Ricky Villa is texting to explain how to find him on his ranch. ‘Just head 80 miles south-west of Buenos Aires on the road towards the Andes, to the farming town of Roque Perez. Then ask someone.’
It’s a small town. ‘Everyone knows where I live,’ says Villa. After all, there aren’t many World Cup winners in Roque Perez.
On the farm, with his cows and horses, set deep in the Argentine Pampas, Villa is the scorer of one of English football’s most iconic goals.
Sportsmail went to Tottenham legend Ricky Villa’s ranch, near Argentine capital Buenos Aires
Villa retains the charm and natural affinity which endeared him to English fans in the 1980s
Even a generation yet to be conceived in 1981 are familiar with its FA Cup re-runs: the Spurs man’s acceleration which wrong-foots Manchester City’s Tommy Caton and Ray Ranson; the smart turn which completely bewilders the defence; the cut back inside followed by a cool finish past a sprawling Joe Corrigan.
And, of course, the ecstatic, wild celebration.
It felt like he beat six or seven defenders, though he actually went past Ranson and Caton and then went back and beat them again, for fun.
It won Tottenham the Cup. More than that, it made Villa one of the most celebrated figures of 1980s English football.
It was a great goal. But perhaps without the back story and his charisma it might not be so important in the history of the world’s oldest football competition.
Villa looks sleek, sun-tanned and full of life when we meet. He retains the charm and natural affinity which endeared him to English fans, even at a time when the nation was at war with Argentina.
Villa only entered the professional game at the age of 17 with Quilmes in Buenos Aires
Before he played with amateur teams in Roque Perez and trained on his own at the farm
He lives here with his wife, Maria Cristina Giannini: they married a year before coming to England.
His first two daughters, Maria Eugenia and Martina Elizabeth, were born in England in 1980 and 1982. He has a third daughter, Mariana Cristina, 34, and a son, Ricardo Martin, 32, who works the farm with him.
Five grandchildren will populate the farm when his daughters return from Buenos Aires for family visits. He has the air of a man content with life.
He knows what the topic for this interview will be. It is FA Cup final week. That means there is only one starting point for conversation.
‘That goal almost makes it seem as though I only played one match and only scored one goal!’ he says. ‘My whole life and all the questions I’m asked are about that goal.’
There is a direct link between the farm, where he grew up and now owns, and the goal. Villa only entered the pro game at the age of 17 with Quilmes in Buenos Aires.
Before that he had been playing with amateur teams in Roque Perez and training on his own at the farm, where he simply dribbled the ball around.
He scored one of the most iconic goals in the history of the FA Cup to win it for Tottenham
Villa and Garth Crooks (left) scored the goals as Spurs beat Manchester City in a 1981 replay
He recalls his first professional training session at Quilmes. ‘All the coaches were shouting, ‘Pass! Pass!’ And I was thinking, ‘What is this, pass?’
‘I spent a lot of time on my own growing up so I found it hard to pass the ball. So that goal came from my childhood, where you don’t need anyone, just a few players around you to cause a bit of distraction and give you enough time to dribble towards goal.’
Time has only seemingly increased its significance. He has recently been in England, staying with lifelong friend Ossie Ardiles, and when over here, the questions are almost always about one moment.
‘In Argentina, you get a slightly wider selection of questions. They ask you about the club, what the league was like, not specifically about the FA Cup.’
Villa was part of the seismic transfer deal (£750,000 for the pair) that brought Ardiles to England in 1978. Ardiles had met Tottenham manager Keith Burkinshaw in Buenos Aires after the World Cup and quickly agreed to join.
He then suggested his friend and team-mate Villa as a companion. Ardiles explained: ‘He was my room-mate in the World Cup. I said to Ricky, “Come on, we’re going to England”. He said, ‘What?! P*** off! I’m very happy here’.’
‘We wanted to play in Europe, in Spain or Italy,’ said Villa. ‘But we didn’t hear a lot about the English league. But you have to make a quick decision and if you say “no”, maybe it never comes again.’
The goalscorers lift the trophy to the crowds gathered outside Tottenham Town Hall
The hoopla surrounding their arrival was huge, though it took almost three years for the team, which had just been promoted from the Second Division, to thrive and reach the FA Cup final. Back then, the final was the thrilling climax of the season.
Pop songs were recorded and appearances on Top of the Pops were almost obligatory.
