Spanish striker David Villa set to retire from Japan club

In this March 2, 2019, photo, David Villa celebrates after scoring in the second half of Vissel Kobe's 1-0 win over Sagan Tosu in a J-League football match in Kobe, western Japan. Spanish striker Villa said Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, he will retire from Japanese club Vissel Kobe next year.(Kyodo News via AP)/Kyodo News via AP)

KOBE, Japan (AP) Spanish striker David Villa says he will retire from Japanese club Vissel Kobe next year, ending the career of Spain's top scorer in international play.

The 37-year-old Villa, who joined Kobe last December, said he plans to retire after the season ends in January.

"It's better to leave football before football leaves me," he told a news conference speaking in Spanish. "I've been thinking for several years - when you reach 33, 34 or 35 - the moment can arrive at any time in a game, in training, or with an injury."

Villa scored 59 goals in 98 appearances for Spain from 2004-17, including five goals at the 2010 World Cup as his nation won the title for the first time.

He scored four goals for Spain en route to the 2008 European Championship title.

Before signing with Kobe, Villa played at Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid before spending four seasons with New York City FC, scoring 80 goals in 124 MLS appearances.

"It's a decision I've thought about a lot," he said. "I spoke about this with the people who care about me, with my family, and the people who have been with me for my whole career."

Villa repeated several times that it was not a knee-jerk reaction. He scored 12 goals this season for Kobe, a decent scoring output for a struggling club. But he said he knew the retirement time was near.

He was asked about the quality of play in Japan and was laudatory.

"I was surprised at the level of play in the J-League," he said. "Not only in terms of the veteran players here, but the young players here that have enormous potential. It's not that I was expecting less. I was expecting a top league, but it surpassed by expectations."

Villa has also mentioned his interest being an investor in a new club based in the New York area - Queensboro FC, which will play in the second tier of American soccer.

"Queens always showed love to me and my family while we were in New York," he wrote on Twitter. He said it was "a dream to build" a new professional team.

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Updated November 13, 2019

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