Modest Villarreal is back in the quarterfinals of the Champions League
Only fifty thousand people live in the Spanish town. But Villarreal’s stadium is the main local attraction, with a capacity of 23,500 spectators. The “yellow submarine” gives meaning to the existence of the surrounding communities. The winners of the Europa League live soccer, and they are happy to do so. It is not easy to find such a small community in Europe with such a great team.
Prior to 1998 Villarreal floated in the lower leagues, as befits a “village” team with no money and no sponsors. Of course, they rose higher, not thanks to a saintly spirit, but with the help of a lot of capital. In 1997, Fernando Roig, owner of a huge ceramic tile factory, decided to please his countrymen and buy Villarreal. The club had debts, no property, and a couple of thousands of active fans were found.
Villarreal administration distributed free season tickets to pensioners, but no one came to the matches. Roig was lucky, his club quickly jumped out of the Segunda. It became easier to lure spectators with matches against Valencia, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and they brought some great players to the small town. Since we are talking about a businessman who loves his home region – like Galitsky in Krasnodar – Roig also invested in local players. Villarreal now has quite a few youngsters at its core.
Not as many as Athletic or Real Sociedad for obvious reasons – the Basques consciously rely on local kids. But in a city of 50,000 people they know how to keep interest in club patriotism. Right now Pau Torres, Moreno, Pino, Chuquese, Pedraza, Trigueros, Gomez and Gaspar are playing for Villarreal. Eight academy graduates, at least half of whom we expect to be in the lineup against Bayern.
It’s a cool story, because in a quarter of a century a private entrepreneur built a real honest club with his own money. The players are constantly talking to the fans. They go to the pensioners and supporters, just like the Bayern stars in the villages around Munich, and then see familiar faces in the stands. “Villarreal plays for their own people, which always helps. Just a decade ago, though, Roig miscalculated, over-spending on soccer, which he failed to recoup through contracts. “Villarreal” underwent a “purification” by the Segunda, came back, got stronger and appeared on the European soccer map once again.
“Pellegrini’s Villarreal played in the semifinals of the Champions League.
Sorin, Senna, Tacquinardi, Jose Mari, Forlen and Riquelme – that was a tough team! “Bayern” is likely to blow away the new Spanish squad today. In this pairing the favorite is obvious, and Unai Emery only dreams that the second match in Munich will not turn into a formality. But in 2006, under the leadership of Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, for whom Villarreal became the first European club in his career, the modest team were not quoted by the prognosticators either, and managed to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.
In the group stage they did not allow a single defeat. They are remembered as an extremely stubborn team that won four worlds and two quartet victories with Manchester United (the English finished last in the group), Lille and Benfica. Then, in the playoffs, the Spaniards again bet on stubbornness, scoring away. That’s how Rangers and Inter with Toldo, Materazzi, Zanetti, Cambiasso, Figo and Veron came through. Both times the Spaniards won thanks to away goals, which under the new rules no longer counted.
And then there was the decisive battle. In the London semi-final, Arsenal won 1-0 (scored by Colo Toure), and in the return game Valentin Ivanov awarded a penalty to Lehmann at the very end when the score was 0-0. Rikelme cried with the fans in the stands after the miss, Jens dragged the Canaries into the final against Barcelona Ronaldinho and Rijkaard. Another Spanish final of the Champions League failed, but sixteen years later Pau Torres, who watched the game against the Canaries from the stadium as a nine-year-old child, led Villarreal to the quarterfinals, scoring one of his three goals against Juventus in Turin.
Unai Emery is more dangerous than Nagelsmann might think
If there is one thing Bayern is bad at, it is the adequate assessment of unfamiliar opponents. How many times has Guardiola been knocked out of the Champions League with the Germans, how many times has Bayern’s strong and perfectly prepared squad warmed up with the finals. In this case, we are talking about a ticket to the top four teams in the tournament. Nagelsmann watches his opponent lose to Osasuna, Cadiz and Levante and may underestimate the Spaniards.
“Villarreal is in bad shape, even the victory over Juventus was sensational. Most likely, the mishap of Manchester United will not be tolerated by the Germans. At least because Bayern is a champion, not a team that is afraid to play to win the final. But the Germans are on the verge of a rebuild, something Moreno, Parejo and Pino can take advantage of. Think back to the way Villarreal have been – they have not had easy opponents.
We beat Atalanta as a guest. They have beaten Young Boys and only Juve have twice managed to take revenge on the Spaniards, which did not help the English. “Villarreal does not need to play from itself, as Manchester City or Bayern do. But the players of a team that constantly communicates with the fans and sees relatives in the stands have a special attitude, especially in home matches. “Villarreal has lost only two home games all season, both last fall. But it is difficult to repeat the success of Osasuna and Barcelona.
We do not doubt the formidability of Bayern – they are one of the obvious favorites in the Champions League. But they are dealing with a club that one grateful to his country has been building for twenty-four years. About the coach, who was wrongly underestimated at Spartak, and about the players of the wily Spanish school. A year ago at the start of the Europa League playoffs it was unlikely that many people bet on Villarreal. Yes, they joked that Emery was baiting the UEFA Cup. It was remembered that the Spanish club actually had three unsuccessful semi-finals of the second European Cup in history.
But then Salzburg and two Dinamo Kyiv and Zagreb missed out on Emery in the semi-finals, where his club had a historic opportunity to get even with Arsenal. The Londoners failed to bounce back after their defeat in the first leg, and remember the story of Manchester United in the game in Gdansk. In the penalty shootout, all players of the Spanish club scored, while De Hea missed.