• Sam Jones

THE SUCCESS STORY OF VILLARREAL: FREE AGENTS AND SACKED MANAGERS TO EUROPEAN GLORY


Based in a city of just 50 thousand people, not much expectation would’ve been placed on Villarreal C.F.


However, having just beaten Manchester United in a Europa League final, you’d be wrong to underestimate the Yellow Submarine.


How though?


How is it possible that a small club, who had a net spend of just €6.3 million, could go on and win the second biggest game in European football against a powerhouse of the game like Manchester United?


Transfer dealings


Villarreal have had to be smart in the transfer window, often looking at players who they can spot value in who are underappreciated at their current side.


A great example of this would be when they signed Dani Parejo from Valencia on a free transfer in the summer.


Signing a player of such high calibre from your rivals for free shows real intent from the yellow submarine, especially in a COVID marketplace.


Their smarts don’t just end in Parejo though, with players such as Gabriel, Alberto Moreno and Ramiro Funes Mori all arriving for small fees after disappointing spells in England.


The club were willing to make judgement calls on the players despite the press and fans labelling them not good enough, and to great effect with the club using the players as part of a European final winning side.


The key example has to be the signing of Gerard Moreno from Espanyol though.


The Spanish forward has been one of the most feared strikers in Europe since arriving at the club.


He impressed in his final seasons at Espanyol, bagging 16 goals in his final season at the club.


However, under the coaching of new boss Unai Emery, Moreno bagged 23 league goals as well as seven in the Europa League.


He’s a key example of taking a punt on a player who’s clearly better than the level he is at, but isn’t ready for the very top just yet and forming him into the man you need.


Dealings like this have made it possible for the club to compete in the league, despite having a budget that is maybe a fifth of the “bigger” sides in the league.


Coaching


Prior to this season, current Deportivo Alaves manager Javier Calleja was in charge at the club.


However, ahead of this season the club appointed Europa League specialist Unai Emery.


The former Sevilla, PSG and Arsenal manager has won the Europa League a total of four times in his career, three with Sevilla and now an extra one with Villarreal.


The manager was berated in England, with his Arsenal side failing to finish higher than fifth place in the Premier League.


However, the club weren’t put off by this, instead seeing an undervalued asset like they do with several of their players.


The manager came in and finished in a respectable seventh in La Liga, which was two places worse off than the season prior, however teams such as Real Sociadad and Real Betis saw rapid improvement this season, meaning they dropped down despite gathering just two fewer points than the previous season.


Emery’s true goal was Europe though.


He used his knowledge to comfortably dispatch of teams such as Dinamo Zagreb and Dynamo Kyiv.


What was really impressive though was when he used his knowledge of former team Arsenal to progress past them in the competition.


He lead the side to a 2-1 first leg victory at home in the Estadio de la Ceramica, before brilliantly keeping Arsenal at bay in the second leg.


Emery’s side conceded just one shot on target, showing how he is utilising the talent at his disposal.


The final was his true stroke of brilliance though.


Knowing his side were heavily out gunned, Emery played to his sides strengths, marking Bruno Fernandes out of the game and ultimately, Manchester United at bay.


Villarreal kept pressing high, leaving United’s make shift defence busy all night, meaning the Red Devils couldn’t get forward too often.


In the end they played 200 less passes than the men in red, still walking away with the victory,


The true brilliance of the occasion were the penalties though.


Not a single player didn’t look assure of themselves, even down to goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli and centre back Raul Albiol.


Truth be told it was former Gunner Francis Coquelin who scored the goal of the night, burying his spot kick straight into the roof of the net, leaving De Gea helpless.


Playing to their strengths and making the game go to penalties was clearly what Emery anticipated, showing his tactical mind at work.


The lesson here is any team can do whatever they set their mind to if they’re run well.


Villarreal are almost Leicester esc in the way that they seem to over achieve, but fully deserve everything they get.


Playing in the Champions League next season, it will be interesting to see how Emery changes system to adapt to the higher level of football on display.