When Gary Lineker departed the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ and joined Barcelona, he did so with the adidas Golden Boot in his possession, so it is perhaps no surprise to hear his admiration for a striker who could be following in his footsteps in more ways than one over the next few days.
David Villa had already signed for Lineker's old club prior to embarking on Spain's South African adventure, and Barça's new striker now stands on the cusp of collecting the Golden Boot himself, heading the leaderboard alongside Wesley Sneijder, with five goals going into Sunday's Final against the Netherlands. The former England captain hailed Villa's impact on the 2010 finals as reflected on the past month spent fronting the BBC's FIFA World Cup coverage.
Lineker told FIFA.com: "He is a prolific goalscorer, with a lot of self-confidence. He handles the pressure very well and is very cool in front of goal. He showed that two years ago at the Euros and has showed here it is not a flash in the pan. He is just one goal behind Raul's record for Spain and is a brilliant finisher."
Lineker, who spent three seasons at Barcelona after his six goals for England at Mexico 1986, had Spain down as "strong favourites" before the tournament and is a huge admirer of their football. Speaking before their semi-final win over Germany, he said: "I know they've not probably peaked yet in terms of their performance – compared with two years ago they have ground out results – but I love the way they keep the ball, I love their movement, I love their possession. [Fernando] Torres has been struggling with fitness and they’ve missed that aspect but I love watching them play."
Spain's vanquished semi-final opponents, Germany, are another team who have "impressed us all", according to Lineker, who recognises a kindred spirit in Miroslav Klose, who, with four goals so far, could yet equal Ronaldo’s record of 15 FIFA World Cup goals in the match for third place against Uruguay. Lineker, who struck ten goals on the world stage, said: "[Klose] is the sort of player who peaks at the right time in World Cups.
"His movement in the box is great, he gambles on attacking space, which is the secret to goalscoring. It is about making a run and hoping the ball goes there. He has done that consistently and it doesn't surprise me that all of his goals have come from inside the box – in my career I only scored one outside of it."
Lineker also had a word for Klose's 20-year-old team-mate Thomas Muller. "He has had four shots on target and managed to score with every one of them, which obviously shows he is pretty accurate in front of goal."
And for Uruguay's "wonderful" Diego Forlan too, another player still in the Golden Boot running with four goals. "He has played in a side that is not particularly offensive and has not had too many opportunities, but he has scored goals out of nothing. His long-range shooting has been outstanding and unlike a lot of players at this World Cup, he seems to have coped with the ball."
A subplot of Sunday's Final is the potential shoot-out for the Golden Boot between Villa and Sneijder, who has flourished behind Robin van Persie in the 4-2-3-1 system in vogue in South Africa. "Van Persie has not scored the goals but he is playing up front on his own and has done a terrific job for the team," said Lineker. "He has brought people in and created one or two things but it is Sneijder, who is playing behind the front man, who has managed to score the goals for them.
"A lot of teams that have done well have played a couple of holding players in front of their back four, so a lot of the width has either come from playing attacking fullbacks or having one up front on his own and two either side of him," he added. "We've seen Brazil play that way, Holland, Spain with [Xabi] Alonso and [Sergio] Busquets holding and giving Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta the licence to roam. The Germans played that way as well and used [Mesut] Ozil cleverly, sitting in between the lines. I think it works quite well because with two holding players you can then play three or four flair players."
Lineker lamented England's failure to adopt a similar approach when talk turned to his own country's disappointing campaign. On Wayne Rooney's failure to shine, he said: "Maybe after a long hard season with a couple of injuries towards the end, a bit like Torres, he never looked as sharp as normal. Maybe the expectancy of the nation was weighing on his shoulders a bit too, but it is hard to know.
"There is also the fact that all season he played in a system where he was the front man with a couple of players either side of him, and suddenly he is asked to play second fiddle to a striker in a basic 4-4-2 formation which didn't produce the best out of England. It is probably a mixture of all those things."
If England disappointed, the host nation, South Africa, most certainly has not. "It has been a great experience, there is a wonderful atmosphere and all the preconceptions prior to the tournament faded away – people thought there would be half-empty stadiums, security issues, but those questions were all answered emphatically.
"On the pitch it has been a reasonable World Cup, probably more attack-minded than four years ago where after a really good start, it seemed to get very negative. What we're lacking is probably a couple of the world's greatest players not performing to the best of their abilities and we've not had yet the great game, the one we'll all remember, but that may well yet come."