[Villarreal News] And, last but not least, here is the third interview Mediterraneo produced post-Europa League final: The Vice-president of Villarreal and a man who has been at the club even longer than Fernando Roig–Jose Manuel Llaneza. Credit goes to Mediterraneo, and Ismael Mateu, for the actual interview. Curated translation from yours truly.
Ismael Mateu: So many years of suffering and working hard, and at last, the reward.
Jose Manuel Llaneza: The reward came 23 years ago, when we got promoted for the first time, back when nobody counted on us. We have made it all the way here. That is impressive–in the way we have done it, the style, and for having beaten two English teams that seemed to be running away with it. We crashed their party and did it on the pitch; and outside too–our fans were louder than Manchester’s.
IM: And beyond that, beating the champions of Croatia, the champions of the Ukraine, two teams from two countries’ capitals, all of them against a village…
JML: And Salzburg, with the entire Red Bull team behind them. I mean, it has not been easy. Perhaps the group stage was a bit weaker but we always ended up having to travel 6,000, 7,000 kilometers.
IM: This speaks of the growth of Villarreal, as an entity and as a project.
JML: Check this out–I think in the final we had eight or nine youth players, between those who played, and those who didn’t. I don’t know what other teams can say this; very few can–on top of that, having lifted the trophy.
IM: People are not realizing that along with Villarreal, there are only four other Spanish Europa/UEFA champions, ever. Barcelona doesn’t have it, even though they have a “Fairs Cup.”
JML: And there isn’t a single city of 50,000 people that has a European title, because the two smaller than Vila-real who made it, Monaco and Bastia, did not win the final. KV Mechelen is the closest, but that’s a population of 70,000.
IM: I heard you on TV and you were speaking about Roig Negueroles, about the work of everyone as a group, the collective effort, and that you all have inherited the club in this stage.
JML: I think Villarreal is an idea, and that idea is the one we are carrying out; evidently we need to improve it, polish it, and change a few things sometimes. The father is the one who has created this idea, and the son is the one who is carrying it out in an extraordinary way.
IM: Is the secret to care for the youth system and to make the right decisions when you strengthen the team?
JML: On top of all that, the secret is daily work. Here, for instance, we’ve had veteran players come this season, and they all feel like home, like family. That is impressive.
IM: And what about Pay Francisco Torres?
JML: Pau being from here, arriving when he was four or five, and where he is right now…it’s an amazing thing.
IM: And there is also a player who was here, who had to leave and go to Mallorca and Espanyol, and who now is a world star…
JML: For me, I think Gerard was the best player in La Liga this season. I don’t give a crap who they give that award, I don’t care. I have been in this sport too many years and I know what this player has done; on top of that, he is a phenomenal person, as is his family, his father, his wife, everyone. As a person he is a 10, but in terms of his leadership, he is a 10 and a half.
IM: I think about it and he has the leadership of Totti, Messi; those players who were not just strikers and goalscorers, but those who’d drop back, receive the ball, get involved. It’s insane how much he has grown.
JML: It cost us a lot of money to bring him back from Espanyol, but I think he is one of the biggest successes in the history of this club.
IM: And it was a choice of betting for someone who was already from here…
JML: Yes, well–circumstances were that he left, and thankfully we kept 50% of his transfer; otherwise, it would have been even harder.
IM: You were talking about 23 years of work. That is the most beautiful thing, I suppose. What was the hardest part?
JML: The last relegation. It was just unbelievable to be relegated in the last minute of the season, after not having been in relegation spots at all. But that happens, it happens.
IM: Above all, because the project was one to compete in the Champions League.
JML: Yes, but Giuseppe Rossi got injured in October, and the year before, he had scored over 30 goals in all competitions. From then on we didn’t know what to do, we did not make the right decisions, we did not think about that replacement long and hard, and we trusted some players who did not perform. But those things happen, we learned very fast from all that, we gave chances to the youth players, and that decision rewarded us back.
IM: Tou were saying that Villarreal will continue to be up there…
JML: First, we have an amazing thing, which is the European Supercup in August. After that, we get to be in the Champions League, in group 1. Let’s see if we have a bit more luck than last time, but we will be there.
IM: And you have also said that Villarreal has not made a final as a matter of anecdote, and that it will keep growing to remain in this elite status.
JML: No doubt about it. I think the door has opened, and we are in. Nobody is kicking us out now.