Football Features

Pau Torres vindicates ‘dream decision’ to stay at Villarreal as Bayern Munich exit the Champions League

By Ben Green

Pau Torres vindicates ‘dream decision’ to stay at Villarreal as Bayern Munich exit the Champions League

Published: 22:32, 12 April 2022

Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres rejected the opportunity to leave his boyhood club in the summer “even though the club could have made a lot of money”, to play in the Champions League — and he has more than vindicated that decision.

The Villarreal-born defender rose to meteoric prominence last season as The Yellow Submarine won the Europa League and gained a golden ticket to the Champions League for 2021/22, where they have now reached the semi-finals for only the second time in the club’s history.

His partnership alongside veteran centre-back Raul Albiol has been a cornerstone of Villarreal’s recent successes under Unai Emery, and the duo once again worked wonders in tandem to keep a lock on Bayern for the majority of the match, as Julian Nagelsmann’s men charged forward with froth-mouthed relish.

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A 1-0 win at the Estadio de la Ceramica in the quarter-final first leg last week was a superb exhibition of endeavour and grit from the Spaniards, but many were expecting the Bavarian behemoth to run rampant at the Allianz Arena and firmly change the complexion of the tie.

However, Emery’s men dug in deep, with their tenacity embodied by the hard-nosed approach of Torres, restricting Bayern to just the single goal, through Robert Lewandowski shortly after the restart, before firing home themselves from a devastating counter, in which super-sub Samuel Chukwueze netted the decisive finish.

It now means Villarreal are likely to face Liverpool in the penultimate round unless Benfica can produce a giantkilling of their own at Anfield, mimicking the feat of Manuel Pellegrini’s men in 2005/06, in which they reached the semi-final to take on English opposition, ultimately losing to Arsenal 1-0 on aggregate.

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Torres has now etched his name further into Villarreal folklore, and has more than justified his decision to snub interest away from the club last summer. It is believed Tottenham were in the mix for his signature, but the Spanish defender ultimately stuck around to test his luck in Europe’s premier competition.

“The pull of playing the Champions League with the team from my town was bigger,” Torres said in November. “I was clear from the start.

“This is only the fourth time Villarreal reached the Champions League, which shows how hard it is and it was a dream to play the competition with my lifelong club.

READ MORE: Where do Villarreal rank among the Champions League favourites?

“The president didn’t put pressure on me, even though they could make a lot of money. He always said ‘the decision’s yours’, that he’d respect it. I appreciate that.

“What I could experience with the club was unrepeatable. I’m comfortable in my town, with my close people, and the group we have and the people we signed – [Arnaut] Danjuma, Boulaye [Dia], Gerard [Moreno] renewed. I’m enjoying it. It’s a special year, the group is very close, that’s why I stayed.”

That “pull” has worked wonders for the elite defender, who has continued Villarreal’s Cinderella story in the Champions League, claiming the scalps of Bayern Munich, Juventus and Atalanta (in the groups). It is certainly not a foregone conclusion that the story will stop in the next round.

In a double blow to Spurs, Torres’ apparent rejection of them enhances the narrative as several north London outcasts have played a huge part in their route to the semis, not least Etienne Capoue, Serge Aurier, Juan Foyth and current loanee Giovani Lo Celso.