Villareal is celebrating. Big time.
If you see their celebrations spilling over a few days one might wonder if they had won a big cup or league championship. No they did not win the spanish league. They came a distant but comfortable 2nd. Except for a couple of weeks they were never even discussed as serious contenders
Truth be told, they never considered themselves as title contenders. Thanks to the inability of the big clubs like Real Madrid and Barçelona to string together a few wins in the months of March and April meant that little Villareal found themselves in the midst of a title challenge. Can Villareal really pull it off. They had a couple of chances to close the gap with Madrid but they failed to capitalize. Call it nerves, lack of experience, out of depth, anything.
I think it doesnt matter.
Little Villareal from Vila-real notorious for
-having just one decent hotel,
-a small stadium that holds about 20,000 in a city (i am being generous) with a population of about 45,000
-languishing in the lower levels of spanish regional leagues not so long ago ( about 9 yrs ago)
is 2nd in arguably the worlds best league top-to-bottom.
With 1 game to go:
Villareal has 74 points.
Real Madrid has 82.
Barçelona has 64.
If they win their last game Villareal will end the season on 77 points.
To put it in perspective, 77 points would have won La Liga in 6 of the last 10 years!!!
I think thats an incredible achievement for a small club. And they achieved it playing very attractive football for the most part. They do play on the counter a lot of times but thats not for the lack of skill or the ability to play a possession football ala Barçelona, they adapt to the opponent.
One of the keys to their success is playing a consistent style of football home and away. They have the 2nd best away record in La Liga (on Madrid has a slightly better record). Strong midfield play with Senna, Pires and Cazorla support potent but undervalues strikers like Nihat and Rossi (yep! he used to be a Man Utd player 2 seasons ago.). An all round good team without any superstar but not many passengers either. And a great coach in "El Profesor' Manuel Pellegrini.
A few years ago this team was over-reliant on a bunch of Argentinians led by the moody genius Juan Roman Riquelme. They had that amazing run in Champions League when they lost by a whisker to Arsenal (Riquelme missed a penalty that would have sent that tie to overtime). He followed it up with the typical moody and unprofessional behavior. Pellegrini had built the entire game of Villareal around Riquelme. Results dried up. Riquelme got worse. And the midway through last season the professor had enough. He decided he wont use Riquelme anymore. Shock waves through Spain...(errr.. not true... i made that up :)). Everyone thought that thats the end of Villareal's fairy tale couple of season. They were teetering towards the mid-table mediocrity.
They had signed Pires at the beginning of last season but he got injured pre-season. He came back in the later parts of the season. He helped beat Barçelona in his first full game after the long injury layoff. It was written off as a one-off win then. Then they win 9 games in a row to close the season in 5th!.
The message to Spain and Riquelme in particular was clear. Villareal has moved on. The clawed back from adversity. I am not exaggerating but its really difficult for small clubs to come back from such a talismanic loss and getting over the hangover of a fairytale season. There are a lot of examples where small teams have had their moment in the sun and faded into oblivion. Villareal is one of the few clubs that rewrote that script.
This season they used a lot of players from their youth system. They made 15 mill Euro by selling Diego Forlan (who they got for almost free from Man Utd) to Atletico Madrid.
Matías Fernandez is an exciting talent.
It helps that they are managed nicely and their owner is dedicated to the long term future of the club. One of the little known facts is that they have one of the better youth systems in Spain and a fantastic training facility.
Cheers to Villareal! Aupa Submarino! Vaya Vaya!
Looking forward to next season, things will get much tougher for the Yellow Submarine. People expect more. Opponents will try to break them down more. They are in the Champions League group phase where they will face atleast 2 clubs with a much higher pedigree and longer history than them. But I think they can succeed. If they can keep their coach they is a very good chance of repeating the success of this season.
One of these days I would like to go watch a game in El Madrigal. Wearing the Yellow Jersey!Submarino Amarillo! :) :)
As Nihat put it after clinching the 2nd spot:
2nd in La Liga is as good as winning the championship for Villareal.
Whle i dont normally subscribe to that filosofy, I will give it Villareal...only this year. Next year they have to aim for the 'real' championship.