El Centrocampista


Valdes, Puyol, Iniesta, Deco, Xavi, Ronaldinho, Messi, Henry, Eto’o.

Champions League, La Liga, World Cup and European Cup winners; a pick of the best from the immensely talented Frank Rijkaard Barcelona squad.

The same team that were beat to second by Manuel Pelligrini’s Villarreal in 2008. Barcelona finished runners up to the runners up, and that doesn’t happen too often, more often perhaps than the English media would lead you to believe.

Nonetheless it’s still a phenomenon that raises many an eyebrow and signals that there must be something going seriously wrong at Barcelona or Real Madrid.

This time there wasn’t a great amount amiss at the Camp Nou, semi-finalists in the Champions League Barcelona were approaching one of the biggest transitions in their history, but even so the football at times was sumptuous, close to the form that won them the league and European cup double two years previous.

Down the road, a 180 mile trip along the eastern coastline, Manuel Pelligrini plotted a master class in which his Villarreal team finished an entirely deserved ten points in front of Barcelona, producing performances which led many to describe them as the second best footballing team around, only behind the team they were in front of.

It was 75 years since their foundation that Villarreal found their way to the Primera Division, bouncing straight back down to the Segunda for the following 1999-2000 season.

They returned to the Primera as quickly as they left and have stayed there ever since, but now they are in serious danger of leaving once again.

European football has been a huge part of Villarreal’s success, and nearly all their profit and budget is dependent on European qualification and progression. Two wins in the Intertoto cup lead to opportunities in the UEFA Cup which they grasped with both hands, finishing in the semi and quarter finals.

In the summer of 2004 Manuel Pelligrini and Diego Forlan joined The Yellow Submarine and their fortunes took a dramatic upturn, the latter won the Pichichi award for La Liga’s top goalscorer and the former turned Villarreal into one of the best footballing teams in Europe, finishing the season an astonishing third place, ensuring their first ever Champions League qualification.

In the following season Villarreal took their opportunity in Europe and progressed all the way to the semi-finals, were if Juan Roman Riquelme’s penalty hadn’t been saved by Arsenal’s Jens Lehman, he could have been facing his former team Barcelona in Paris to decide who would win the Champions League.

Villarreal looked like they may have stagnated after their European exploits with 7th and 5th place finishes following in the league.

Then something rather incredible followed.

In the 2007/08 season Villarreal finished 10 points ahead of Barcelona, beating the Catalans home and away, and finished 2nd place, their best ever finish in Spanish football, whether in the Primera or the Segunda.

Villarreal have struggled to return to the highs of second place and the Champions League semi-finals, a return to Europe’s premier competition this season saw the team drawn in the group of death were they were torn to pieces finishing last with 0 points, loosing every single game.

In the league things are nearly as bad; Juan Garrido’s men sit just a goal away from entering the relegation places with the three promoted teams above them. They have three wins in their fifteen games so far and a desperate twelve goals in that time.

Villarreal’s past success was down to how well the club was run, but like every other team in Spain outside of the big two, the economic downturn had a huge effect on their fortunes. Their budget is based almost entirely on what they do in Europe, knocked out and sitting in 17th place in the league means the situation can only get worse.

With another big spender rising in La Liga, the change in fortunes was perhaps signalled when Malaga signed Santi Cazorla for €21 million late in July. Cazorla was a constant in Villarreal’s glory years and since he departed for Andalusia the downturn accelerated due to injuries to the team’s best players.

The hugely influential Marcos Senna has recently returned along with the technically gifted Nilmar but it’s only thanks to the teams fantastic Cantera youth system that they manage to compile a match day squad.

Top goal scorer Guiseppe Rossi is the most noticeable absentee, and Villarreal are likely to receive offers from Juventus and Napoli among others when he returns.

It’s becoming increasingly likely that Rossi would accept one of these offers and who could really blame him? The Yellow Submarine is sinking fast, and the men who made the club what it is today need to plug the hole before it’s too late.

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