Both Roma and Serie A themselves have taken time out of their week to praise Gonzalo Villar this week. But when Il Tempo’s Alessandro Austini was also at it on the radio this morning, I had to ask myself: Have I missed something? Villar has always been a firm favourite of mine since his first-ever appearances for Roma; just look at his initiative in carving out the 1-1 equalizer away to Cagliari last season—then as a completely unknown player in the side, no less, but directing teammates where to play the ball next—to see his willingness to embrace responsibility.
But even with that being said, I was mystified as to why the praise keeps falling at Villar’s feet day after day. This was from Austini on the radio this morning:
“Villar has shown he knew how to wait for the right moment, and now be damned anyone who touches him. For Romanisti, he’s a darling and favourite, we get affectionate about him for his way of playing the game. Fans get affectionate about those special kind of players, and he is one. He’s a character, like Nainggolan was. There’s a new generation of players growing at the club.”
And it seems like Villar has been firmly marked out by fans and press as the best of that new generation.
The fans’ darling? Comparisons to Nainggolan? It’s eye-opening praise for a guy who’s yet to complete a full season of top-flight senior football. Not that it isn’t deserved, as I’m in full agreement. But even the league itself was putting Villar on a pedestal, earlier this week:
Setting up the offensive game, inserting brilliant dribblings and defending that ball with all he has. @Gonzalo14villar is @ASRomaEN’s gem that’s starting to shine. #SerieATIM #WeAreCalcio pic.twitter.com/u66jS2BUT7— Lega Serie A (@SerieA_EN) February 16, 2021
Framing Villar as one of the leading characters of Serie A, possibly even one who can attract more eyeballs to Italian football, is an intriguing prospect for Roma...if they can keep him. And Friedkin Group’s ownership will be judged by this big IF this summer. But the final piece of this week’s Villar-athon of praise finally clicked for me this morning, as I saw Villar cut an interview with Il Tempo published earlier today.
Within this interview, Villar really does show all the confidence and wisecracking of a young man on top of his game right now, and he has more than a few ironic statements to make about his teammates, his future, and the future success of the club.
What are Roma aiming for right now?
Villar: “Right now, we’re third and we want to get closer to second place. Still looking ahead, we can reach our objective by the end of the season, which is that of bringing Roma back into the Champions League.”
And what about the Europa League?
Villar: “There’s no point looking too far ahead. We’re facing a strong opponent like Braga, who competes in a league that we don’t know well. It’ll be a difficult match.”
What would you be willing to do to win the cup?
Villar: “I’ll shave my head bald. Actually I’ll shave it to one. I’ve never done that before.”
How come this team never wins against big opponents?
Villar: “We talk about it a lot between us, but every game has happened differently. One time it came down to an error, another time we weren’t sold, another time after that we didn’t shoot enough. It’s not that we’ve started every one of those games by immediately conceeding three goals. Maybe now a mental problem has crept in, it’s as if that desire to fulfil our duty and beat a big rival makes something grow in our heads. It’s only small details missing, for example Juventus scored at the first chance they had, and we lacked substance [at the other end] but [our performance] did show we’ve taken a step forward.”
What happened in the Coppa Italia?
Villar: “It was just a day where things went wrong, maybe with our heads still stuck in the Derby. You conceed a goal and then another. If we play that games ten times over, we win nine of them. We had the opportunity to score for 3-2 that we usually don’t fail at doing, then we had two sendings off in extra time and the match got difficult. But now it’s already in the past.”
Did you guys on the pitch realise what was happening with the six substitutions?
Villar: “I didn’t know. In Spain, for example, making a sixth substitution is allowed. But we lost [the game] on the pitch, and that’s our fault as players. And then came a human error. It’s shouldn’t happen but it can. I’m 22 years old and I can make mistakes, just like the ex team manager Gianluca Gombar who’s 27. Everyone wrote that we lost the match by default, but the reality is the game ended 4-2 on the pitch.”
You’re five Spanish players in the Roma side, a team within a team...
Villar: “We’re a little family that speaks the same language, including Fazio and Pastore. Borja Mayoral, Carles Perez and I are younger and closer [to one another], but we’re all together.”
What do you think of the Dzeko situation?
Villar: “I don’t like to talk about these things in the open. I’ll say only that Dzeko is a crazy good player, and I used to choose him on the Playstation when I was a kid.”
And now you show him what passes to make with your finger, on the pitch...
Villar: “That’s life! I become a [Playstation] controller in reality! But if I tell Edin who to pass it to, he does well to listen to me (laughs).”
Is goalscoring your weak point?
Villar: “It’s true. Playing as a regista, I don’t have many opportunities to get into the penalty area. Maybe sometimes I’ll pass it sideways to Spinazzola out wide, then I think about running into the box, I raise my head and see Veretout is already in the area. At that point I stop myself, because I have to think about preventative marking, otherwise if we get hit on the counter we’ll conceed a goal. Sometimes, ahead of the game, I’ll tell Jordan: “I’m counting on you to swap roles with me every now and then.” He’ll say “sure, sure” but then he never does it and it’s always him going inside the box.”
Can’t you try shooting more outside of the box?
Villar: “After training, I stop myself at taking bets with my Spanish teammates on shot-taking. The truth is I’m more given to passing. It’s just a thing I have inside of me. If I see a teammate open to receive the ball, I don’t shoot on goal. But it’s true that, every now and then, I should be more egotistical.”
