Villarreal (11) 1-1 (10) Manchester United.
Very few times a single match has meant so much to a club. One can go back to specific moments in this sport and pinpoint similar ones–Real Madrid’s Mijatovic goal and narrow victory against Juventus to claim their 7th (then called) European Cup; City’s Aguero moment and first Premier League in decades; Deportivo A Coruña’s Centenariazo, at the Santiago Bernabeu no less, to win the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) against, you guessed it, Real Madrid.
For Villarreal this match at the end of May means so many things. A week after the historic win at Gdansk, Poland, we look over some of those. What is clear is that the goal-and-save combo by Geronimo Rulli changes the history, context, and future timeline of this entity.
The main thing to take away here is that Villarreal is, as of May 26th, a club with a continental trophy. The team based in the province of Castellon had not won a proper title ever, its history dating back to 1923 (although the official birth of the entity that is now called Villarreal FC came in the 1940s, but the sentimental start year was 98 years ago).
98 years later, they put that heavy, impressive trophy on the shelves of the stadium. Some regional titles and two Intertoto Cups were the full baggage of this club before the Europa League came into everyone’s lives.
Because of this trophy, Villarreal is, now more than ever, a fashionable team. The Yellow Submarine was always a team people used to like, but a team that is now cool to follow because it wins, too. The fans who don’t necessarily come from Vila-real, nor the ones who just happened to fall in love with the club after the first promotion in 1998, or the penalty missed in 2006, or the Cazorla, Senna, and Rossi days, can now become part of the feeling of supporting this team because it is simply fun to follow teams that win titles. It’s the reason so many fans support Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, and others–it’s fun to celebrate.
Villarreal is now on that list. In Spain, a country focused most of the time on Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atletico, being up there is complicated. Villarreal is only one of seven clubs in Spain to have won a European title. That says a lot of the team Emery has made perform. Neither the amazing squad Deportivo enjoyed in the early 00s, nor Guerrero and Etxeberria’s Athletic, nor Villarreal itself from when the Yellow Submarine took a spot in the top two, a little over a decade ago, achieved what Emery’s men have.
With this trophy that folks in Vila-real and all over the region and country will travel, near and far, to take a picture with, a second, very important outcome is met: Villarreal gets to enter the Champions League in the approaching season.
Now, this is now a milestone that will necessarily last as a legacy in the honors of the club like the Europa League trophy, but it is an immensely impactful one.
Being in the Champions League means, among others, three things:
- More money for the club as part of the elite of the continent.
- More appeal for new players to join the team, as playing in the Champions League is, for many, only surpassed by playing in the World Cup.
- More appeal for current players to stay and enjoy an exciting, top-tier, ambitious season.
This last point is crucial. Let’s take into account two possible scenarios:
Scenario A: Rulli misses the penalty, De Gea scores. Villarreal do not win the title, do not qualify for the Champions League, do not have the need to strengthen the squad as much, and they have to play UEFA’s Europa Conference League.
Scenario B: Villarreal wins and trophy, Champions League, money and appeal, to sign more better players and retain great ones, follow.
In which scenario do you think Pau Torres sticks around, at least one more season, to see the year through? What about 29-year-old Gerard Moreno? Or Pedraza, who is getting some attention from England and Italy?
This trophy means everyone, including the top stars at Villarreal, want to stick around. This will be a marquee year, with plenty of money to improve the team (without going crazy, Roig always reminds us), pay more to those staying, and a team in a town of 50,000 in the spotlight as the shiny winner of the Europa League.
And yes, with “Mr. Europa League” Unai Emery in charge, a man who is ready to make his mark in the Champions League. Unless a truly irresistible offer comes through, nobody will want to miss this.
There are other factors coming Villarreal’s way because of this win: The club will collect roughly 30 million Euros between the Europa League and the Supercup matches, regardless of the outcome of the match against Chelsea. They’ll be able to play, with zero pressure, against Chelsea in August, and potentially lift two trophies in three months, after 98 years of no titles.
Villarreal will also be in the first group of Champions League teams, along with the league winners, in the drawing over the summer for the group stage. Do you know who isn’t in the first group? Real Madrid and Barcelona. Group #2.
The top takeaways though are that Villarreal and Roig finally have their title, that the Champions League is back, and that nobody will want to miss this.
The celebration in Vila-real, days later, was something unseen. Fans from across the town, but from far out as well came to join into the festivities. Tens of thousands of yellow shirts climbed light posts, trees, and buildings just to wave at the team bus. Kids by the thousands cheered as their passion for the team that won a title grows, and remains in their hearts, forever.
The club store ran out of shirts, scarves and flags; the chapel of Sant Pasqual ran out of candles and the traditional bracelets. The smallest town ever to win a European trophy enjoyed for days.
Parejo got drunk for the second time in his life. Capoue took his shirt off the entire time. It got wild.
In the evening, the bus, which slowly had been making its way to the stadium in a sea of yellow, was welcomed by a small cohort in the actual pitch at La Ceramica, and a group of little more than 300 guests celebrated the trophy, said thank yous, took pictures, and had dinner together with some music from a band from local town Almazora, Los Makis.
And that, right there, is the essence of Villarreal. The “first title”, as Fernando Roig puts it, is to “Remain in La Liga”. After that, the goal is to do as well as possible; to improve the team every year, and sometimes, like last week, to try to make history. Sometimes it looks like a semifinal, a penalty missed; some others, like a second place in La Liga, taking Barcelona’s spot. Last week, it meant lifting a title against a team with over three times the budget, and 66 trophies.
However, Villarreal always remains humble, counts its blessings, and thanks those who made it possible.
That is who Villarreal is. And that is who all of us, natives of Vila-real like me, or fans of Villarreal in Argentina, Japan, wherever; and players, staff and ownership should always strive to be.
We’ve made history.
We enjoy the spoils.
We’ll get back to work.