While much of Europe focuses on the winners of the major leagues around the continent, the most surprising story of the season came at the wrong end of La Liga as one-time Champions League semi-finalists Villarreal were relegated.
No one would have predicted relegation for the Yellow Submarine. They had not finished outside the top eight since 2002/2003, qualified for the Champions League on three occasions and reached the semi-finals losing out to Arsenal in 2006. Even in the season before their relegation Villarreal finished fourth qualifying again for Europe’s premier competition.
Over the last decade Villarreal have become known for vibrant attacking football helped by players like Juan Roman Riquelme and Diego Forlan. Despite the constant selling of their best players El Submarino Amarillo maintained great consistency replacing their best players with other stars like Nihat, Nilmar and Rossi.
This season though it has all caught up with them. They sold Spanish international Santi Cazorla to Malaga for €20 million and his replacement Jonathan De Guzman failed to live up to expectations. The biggest blow was the injury to top striker Giuseppe Rossi. The Italian tore knee ligaments in October and suffered a relapse when he was due to return for the final few games of the season. Villarreal failed to replace him with Marco Ruben finishing top scorer with just nine goals. They managed just 39 goals in 38 games and their 14 draws proved very costly.
A lack of stability in the managerial position certainly didn’t help Villarreal’s cause. Juan Carlos Garrido started the season in charge but having lost all six Champions League group games, missing out on the Europa League and then a humiliating Copa Del Rey exit to third-tier Mirandes he was sacked. His replacement Jose Molina only lasted until March as the league form failed to improve.
The experienced Miguel Angel Lotina took charge but with the squad unaccustomed to a relegation battle and the new boss becoming more and more defensively minded they were unable to get the results they needed. The last game summed up Villarreal’s season. Just needing a draw against Atletico Madrid at home to survive Lotina opted for a cautious approach which was undone when Atletico scored in the 88th minute and Rayo Vallecano snatched a last minute win at Granada to send Villarreal down.
So what next for them? They can take heart from Deportivo’s promotion from the Segunda back to the top division after just one season. There may also be major rebuilding work to do with the squad. The likes of Senna, Rossi, Nilmar and Zapata are bound to attract attention from clubs in top leagues in Europe. With the backing of wealthy ceramics tycoon and club President Fernando Roig though Villarreal will be favourite’s for an immediate return and could become one of the major teams in Spain again.
By Chris Newman