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'Yellow Submarine' Villarreal fire warning shots at the rest of Europe

The Spanish side followed their stunning victory over Italian giants Juventus in the last 16 by ousting Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals

Villarreal midfielder Etienne Capoue celebrates after the match against Bayern Munich. — AFP
Villarreal midfielder Etienne Capoue celebrates after the match against Bayern Munich. — AFP

By AFP/Reuters

Published: Wed 13 Apr 2022, 10:19 PM

Last updated: Wed 13 Apr 2022, 10:22 PM

At a time when a clique of super clubs have cemented their grip on the Champions League and the riches that go with it, Villarreal’s surprise progress to the semifinals of Europe’s elite competition is to be savoured.

The Spaniards followed their stunning victory over Italian giants Juventus in the last 16 by ousting Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals, a 1-1 draw in Germany on Tuesday taking them through 2-1 on aggregate.

The club known as the ‘Yellow Submarine’ and from a town of barely 50,000 people are through to the semifinals against the odds, but deserve to be there thanks to the outstanding work done under coach Unai Emery.

However, on Tuesday he was eager to praise Fernando Roig, whose presence is a reminder that a small club can only hope to go this far if it has the backing of a very wealthy benefactor.

Roig is the billionaire owner of ceramics firm Pamesa who bought Villarreal — from just north of Valencia on Spain’s east coast — in 1997 and utterly transformed their fortunes.

A year later, they had won promotion to Spain’s top flight, and in 2006 they reached their first Champions League semifinal under Manuel Pellegrini, losing to Arsenal.

Last year, they won their first major trophy, beating Manchester United on penalties in the final of the Europa League, a competition Emery won three times in charge of Sevilla.

But the Champions League, which has become even more of a closed shop in the 16 years since Villarreal last went so far, is a step up again.

“We are here not so people can say how cool we are or how nice we are, that we are from a little village like Asterix and Obelix,” said Emery.

“No, no. We have a very solid and stable project put in place by the Roig family that goes back many years. We have played in the semifinals before. Lots of work and preparation has gone into this.”

Emery may have sought to kill the notion that Villarreal’s progress is some kind of fairytale, but they have still upset the odds.

Roig has enabled Villarreal to establish themselves as a force in La Liga yet the club’s budget pales in comparison to their Champions League rivals.

In December the club, who are seventh in La Liga, announced expected revenues for this season of 139 million euros ($150m).

That figure would not place them among the top 30 in the most recent Deloitte Football Money League which ranks the world’s richest clubs.

In contrast Bayern were third on that list with revenue over 600 million euros in the pandemic-affected last season.

Money usually comes out on top, but Villarreal had already claimed famous wins over Juventus and United, two others ranked among the top 10 richest in the world.

The other club to reach the semi-finals on Tuesday, Real Madrid, had the second-highest revenues globally last season.

On Tuesday Emery’s team soaked up so much Bayern pressure that they had just 35 percent of possession and only four attempts on goal compared to 24 for their opponents.

The defensive strategy worked.

“It’s incredible. I think we have shocked Europe,” said French midfielder Etienne Capoue, one of several players who could be described as Premier League flops along with the likes of Juan Foyth, Alberto Moreno, Francis Coquelin and Giovani Lo Celso.

Villarreal’s progress comes as clubs are pushing to reserve two places in the new, expanded 36-team Champions League from 2024 to teams, who failed to qualify via the usual routes, but have a high Uefa coefficient ranking.

That has been interpreted as a potential safety net for giants who have had a poor season although Villarreal’s coefficient over the last two years is among the very best and they do not want to stop in the semifinals.

“We can dream,” Emery told BT Sport.

“We can’t settle for what we have done. We have to be ambitious.”

Bayern’s Nagelsmann ready to face the music

Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann is prepared to face the music following their Champions League quarterfinal exit, while also trying to pick his team up to seal the Bundesliga title for some consolation.

The Bavarians now have only the league title to fight for. “I don’t really know what is coming towards me. But when we lose and are eliminated then that is bound to happen,” said Nagelsmann, in his first season at Bayern.

“I am not afraid of that. There are far worse things than that.”

The 34-year-old coach, whose team also crashed out of the German Cup in the second round, will try to lift his players ahead of the league game at Arminia Bielefeld on Sunday.

Leaders Bayern are nine points clear with five games left and victory at Bielefeld would all but secure the title.

Bayern are also busy drawing up their transfer plans for the summer with several players likely to leave, among them top scorer Robert Lewandowski.

The first priority, however, is for his team to dig deep and finish the season strongly, especially after the lacklustre performances in their last five league matches which included two draws and a shaky 1-0 win over Augsburg last week.

“I will continue doing my job and prepare for the Bundesliga,” said Nagelsmann. “The team has enough experience with both good and bad moments. You win together and you lose together and you have to play the next games together.

“Obviously a big chunk of motivation is now gone after this Champions League elimination,” he conceded.

The league title is Bayern’s top priority every season and club CEO Oliver Kahn said the focus should now switch to that.

“We will not start shedding tears. Next year we will attack again,” Kahn said. “We now have the amazing opportunity to become champions for the 10th consecutive time. We will focus on that and give it all we have.”

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