It has been a good week for football, at a time of year when often the only good football is no football at all. Instead, consigned to its summer dungeon, football must content itself with groaning and clanking and battering its fists against the hot water pipes, desperate to slip its leash, to force its hoary yellow fingernails beneath the door jamb, to break through – as they say in the films – into our world. Occasionally though, there is still an off-season feast to be had, and with this in mind last weekend's Confederations Cup final between Brazil and Spain was a genuine joy, carrying in its wake an entire fizzing, rumbling weather front of conflicting sub-plots.
It was a devastating victory for Brazil, who were bracingly physical throughout, harrying Spain as they tried to meter out those familiarly solemn passing rhythms, overturning the furniture, pulling down the curtains, and generally behaving like a platoon of angry bears disrupting a children's nativity play.
There have traditionally been two approaches to playing football against Spain: the first is to perform a kind of high intensity mass kung-fu ambush whenever they get the ball, appearing suddenly in shot in a whir of bunched fists and high-kicking espadrilles before eventually falling to pieces in the second half and losing 2-0. The second is to "sit deep" and hope to spring forward suddenly with furious intent, before eventually falling to pieces in the second half and losing 2-0. Brazil managed somehow to do both at the same time, and to great effect, albeit there was something equally admirable in Spain's own insistence on carrying on playing exactly the same way, even as they seemed to shrivel into a caricature of themselves in the second half, a team of Lego men playing three millimetre passes, heads held high, unswerving in their pedantic insistence on that shared puritanical method.
Of course there will be talk of a grander decline, but all teams are allowed to lose and really this was perhaps a sign of things simply shifting a little. With this in mind it is a good moment to compose a minor hymn of praise to a player who came on in Rio with the match already lost, and who has this week been caught up separately in the background chunter of our own domestic off-season. David Villa may or may not be about to sign for Spurs. But for once the prospect of an ageing star turn pitching up in the Premier League – a player who has now entered the Wile E Coyote Years, that period in a great athlete's career where from a distance it is clear they've already gone skittering out over the edge of the cliff, legs pumping, held up by muscle memory and declining star-momentum – is a gloriously intriguing prospect.
Villa! What a player! And what an unusually muted, minor chord superstar in a time of wider hyperbole. It might seem an odd thing to say about one of the world's most celebrated footballers, but on the scale of modern athletic celebrity it is possible Villa has even been a little undervalued, spending the last five years hiding in plain sight even while reeling in his golden boot, his hall-of-famer trophy haul and those 50 international goals. At the age of 31 he has now begun to sink from view a little. But he remains, even in his magisterial dotage, a player the Premier League in particular would do well to fall in love with just a little.
With Villa there are no obvious weapons, no overpowering physicality, no moments of unanswerable, chest-rippling explosion. He is instead a wonderfully subtle destroyer, a combination of extreme mobility in pursuit of the ball and a more nuanced spatial intelligence away from it. At Euro 2008 Spain still took a relatively conventional path in attack and Villa duly scored goals that demonstrated his ability to evade his marker, to change direction more quickly than the average clay-footed human being, most notably in the goal against Russia in a thunderstorm in Innsbruck that involved shifting the ball from foot to foot so quickly it was all the nearest defender could do to collapse sideways very slowly into a puddle like a drunken cavalry officer sliding out of his saddle on parade.
The other side of Villa's game, his movement without the ball, has perhaps been even more key. In his absence at Euro 2012 Spain were able to deploy their striker-free formation, but you could argue they'd already begun playing a bit like this with Villa in the team, a roving attacker whose gilded invisibility across the full depth of the forward line is hardly the work of an orthodox forward. It is a quality of deft and tactful incision that comes through even in his finishing, where he is often no more than tenderly insistent in front of goal, very gently ushering the ball on its way between the posts.
This understated quality seems to chime agreeably with Villa's own mild outsider-dom. Spain may have a team of minutely-groomed starlets waiting in the wings, but Villa, the cutting edge in their breakout generation, was never a prodigy. As a kid The Kid skirted the margins, dismissed as too small, too lacking in physical presence, and eventually making his own way up from the second division.
With this in mind it seems appropriate too that a man who emerged so determinedly below the radar should become in his own way a model for the modern star forward, the player for whom the battle for space, modern football's final frontier, is everything. Thomas Müller is the current poster boy for the drifting, untraceable utility attacker. Similarly it is Robin van Persie's high spec movement that really marks him out, that habit of spending every moment shuffling, sprinting, pointing, always seeking out his next grassy knoll, that perfect book store depository window from which to cock his sniper's sights.
Both perhaps owe a little to the example of Villa, a player who is in effect the exact opposite of the familiar English striker, with his heft, his speed, his obvious striking tools, his definitive lack of misdirection. Sign him up, somebody. Let him have a couple of years here grazing in the spaces in between the spaces. It could – you never know – be as much an education as a pleasure.