El Centrocampista

Villarreal: The Yellow Submarine keeping its head above water

From the Champions League to the Segunda…and back again? El Centrocampista takes a look at this season’s surprise package as newly-promoted Villarreal enjoy a return to the top-flight.

May 18 2012. A dark day in the history of Villarreal CF. Radamel Falcao nods home Athletico’s winner two minutes from time and with that header sends the visiting Valencians hurtling into Spain’s second tier for the first time in over a decade.

It’s all too much for President Fernando Roig. Sitting high up in the stands of the Vincente Calderon, he weeps.

Following the heartbreak of that fateful night in Madrid, Roig acted swiftly. But matters were to go from bad to worse.

Manuel Precaido was the man chosen to return The Yellow Submarine to La Liga. On the day of his appointment as club manager, 6 June 2012, Precaido died of a heart attack.

Villarreal CF, once a giant of European football and La Liga runner-up just four years earlier, was now in turmoil. Sensing a further decline in the club’s fortunes, star players Valero, Lopez, Rossi and Nilmar jumped ship.

Julio Velazquez stepped in as manager for the start of the 2012-13 campaign but a depleted squad struggled to come to terms with the rigors of second-division Spanish football.

By this time last year Villarreal had slipped to 10th in the Segunda. Unimpressed with the demise of his empire, trigger-happy Roig had his say and Velazquez bit the dust.

With that same group of players, new Coach Marcelino Garcia led the team to second in Liga Adelante, thus fulfilling his sole objective for the season: promotion. The club has failed to look back ever since.

Not content with merely returning to the top-flight to make up the numbers, Marcelino’s men have played some of the most attractive football in La Liga this term; a 5-1 thrashing of 4th place Real Sociedad and 4-1 win over local rivals Valencia the highlights of a sensational season so far.

El Madrigal, the scene of many La Liga defeats just two years earlier, is now a fortress.

Villarreal have conceded just 29 goals this season, fewer than fellow fourth-place rivals Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao.

The Yellow Submarine is watertight once more. Thanks largely to the presence of 23-year-old centre-back Mateo Musacchio; the man David Moyes has identified as a potential replacement for Nemanja Vidic.

Further upfield summer signing Giovani Dos Santos has chipped in with nine goals and provides the crucial link between midfield engine and club captain Bruno, and lethal frontman Uche.

Whilst Nigerian veteran Uche has achieved cult hero status for firing his team to promotion – the 30-year-old scored 13 in 10 in the Segunda – it is Dos Santos who has been the star player this term.

The 24-year-old Mexican, branded a failure at previous clubs Barcelona and Tottenham, has chosen World Cup year in which to display his full potential in the yellow of Villarreal.

The young striker will be buoyed by the recent news that compatriot Carlos Vela has opted out of this summer’s tournament and now has an incentive to continue his blistering form in Spain.

Dos Santos is just one of seven Villarreal first team regulars under the age of 25 as Marcelino looks to young legs to implement his philosophy of high-tempo football.

The Spaniard’s blueprint is working. Villarreal spend most weekends in possession of the football and are most likely to score in the last 15 minutes of games, by which point their opponents are exhausted.

Goalkeeper Asenjo, Musacchio, Bruno, Dos Santos and Uche provide a strong core to a team that works incredibly hard as a unit to press high up the pitch, but can also punish teams on the counter-attack.

However, the sceptics claim that Marcelino’s promoted squad is too small and too inexperienced to go the distance and achieve a top-four finish.

But what do they expect?

Let us not forget, Villarreal is a small-town club. El Madrigal has a total capacity of just 24,000.

The Yellow Submarine was given €28m in TV money at the start of the season. Barcelona and Real Madrid received €140m each.

To put things into perspective further, Villarreal, Champions League semi-finalists in 2006, represent a town with a smaller population than Torquay.

Nevertheless, the optimists, boosted by the coup of landing Oliver Torres on loan in January and the emergence of Matias Nahuel Leiva as “The New Messi”, still believe that Marcelino and co are capable of reaching the dizzy heights of European football once more.

Villarreal are currently 6th in La Liga. They travel to 5th-placed Real Sociedad on the final day of the season.

The ‘Yellow Subramine’ faithful will be hoping the scene’s at the Estadio Anoeta are in stark contrast to the despair suffered at the Vincente Calderon just two years earlier.

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