Fiercely competitive, hard-working and lethal in front of goal, Valencia's David Villa has developed into one of the hottest properties in world football. Yet despite finishing top scorer when Spain won UEFA EURO 2008, the Asturias-born hitman has not let his achievements go to his head.
Indeed, as he told FIFA.com when discussing topics including Valencia, La Roja's European conquest, the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Vicente Del Bosque, Cesc Fabregas and Raul, this fervent admirer of fellow Asturian footballing icons Luis Enrique and Juanele insists he will keep learning his trade until the day he hangs up his boots.
FIFA.com: David, how is the mood in the Valencia dressing room given your recent UEFA Cup exit and inconsistent Liga form?
David Villa: Our season's taken a downward turn because we had high hopes for the UEFA Cup. Now we need to focus on the league, even though to be honest it's nigh on impossible for us to win it. Whatever the case, our stated goal is to finish in the top four to qualify for the next edition of the Champions League which is very important to the club, both financially and in sporting terms.
Spain have got off to a great start in South Africa 2010 qualifying and in late March face back-to-back games against Turkey. Will these encounters decide who finishes top of Group 5?
It will be virtually like a two-legged knockout tie. We knew from the off that Turkey could be our most difficult rivals. We go into the games with a significant points advantage and will be aiming to increase that over these two matches and put ourselves well on the way to qualifying. The sooner we seal qualification, the better for everybody.
Is there anything about the Turkish team that concerns you?
We'll have to study their strengths and weaknesses, but in principle we'll stick with our style of play which is one that's worked well for us. We have to try and be in good form ourselves, iron out our flaws and improve our strong points.
Surely Spain don't have many flaws? After all, they haven't lost since 2006.
In football, I think that admitting your weaknesses is a weakness in itself. But everybody still has them and, even though we're doing well at the moment, there are always things you can improve on.
How have things changed since Vicente del Bosque took charge of La Roja?
Maybe he's altered the way we work. Every coach has their own notebook, strategy and training tactics. But the core of the squad is the same and the environment hasn't changed, that's why it's been a smooth transition. Spain have been playing very well for a few years now, winning tough games and going unbeaten, and not just since the EURO. All of these factors have helped make the change of coach much less noticeable than if things were going badly.
You are currently joint-top scorer in European Zone qualifying for South Africa 2010, alongside Belgium's Wesley Sonck and Wayne Rooney of England. Have you set yourself a target?
No, I'll just try to score as many goals as possible in order to mathematically seal qualification for the World Cup as soon as possible. That's our aim at the end of the day. The finals are where you really get recognition. It's great to have the chance to play qualifying games but it's just a stepping stone. It's not about scoring loads of goals, it's about the ones you score helping your national team to qualify.
What will Spain aim to achieve at South Africa 2010?
I'm very boring about this, but I keep saying that what matters is qualifying and being there. We have to be sensible and realistic, and we've not guaranteed our ticket yet. Clearly though, if we continue in this vein then we've got a great chance. Once there, Spain always have to be one of the favourites. Let's hope that, with humility and a lot of hard work, we can reach the Final. As European champions there'll be a lot more expected from us while we also have to defend our style of play.
As well as putting the bad experience at Germany 2006 behind you...
Well yes, because we were left feeling terrible. I genuinely think that we were the best team in the group phase but then we had the misfortune to come up against France in the last 16. They weren't better than us but they were more effective and they knocked us out. That's what the final phase is all about, you have to be on your game every three days because, even if you're doing really well, one bad day and you're on your way home.
Spain certainly learned that lesson in time for EURO 2008. What was the key to that success?
There were a lot of factors: the work the team put in, our determination to succeed, the joint effort of the coaching staff and players. Spain got it right and we weren't just champions but worthy winners thanks to the football we played. That's something everybody has recognised. Besides which, we're very happy to have been able to put the issues that had been dogging us (the supposed quarter-final jinx) to bed once and for all. The next time we play a finals they won't be brought up and that'll mean there's a much better atmosphere in the national squad.
After the torrent of praise, both individual and collective, that followed that tournament, how did you deal with it all?
I always say that praise can often have a negative effect. But in this case, and after the EURO, we kept on proving that we still have the same desire. We didn't believe the hype, we just kept working hard so the compliments would keep coming. More than anything else, we're very aware that it was only three years ago that this team came under really heavy criticism and we don't want that to happen again. Let's hope we can keep this going for many years to come.
Spain are a relatively young side and continue to bring even younger players into the national team set-up. Who would you say was the most promising of these new talents?
He's now an established player rather than a promising talent, but I'm a huge fan of Cesc Fabregas. He's very young but has already played at two major finals and has been very important to the national team. He'll be the player we all look to in the future.
You have already taken Raul's No7 shirt at international level. At the rate you're going, how long do you think it'll take to overtake him as La Roja's all-time top scorer?
I've not taken anything from anybody. I was simply playing well for my club and the national coach gave me an opportunity. Too much has been said about the number issue. I chose the one I liked most from those available and that's it. I'm not looking for controversy. In fact, Raul and I were in the national squad together in the past. I haven't forced anybody out. As far as goals are concerned, yes I'd love to beat his record though I know that it's very difficult. I've got 25 goals but he's got 44 and is still playing! I'd be delighted to reach that tally as I'd help the national team achieve great victories and, in many years' time, I could see my name on a (scorers' list) that another young lad was trying to beat. That would be great.
How has all the furore about Raul's involvement in the national team affected you personally?
I've never liked it, because I think that it's been damaging to us both. We've always got on well whenever we've met at international level, so I'm not concerned. I work hard for myself, not to compete with anybody. All I want is to be in the squad for every game and if the day comes that I can't have the No7 shirt that's fine by me. What matters to me is having the Spain badge on my chest for as many games as my legs will carry me and to score the maximum number of goals. For me, every match I can put on that shirt is like a dream come true.