Villarreal, A Model For The Latics To Follow?
On Sunday Wigan Athletic face La Liga side and Champions League qualifiers, Villarreal at the DW Stadium in the last of this preseason's friendlies, Vital Latics member Jonathan Moffatt, aka J_Mo, takes a look at the similarities between the two clubs, over to you Jonathan:
On Sunday, the Latics will host Spanish side Villarreal, a club that has established itself as one of the major teams in the Spanish top flight over the last decade. They made it to the semi finals of the Champions League in 2006, finished runners up in La Liga in 2008, and most recently also appeared in the Europa League semi finals last season. Looking at the success that they have achieved over the past few years, at first glance it's difficult to imagine that a club like Villarreal ever shared anything in common with Wigan Athletic. But digging a little deeper reveals just how similar the two clubs are.
Villarreal, also known by their nickname 'The Yellow Submarine', were founded in 1923, and spent much of their early history as an obscure football club plying their trade in the regional leagues. In 1970, the club achieved promotion to the Spanish second division for the first time, staying there for two seasons, before being relegated and spending the next two decades mostly in the third and fourth tier of Spanish football. This all changed in the 1990s, returning to the second division in 1992 following two consecutive promotions before reaching the top flight in 1998. Although they were relegated after a tough debut season, they made a swift return to La Liga in 2000 and have remained there ever since.
Frequently referred to as the underdogs of La Liga, Villarreal have been punching above their weight for a number of years despite playing in front of relatively small crowds (the club rarely fill their 25000-seater stadium, averaging attendances closer to 18000, but this is still an impressive achievement in itself for a club located in a small city populated by just 50,000 inhabitants.)
Their success has allowed them to attract big names over the last few years - former star players include Juan Roman Riquelme, Diego Forlan, Juan Pablo Sorin and Robert Pires, belying their status as a 'small club'. Also most of the names in the current squad aren't as familiar, they still have ex-Man Utd striker Giuseppe Rossi, who is scoring goals for fun, and Marco Ruben, who some of you will remember we were close to signing 18 months ago.
They have, of course, been helped by the healthy financial backing of chairman Fernando Roig, the owner of a local ceramics business, but it's hardly on the same scale as the staggering amounts of money pumped into some clubs by various American or Middle Eastern billionaires - in terms of wealthy benefactors he is probably more comparable to our own chairman Dave Whelan.
They've also invested sensibly, focussing on improving the club's infrastructure and the youth system, and as a result the club has very strong reserve teams (Villarreal B will play in the second division next season; Barcelona are the only other club that currently have a B team so high up the Spanish football league system.)
The whole point of this article then is to show that perhaps there is some hope for a club like ourselves to progress further in the Premier League than being mired in relegation battles like most seasons so far. The transformation of a team like Villarreal from unknowns to European competition regulars is fairytale stuff, and is something which I'm sure many clubs around Europe would hope to emulate one day.
We'll obviously never be able to compete with the top teams in the league, but like Villarreal, we can certainly aspire to be the 'best of the rest', and hopefully if the club sticks to its long term plan of developing youth and reaping the rewards from it, this goal can be a realistic one.
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