The narrative of Tottenham’s single, Ossie’s Dream, performed by Chas & Dave but featuring the Tottenham players singing with admirable gusto, was the story of Ardiles arriving in England and wanting to play at Wembley in an FA Cup final. Villa’s role was, again, secondary.
The 1981 final was being shown live in Argentina and the expectation was immense. Yet come the day, Tottenham were poor and Villa was terrible, substituted after 68 minutes with Spurs losing 1-0.
‘I don’t think we played very well, and I certainly wasn’t great. I try to explain this to English people or my team-mates, that there was no ‘in between’ with me.
‘I either played well or I was poor. In that game I was poor, but it was almost as if it was a normal situation for me. I wasn’t very consistent.’
Villa was substituted in the original match after a terrible display for Tottenham
Villa was too upset to return to the bench so headed for the dressing room, which meant a walk of 80 metres around the greyhound track at Wembley. Fans and TV viewers could see his despair close up. The dream, it seemed, was over.
As with all great stories though, a chance for redemption presented itself. An own goal from City’s Tommy Hutchison, who scored the opener, meant the game ended 1-1 and a replay on the Thursday night.
There was much debate as to whether Villa deserved to play in the replay. Burkinshaw consulted his captain, Steve Perryman, who felt his reaction to being subbed alone should rule him out.
When Perryman recalls the story now he can’t fathom why he felt so strongly, given his friendship with Villa. And he’s thankful his manager ignored him.
‘I’ve spoken to Steve about that,’ says Villa. ‘That’s in the past. Keith didn’t listen to him, he picked me. I always thought I’d have another chance, but I’ve personally thanked Keith for trusting in me and giving me another opportunity.’
The replay couldn’t have been more different for Villa. He scored after eight minutes, though City went 2-1 up. Garth Crooks equalised on 70 minutes. Six minutes later came Villa’s moment.
‘I’d always been someone that had wanted to get forward, to get in the area. I had extra motivation that day. When I made my run towards goal, I didn’t think I would manage to score, but then everything opened up.
But a chance for redemption presented itself when they played again on the Thursday night
Villa scored after eight minutes of the replay and then fired the winner with the score 2-2
‘There was huge satisfaction, because the club and my team-mates had treated us fantastically well and I felt we’d given something back for the affection. It was unique, unforgettable.
‘The club had spent money on two world champions and the fans all hoped to win things. I loved it, because I was able to give them something back, not in terms of money, but in hopes and dreams.
‘I was fortunate to play a little at the 1978 World Cup but the FA Cup was something different. I played a defining role and it’s at least on the same level as the World Cup win.’
The 1981 win was significant in that it sparked a revival at Spurs, the last period in their history when they became significant collectors of silverware, going on to win the 1982 FA Cup, the 1984 Uefa Cup and challenge for the league.
It was a team full of characters: Perryman, Ardiles, Glenn Hoddle, Chris Hughton, Crooks and Steve Archibald. Villa would leave in 1983, spend time at Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the USA, in Colombia and then three seasons playing in Argentina.
Yet nothing would match the 1981 FA Cup final. For Spurs, there would be another FA Cup under Terry Venables — and League Cups under George Graham and Juande Ramos — but since then, nothing to compare with the team of the 1980s.
Villa came to England when compatriot Ossie Ardiles demanded he join him at Spurs
Spurs’ win in 1981 was significant and sparked a revival that brought a glut of silverware
Nevertheless, Villa believes the current revival under Mauricio Pochettino will garner silverware. Villa met his compatriot last year and enjoys his company.
‘He’s the right manager for English football because the English players respect the coherence he brings and he convinces everyone that this is the way to play.
‘The other big point is his amateur spirit. Every day he tells the players, “Forget about the money. Play for the game, like you are an amateur”.
‘He continues to make Tottenham better and that’s important with the new stadium. Mauricio is the manager for the future.
‘Beyond this good period he is having, he’ll continue to improve the team and, at some point, win a trophy.
‘The first is always the hardest. And you have to start some time. I get the feeling that the team are gaining experience, to know how to handle themselves at those vital moments. The club will improve.’
Still, at least the club are now applying the most important strategy to ensure Cup success.
‘I speak to people at the club and tell them there should always be at least two Argentinians in the team,’ says Villa, laughing.
‘Now you’ve got Erik Lamela and Pochettino. Our history tells us it’s important to have two Argentinians!’
Villa and his team-mates celebrate after their victory over Manchester City in the 1981 final