Ex-Leeds man Mike Grella reveals how Barcelona legend helped save his career

Statue Of Liberty

Training with now-New York City FC captain David Villa helped convince the striker to put off retirement and eventually earn a contract with the New York Red Bulls.

New York Red Bulls forward Mike Grella has revealed to the Metro US how Barcelona legend David Villa helped stop him from quitting football in the autumn.

Grella, 28, was without a club at the time after a short stint in the NASL with the Carolina RailHawks and, with no MLS teams interested in his signature and European options sparse, was considering the likes of banking and insurance for his next career move.

“When your wife is pregnant and you want to stay in America and you can't find much and you got to Europe but not for much money, it's a scary place to be," he told the newspaper. "You're reading a lot of books and trying to get knowledge and speaking to people and trying to learn as much as you can.

“It was things like banking, insurance, real estate, coaching – I wanted to know what would fit my characteristics the best if it wasn't playing anymore.”

However, Grella’s football career was given a reprieve when he got in contact with New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis, who arranged for him and star Designated Player signing David Villa to train together ahead of the expansion club’s inaugural campaign.

Working alongside the Spanish World Cup-winner was enough to convince him to continue with the game and, while he opted against linking up with NYCFC for preseason, it wasn’t long before another MLS option would materialise close to home.

Instead joining the Red Bulls on trial, the New York-native impressed enough to he handed a permanent deal for 2015 and credits his time working with a “model professional” like Villa for helping him get back to the pitch.

“I spoke with the Red Bulls the next day and they invited me in,” he added. “I came in and hit the ground running. I like the mentality here. It was great. I felt at home.”

He’s managed to make an impact during their opening three matches too, scoring the deciding goal within seconds of coming on as a 66th-minute substitute in last month’s 2-1 win at the Columbus Crew, with the strike being the Red Bulls’ 1,000th as a club.

Having lost both Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill in the winter, the former Leeds United man certainly has some big boots to fill coming into Jesse Marsch’s attack but there’s little reason to doubt that he can go on to become a solid contributor for the team.

He might have failed to catch on in Europe, after heading to Elland Road straight after college, but there’s still more than enough time to make a decent career for himself in MLS.

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