Other than playing well, you’re very expressive on the pitch. Can you explain why?
Villar: “I bring passion onto the pitch, and I can’t hide how I feel during the game. I’m pulling my hair if I don’t pull off a tackle. I’ve very expressive with my hands, I’ve always been like that ever since I was small. I look to help my teammates by giving directions with my hands, for example when I’m not under any pressure [from opponents], I’ll look to indicate with my foot so that they pass me the ball, then I think about moving the ball about. I love expressing myself [with my body], and my friends would always make fun of me by saying I can’t stand still.”
Do you still talk with Petrachi?
Villar: “No, but I have to thank him for the confidence he had in me. He brought me here from the Spanish second division.”
How did you strike up a relationship with Totti?
Villar: “As soon as I came to Rome, I met him in a restaurant by coincidence. I was with a few friends and he was sat at a near table. I asked him if we could take a picture together, and I don’t think he even knew who I was. then we saw each other again, went to lunch together and it was a pleasure just to listen to all his stories. Hearing them directly from a player like Totti was unbelievable. My life has changed so much in the last few months.”
In what way?
Villar: “People in Rome show me love, I feel it, they stop me everywhere to take a picture and say beautiful things. There’s nothing like it in Spain. Being so close to a team [like this] doesn’t exist in any city [over there], not even Madrid. If you play for Roma, it’s like you become almost part of divinity. You go to do the grocery shopping and everyone talks to you, everyone encourages you. I find that beautiful.”
Can it become a problem of too much pressure? Is that why few trophies are won here?
Villar: “I don’t believe so. If ever that’s the case, some players prefer not to talk in the middle of town so they don’t have to be stopped continuously. But speaking only for myself, I’ve never turned down anyone for a photo because I’ve been a fan, myself. But there are many times I’d like to be less known so that I can go out with friends. I’d like to be able to live a normal life of a young man, which is what everyone else at my age does.”
Have you managed to find love in Rome?
Villar: “My love life is still secret.”
Who’s got better luck with the ladies? You or Zaniolo?
Villar: “It’s better not to answer that question! (laughs)”
Are you aiming for a place at the EURO U-21s?
Villar: “They didn’t call me up on the last two occassions. I have to think about giving the best of myself and I have to do that in this Roma team. Obviously, it’d be a pleasure to be called up, or called up straight to the senior international squad to represent Spain. That’s an unbelievable dream of mine. But right now I’m thinking about Roma, I’ve got a long way to go.”
Has Luis Enrique watched that game of yours on DAZN like you asked him to on Twitter?
Villar: “That was just me playing around. I’m a guy who always likes to smule, I like cracking jokes in life and making light of things. When it’s time to work, OK. But it’s not possible to always be serious. I have to say that tweet was liked by many, but my social media manager wasn’t too happy about it.”
Do you often talk it out with him?
Villar: “Generally, I write my own social media posts and I don’t like it when someone does it on my behalf. But it is useful to collaborate, every now and then, on what’s best to publish because it’s read by many.”
You’re the only player who uses Twitter so often. How is that?
Villar: “I like it because you can read the news of the world in an instant. I don’t post that much, but I like to stay informed on Italian football, Spanish football and the rest.”
Do you think about contract talks?
Villar: “I’m at ease because I’m happy here and, when you’re doing things well, the rest comes in its own time. I’ve got a good rapport with Tiago Pinto and the people working on my side.”
Where and how do you picture youself in five years time?
Villar: “Maybe as one of the most important Roma players, but in a strong Roma team that competes every season for the league title and in the Champions League. Right now we’re taking it game by game, but we have bigger ambitions in the long term.”
So you don’t picture yourself elsewhere?
Villar: “I’d like to grow here. I see a few young players like Zaniolo, Pellegrini, Ibanez, Mancini or other who, in two or three years when we’ll all be more mature, can form a winning team.”
With Fonseca [as the coach of that team]?
Villar: “Yes, I can’t ask for anyone other than him. I thank him for the faith he’s giving me.”
When did you realise you were close to the big time?
Villar: “I came at the end of January 2020, the lockdown happened. It was hard, my family wasn’t here and I stayed inside the house finding my mental strength again. I never trained with my head down thinking that I wouldn’t play for a long time. So then came my moment, thanks to God I found myself ready to make the most of that chance. At first I was only played in the Europa League, but I wanted to mix it up in Serie A. I played a nice game against Parma in November, we won and then maybe I started to think that the coach could consider me as an important player.”
How’s university going?
Villar: “Studying helps you on a mental level. We have so much free time after training. My parents always told me to not only think about football, without them I wouldn’t have [gotten into my studies]. I try. I won’t lie. It’s difficult that a player who plays in the Roma team finds the desire to get to studying, instead of playing on the Playstation. And that happens to me, too. We had six exams in the first semester, the first few went well, but the others not so much. Now we’ll see about the next few ones.”
Your brother also plays as a midfielder. Will you find yourself as teammates one day?
Villar: “That would be a dream come true. He plays really well, he’s 17 years old, he’ll become a strong player in two or three years time. He’s got quality, similar to my own, but he never loses the ball. We have to ask my father how he did it! He was more into tennis, but now we watches us both [play football].”
Roma is very active on social media...
Villar: “The club and its Roma Cares Foundation have organised many initiatives, and us players have the duty to give our contribution. Doing it in a city where the link between the people and the team is this strong is twice as important, and beautiful.”