David Villa broke his leg in horrific fashion last year as Barcelona played a Club World Cup semifinal. TV images showed Cesc Fabregas in shock as he witnessed the Spanish national team's all-time top scorer get stretchered off the field in pain.
"The injury has saddened us all," then-manager Pep Guardiola told the press. Villa missed the rest of the season, including Spain's win at Euro 2012.
It's been a year, and now Villa is back on the pitch and scoring goals by the bucket. "A triumph," is how Villa termed his return, and it's hard to argue: his eight goals this season are first among Barcelona players not named Lionel Messi.
And yet, he's been dealt with limited playing time. Some of it is because the team has tried to ease him back into the fold after the injury left him sidelined for several months.
But with every passing week, that becomes a less credible reason. The two wingers who play the most, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez, have a combined three goals in the campaign.
Partly, Barcelona's coaching staff prefers the youthful energy of Pedro and Alexis, as they are able to track back and defend the flanks for longer periods and with more intensity than Villa, who has lost some of that stamina due to age and due to his injury.
Villa remains the most subbed-in and most subbed-out player on the team. Tito Vilanova wants to keep the decorated striker fresh as much as possible and keep him from playing for too long at one time.
Reports continue to circulate about an imminent exit as Villa tries to lock down a solid starting spot. Supposedly, Chelsea already made a bid. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was coy about the team's interest in the Asturian. Swansea, Manchester City, and Liverpool all have been mentioned as destinations in the press.
Sources in Spain say that Villa has rejected the options and Barcelona have themselves no interest in letting the player go this winter.
Playmaker Andres Iniesta told reporters he didn't think Villa leaving was likely, and further, stated he would not like such a move. "He's a key player," the Barcelona and Spain teammate finalized.
It's actually Isaac Cuenca, another winger returning from a long injury layoff, that could be loaned out in the winter. Valencia are keen on the young forward and want a buy option, while Barca insist it would only be a loan for him to shake off the rustiness accumulated through the time off.
But what about the transfer window at the end of the season? What is the strategy then?
That's a bit murkier. Cuenca would be in better shape, loan or no loan. Ibrahim Afellay and Bojan Krkic could possibly return from loan or through a buyback. Gerard Deulofeu is improving and would command more time. Cristian Tello is being promoted from the B team. And the looming transfer for Neymar could be completed.
With interest from Liverpool and Juventus for Alexis, as well as the interest for Villa, at least a few of those names are likely to be playing away from the Camp Nou. But who will it be?