Today, May 14th, 2012, Villarreal lost a match in which the team gave what it could in the occasion, in which the fans never stopped cheering in a sold-out El Madrigal for a goal that never came, and up in the stands, where President Fernando Roig could not bear to watch. Lady Fortune felt playful tonight, and a last-minute (and offside) Rayo Vallecano win meant that Villarreal, for the first time in over a decade, is back in the Second Division.
Rayo’s goal came in the 90th minute, and the news of the change in standings spread like wildfire in both the stadium, and the pitch. Atletico beat the overly nervous local team in front of them, and at a time where Simeone’s players weren’t even playing for anything (Malaga took the forth Champions League spot with a 1-0 win against Sporting Gijon), the goal still came. The will to win was weirdly present for the Colchoneros through the entire match.
The image of the President in the stands, with his face buried between his hands and his son consoling him, is now part of the groguets‘ history. Equally dismal was the luck of the B team–after virtually certifying survival in the Second Division with a scrappy 0-1 win against Xerex, Velazquez’s team found out about the first team’s relegation upon landing in Manises. Villarreal moving down to the Second Division means that Villarreal B is also relegated to the Segunda B (Third Division).
It is almost unbelievable. A team plagued with talent is now officially relegated: Borja Valero, Jaume Costa, Diego Lopez, Musacchio, Bruno, Senna, Nilmar…an amazing set of players that will forever have in their record to have brought one of the most succesful Spanish teams of the past decade to the Second Division.
In front of them, Atletico just played its game, led by a Simeone who starts to know what he is doing with this team. Courtois and an amazing defense, with Godin, Miranda, Juanfran and Filipe Luis gave no chance to an equally good (on paper) attack in front of them. Tiago and Gabi managed the tempo of the match, and Falcao proved to be the lethal striker he is. On the bench, some of the visitor’s team players, like Sergio Asenjo watched as Villarreal was not able to shake his fear and lack of ideas. Some chances here and there, but the team just wasn’t thinking clearly, and had his mind in several other stadiums accross the peninsula.
The 0-1 that would bury the team came in the 88th minute. Shortly after, Rayo’s 1-0. That meant that, within 60 seconds, Villarreal went from being saved, to being relegated. That is soccer.
The cherry on the cake came from centerback Diego Godin, now at Atletico and previously a Villarreal player, who after the match ended, went towards the lockers and told The Yellow Submarine’s vice president, Jose Manual Llaneza, holding his index finger to his forehead, that he “Remembered.” Llaneza went after him and, held back by his colleagues, screamed at the Uruguayan player, “You remember? You were only here to go out at night you pr*ck, you are a shameless pr*ck,” referencing the reason why the club had let go of the defender, his continuous outings at night during the week.
In the end, Villarreal failed to go forward and was paralized by the fear of What If. The players needed more will to go after the match and leave it all out there, and less fear and anxiety. Once again Falcao, after vanishing Villarreal’s hopes to make a Europa League final with Oporto a few years back, proved to be lethal to the Yellow Submarine.
The match was a reflection of a season where Villarreal barely scraped six wins and ten ties at home, and 13 points away from El Madrigal, for a total of 41 points that, in the end, were not enough. Fernando Roig has a tradition of celebrating by toasting with the team when they get to the 45 point mark every season–this year, it couldn’t be.
However, Roig is already working on a plan to return to the top flight of Spanish soccer. It is clear that Lotina will not continue after certifying his fifth relegation of his career, and players will come and go; some will want to stay because they care about this shirt, others will choose to leave; and others will not be able to stay, simply because Villarreal will not be able to afford them…but regardless, Villarreal will come back. Stronger. Hungrier. And most importantly, when the time comes, and Villarreal has made it back, and a big occasion calls for the heart, the soul, and the passion of team, fans and staff, Villarreal will choose attack over fear. Villarreal will choose to take what is theirs, rather than wait to see what happens. Villarreal will succeed.