricky admits his approach to the game was not always what it should have been, but his views on how it should be played and the way the game is run are interesting. His views on Argentine football, past and present, show an understanding of the tactics, but also the needs of players and it is a shame that his managerial career never really blossomed in his homeland.
The content is not just restricted to football, as Ricardo has a great social conscience and his views on politics, the military junta in Argentina just before and during the World Cup there and how society should be introduce a side to the man that you may not have imagined.
While his on-pitch performances could be fluctuating in their effect on the game, on paper it is a different matter and this autobiography is not your standard football fare, but an insight into a man who has more interesting things to say than the average footballer.
Marco van Hip