Villarreal, and Vila-real, have their first trophy. The world celebrates with us.
If you are a fan of any sport, there are moments in your life where a song, a word, or a phrase will make you stop on your tracks.
A lump will form in your throat; a wave of heat will rise up from your stomach and into your chest. For a moment, your mind will go somewhere else. And not just anywhere–it will go to a very specific place.
If you are from Spain, that will happen, without fail, every time someone plays Shakira’s “Waka Waka.” Extra time goal. Daniel Jarque dedication.
If you are a City fan, it will undeniably be the word “Aguero,” followed by five or six more o’s at the end. Last minute shot. Shirt waving in the air.
If I write “Can you believe this? Go, Go, USA!” A portion of you will probably see a certain #10 sliding into the corner flag. Pile of players to follow. Vuvuzelas galore.
Starting today, a single word will do just that to all Villarreal fans.
That hard to pronounce, brow-furrowing, beautifully coiled, twisted word is ours now. We own it. We also get to have it. Plenty of teams in this sport never get one.
Others wait a long, long time to get theirs.
Last night, we got ours.
Villarreal is a champion of Europe, and there is nothing else that needs to be said. The ramifications of this title will be felt for decades to come in this club, in this town, and in the East of Spain, where the star of Vila-real, shines bright and expands today more than ever.
There are plenty of things I could say about the match itself. Things you could read in any other of the match reports you can read today. I could talk about our players, and how nervous they were in the beginning. I could discuss at length on Capoue’s tremendous match, Parejo’s guidance when the team needed leadership, on Albiol and Pau’s confirmation as the two best centerbacks in the history of the club.
I could praise Gerard Moreno’s performance as the best striker in the history of this club.
It is usually difficult to find match reports, in English, about last night’s match. Today, it will be extremely easy. Everyone is a Villarreal fan today, and everyone wants to join the spotlight.
It’s all good. The truth is, I vaguely remember all that.
The month of May did not prove to be productive for me. I have a full-time job, and I had not been able to concentrate on anything for the past two weeks. Yesterday was no different. Throughout the entire day, my nerves had me dancing to Villarreal’s official Spotify playlist, with more songs that my parents danced to that I care to mention.
I don’t think I had lunch.
I smoked a cigarette (I don’t smoke).
I watched the entire match from the floor of my living room, instead of using one of these inventions from the 1800s, the couch (I don’t remember why I didn’t).
And, I did not celebrate the first goal. It didn’t seem real.
When a team that has never won a title is ahead, in its first final, it doesn’t make any sense. We, as a town, as a fanbase, as Europa League finalists, spent the better part of the month of May unable to understand what was happening, and useless to figure out how a finalist should behave. It was absolutely out of our comfort zone.
For a team has never won a title, a final is, in a lot of ways, the worst place to be. As a fan of this kind of club, a final is truly the only thing standing between you and the first trophy ever–and that feels vulnerable.
You are tossed into the ocean, a flag of your team around your neck, in the middle of a storm. There are two of you, and only one raft. Good luck.
Throughout the match, I kept seeing story arcs. When President Fernando Roig was told by UEFA he could not come into the stadium, as the COVID negative had happened too recently and there was a need to be cautious, I saw the arc:
“Villarreal President has to fly back home after being denied entry by UEFA, and the team feels his absence in the final.”
The first ten minutes of the match, after seeing how nervous, error-prone and weak in the knees my team was against a team that had won it all, I saw another it again:
“Villarreal suffers first-final jitters and trips on its way to a first title”
120 minutes later, when everything had been played and it was the turn to risk it all on penalties, there it was again.
“Villarreal lose on penalties–again.”
I especially remember thinking of Pau Torres, as he approached to take the 10th penalty of the round. A player who had seen Roman miss the penalty in the stands in 2006, a player from Vila-real, would have to experience the pain Roman felt, multiplied by the 50,000 people in his and my village. That story practically wrote itself.
But, to my shock, none of that happened. Villarreal, the President, Unai Emery, and the town of Vila-real were meant to lift that trophy last night. It was our time, it was our match, and even though at times it looked likely that Manchester United could pull from experience and take it home, they didn’t.
A lot of that credit has to go to who is, officially and instantly, the best manager in the history of the club. For days, I had debated whether having an amazing team with an inexperienced manager was better, or worse, than having a good team with a really experienced manager.
The latter is better. I am convinced now.
And because all of this, because of Emery, because of Fernando Roig and Jose Manuel Llaneza, because of an involved, engaged, passionate, hungry group of players, and because Geronimo Rulli apparently is a goalkeeper who knows how to send a penalty kick to the top corner, stare down De Gea, and save his shot, we are champions of Europe.
When Rully stopped the penalty, I cried. I cried the happiest I have ever cried in my life. And I, like 50,000 in Vila-real and many others accross the world, will be in the clouds for years to come.
My uncle played in this club. Third Division, late 70s; mud, no TV revenue, and very few fans.
In 1998, Villarreal went to the Northwest of Spain and fought against Compostela for a place in La Liga de las Estrellas. A half-cross-half-shot made it in, and the resulting 1-1 tie meant Fernando Roig got the club where he had promised he would.
A lot has happened since. Craioveanu and the Camp Nou; Palermo and the wall; Roman and the penalty. Senna and Bruno crying through a relegation. The Mini-Estadi and 10,000 people watching the team back to where it belongs.
And as of last night, Gdansk. That’s our word.
Gdansk. Champions of Europe. Forever ours.