The Yellow Submarines of Villarreal navigate stormy waters
Villarreal have long been everybody’s ’second club’ in La Liga. A relatively small club for the top-flight of Spanish football, who’ve been punching above their weight for a while now. Small stadium, no real success in their history, small fan base. You can see where I’m going here. A team, in theory at least, who shouldn’t have been finishing in the top-four of La Liga and qualifying for the Champions League year after year. Their success story has been done to death.
The ‘Yellow Submarines’, as they’re affectionately know, have hit stormy waters this season.
You sensed the story was always going to come to a bitter end at some point. There was no way they were going to overtake the ‘big two’ of Barcelona and Real Madrid and they were always going to struggle to match Valencia, big-spending Malaga and other ‘bigger’ teams such as Atletico Madrid and Seville on a consistent basis. As fantastically as Villarreal have done over the past decade, to keep that up would have been an even more remarkable feat.
This year has been the year they’ve stumbled.
Three managers, a winless Champions League campaign, loss of key players through sales and injury has resulted in a battle against relegation. Things could have been much darker for Castellon club had they not rolled back the years and pulled an impressive late victory over Malaga – the side likely to take their spot in the top-four this season - last week. Two goals in the last seven minutes, from Marcos Senna and Hernan Perez saw the Yellow Submarines seal a dramatic three points. Racing Santander thwarted another win on Sunday when a last-minute leveller held Villarreal to a draw, which left them five points above the drop-zone with five games left. It seems as though, unless the bottom three of Sporting, Zaragoza and Racing all pull minor miracles out of the hat, Villarreal will at least be plying their trade in the Primera Division next season.
The El Madrigal club was one built on solid foundations. A club that pretty much defied the current financial gloom around the majority of football clubs in Spain, all thanks to chairman Fernando Roig Alfonso and his family, and the good management of those around him, both behind the scenes and on the footballing side. Barca and Madrid may be the two giants of Spain, and Malaga may be the new kids on the block with their financial backing, but Villarreal were the sensible club, a club managed wisely. Their sensible approach was the backbone of their success. The appointment of good managers and well thought-out player acquisitions helped the club to the Champions League on a consistent basis, and the cash injection from playing in Europe’s most prestigious competition helped them maintain their success.
But the current economic crisis in Spain has avoided few, and the Roig family business (in ceramics) has had to cut costs accordingly, including Villarreal. They’ve always been in a tricky position with players due to the size of the club anyway. When a player impresses at El Madrigal, it usually alerts the ‘bigger’ clubs from around Europe, and with Villarreal’s success never likely to stretch to domestic honours, the club could well be seen as a stepping-stone to bigger things. Atletico Madrid, despite their lower position in La Liga, snapped-up Diego Forlan, Malaga moved for Santi Cazorla last summer and the vultures were circling Guiseppe Rossi. The experienced Joan Capdevila also moved on to Benfica. Big players for Villarreal.
Rossi stayed, as did Brazilian forward Nilmar, but both suffered injury early in the season, when the Yellow Submarines were already seemingly sinking. Last week Rossi’s woes continued when it was revealed he’ll miss another six months through a knee injury. He’d been recovering from the same injury, suffered in a clash with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last October, when the set-back happened. He’ll now miss the European Championships with Italy and throws doubt over just where he’ll be playing his club football next season. A move away looked likely this summer but who’ll take a chance on him now?
One man who didn’t stay long was manager Juan Carlos Garrido. Helping the club to a fourth-placed finish, Champions League qualification and the semi-finals of the Europa League, losing to eventual winners FC Porto last season, seemingly wasn’t enough to buy him a lot of time this season. The aforementioned player departures didn’t help, but they were necessary to balance the books. Garrido left in December, just before Christmas (nice present) after the club bowed out of the Champions League in lacklustre fashion and were stuck at the wrong end of the league table. Jose Molina replaced him but himself only lasted three months, being sacked following a 1-0 loss against Levante. Miguel Angel Lotina was his replacement. Third time lucky? It looks it – Villarreal have picked up some impressive results that should lead them to safety. A good draw against Real Madrid and victory over Malaga included. The three clubs currently behind Villarreal have been dire this season, but that shouldn’t detract from their upturn in form recently.
The Yellow Submarines now need to stick with Lotina next season and start building again. They’re unlikely to hit the heights of recent years but that’s no disgrace. Using three managers in one season has been largely against how the Roig family has succeeded in charge of the club and they need patience, and perspective, to avoid a repeat of this season’s disappointments. The Yellow Submarines shouldn’t sink this season, but the aim will be for calmer waters next term.Tagged in: football, la liga, Marcos Senna, Villarreal
Recent Posts on Football
- Nike kit deal puts England at No 2 in the world (but which country is top?)
- PSG and the French league must be more proactive in dealing with hooliganism
- The ghost at the feast: Luiz Felipe Scolari hopes that dropping Ronaldinho for the Confederations Cup won't come back to haunt Brazil
- Anthony Knockaert and other examples of sporting justice
- The feel good factor in Belo Horizonte may not extend to the Brazil national team
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter