Villarreal defeated Bayern Munich to make it to its third-ever UEFA Champions League semifinal, the first since 2005-06.
The Spanish side has remained in the shadows of its rival Valencia CF for the most part of footballing history — a club which is not just larger in size, but stronger in terms of finance and infrastructure.
However, a family feud in the Roig family, then owners of Valencia, led Fernando Roig to take ownership of Villarreal at a local bar and 25 years later that decision changed the fate of about 50,000 people of that town.
Villarreal, which used to play in the fourth division of Spain, rose to La Liga under Roig’s ownership and has qualified for Europe 14 times since.
Last year, the club made history, winning its first-ever European trophy, beating Manchester United in the Europa League finals on penalties.
The Roig family isn’t the only thing that moved from Valencia in favour of Villarreal. A financial crisis in Valencia, under new owner Peter Lim, led to an exodus of its key players, including captain Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin — both of whom are now at the Estadio de la Ceramica.
Unai Emery, who had a short stint with Arsenal, has transformed the clubs since taking over in 2020 and has forged a team with a bunch of Premier League outcasts and homegrown players, which beat Juventus and Bayern on its way to the semifinal.
A team of Premier League ‘rejects’
Arnaut Danjuma, who was part of the Bournemouth team that got relegated from the Premier League in 2020-21, scored the goal in the first leg win over Bayern Munich.
While the English side parted ways with Eddie Howe ahead of the Championship season, the Dutchman also left the club, with Emery’s side picking him up for 21.3 million pounds.
Giovani Lo Celso and Serge Aurier were some of the sacrificial lambs when managers changed at Tottenham Hotspur, with Antonio Conte rooting for fresh loanees.
The Argentine and the Ivorian rediscovered their form in Emery’s side with Lo Celso being a lynchpin in Villarreal’s midfield. Spurs also lost centre-back Juan Foyth to the same club on a permanent transfer last year.
Midfielder Etienne Capoue and left-back Pervis Estupian came from Watford while defender Alberto Moreno joined the club for free from Liverpool in 2019.
The 10 players with Premier League experience in the current Villarreal squad: Danjuma, Lo Celso, Aurier, Capoue, Estupian, Parejo, Coquelin, Geronimo Rulli, Vicente Iborra and Moreno (injured).
‘ Homegrown’ advantage
The Villarreal team that beat Manchester United in the Europa League final had 10 of its 26 players from its academy — the ones that grew up at the club and more importantly, belonging to that area – something that gained significance during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Villarreal’s team chemistry improved during the two years when the disease wreaked havoc.
Players like the team’s captain Mario Gaspar and Manu Trigueros led the charge to the Europa League success.
Eight of the ten, namely, Gaspar, Trigueros, Gerard Moreno, Moi Gomez, Alfonso Pedraza, Samuel Chukwueze, Pau Torres and Yeremy Pino remain in the first team for the UCL semifinal.
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