Villarreal are Europa League champions!
The Yellow Submarine beat Manchester United 11-10 (Yes 11-10!) on penalties after a 1-1 draw in Gdansk to claim just the fourth honour in the club’s history. They have never won the league, or a domestic cup, only tasting Spanish success by winning the Tercera Division in 1969/70.
Villarreal have, however, had more success in continental competition, winning the Intertoto Cup in 2003 and 2004 but that was a tertiary competition, so the use of the word major would be debated. There is no debating now though, as they are Europa League champions, earning a 100% record in major European tournament finals.
Only two teams in the 21st century have won the Europa League without losing a game:
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 26, 2021
It was the peak of what has been a long road for Villarreal, relegated from La Liga in 2012 and fighting the drop just a few seasons ago. Long gone were the glory days of 2005/06 when the Yellow Submarine reached the semi-finals of the Champions League – their previous best performance in a major European competition (joint-best if count Europa League semi-finals as the same level).
Then, Villarreal finished top of their group ahead of Villarreal, Benfica, Lille and Manchester United, while knocking Rangers and Inter Milan out before finally being beaten 1-0 by Arsenal in the semi-finals. Since that campaign, Villarreal managed another quarter-final run in the Champions League but their time at Europe’s top table came to an end in 2011/12 with a bottom-of-the-group finish – their most recent Champions League “proper” campaign (excluding play-offs). But now, thanks to the Europa League win, they are back in the competition and can dream of another good run.
Before we get there though, let’s take a look at what has happened to the starting XI in that final game of 2005/06 against Arsenal, a 0-0 draw at Estadio El Madrigal.
Goalkeeper: Mariano Barbosa
Career path: Banfield, Villarreal, Recreativo Huelva, Estudiantes, River Plate, Atlas, Las Palmas, Sevilla, Villarreal.
Villarreal appearances: 63
Mariano Barbosa only conceded once across 180 minutes of the semi-final against Arsenal, with Kolo Toure’s first-leg goal proving the difference. The shot-stopper left Villarreal a year later but, following a return to Argentina and successful period at Las Palmas, re-signed for the club in 2015. He spent five more years with the Yellow Submarine, playing a backup role, before leaving last summer.
Right-back: Javi Venta
Career path: Real Oviedo, Marino Luanco, Gimnastic, Onda, Racing Ferrol, Tenerife, Villarreal, Levante, Villarreal, Brentford.
Villarreal appearances: 253
Javi Venta set up a glorious chance for his side in the second leg but his efforts were in vain. He went on to play alongside Robert Pires at the club before departing in 2010 and, although he returned for one year, the defender finished his career at Brentford of all places, departing Griffin Park in 2013 due to personal reasons.
Centre-back: Juan Manuel Pena
Career path: Blooming, Santa Fe, Real Valladolid, Villarreal, Celta Vigo, DC United.
Villarreal appearances: 75
Juan Manuel Pena racked up over 300 appearances in La Liga but his career swiftly petered out after featuring in the 2006 Champions League semi-final, going on to feature just six times in the league the following season. He retired in 2009 but returned to play for DC United, which proved to be his last club 11 years ago. He now runs an academy in his native Bolivia.
Centre-back: Quique Alvarez
Career path: Barcelona, Logrones, Lleida, Villarreal, Recreativo Huelva.
Villarreal appearances: 236
The former Barcelona youth starlet might have let out a chuckle during the second leg when a fan invaded the pitch and tried to put a Barca shirt on the Arsenal striker. Alvarez retired at the age of 34 in 2009 and went into coaching, starting with Barcelona’s Juvenil A. He was most recently a part of Villarreal’s backroom staff last season, but left the club when Unai Emery replaced Javier Calleja.
Left-back: Rodolfo Arruabarrena
Career path: Boca Juniors, Rosario, Villarreal, AEK Athens, Tigre, Universidad Catolica.
Villarreal appearances: 270
Arruabarrena’s goals from the back played a huge part in Villarreal’s run to the semis in their first season in the Champions League, eliminating Rangers and Inter Milan on their way to meet Arsenal. His seven-year stint at the club came to an end in 2007 and he later went into management, having spells in charge of Boca Juniors and Egyptian side Pyramids FC (whom he currently manages).
Career path: Albacete, Las Palmas, Villarreal, Fenerbahce, Las Palmas.
Villarreal appearances: 206
Josico was the captain of Villarreal’s side but was shipped off by then-manager Manuel Pellegrini two years after the Arsenal episode. He now works as a coach having enjoyed a first-team management spell at Las Palmas, which is where he ended his playing days in 2011. He was appointed reserve team manager in 2014 and is now managing in Spain’s lower leagues with SS Reyes, after a spell with Elche.
Central midfielder: Riquelme
Career path: Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Villarreal, Boca Juniors, Argentinos Juniors.
Villarreal appearances: 141
The former Argentina international needs no introduction but despite his cult status, it was he who missed a last-minute penalty in the second leg which would have sent the tie to extra time. Riquelme returned to his home nation with Boca Juniors a year later and didn’t hang up his boots until January 2015. He still graces the turf occasionally in testimonials, but has so far steered clear of management, instead holding the Vice President role at Boca Juniors.
Central midfielder: Marcos Senna
Career path: Rio Branco, America-SP, Corinthians, Juventude, Sao Caetano, Villarreal, New York Cosmos.
Villarreal appearances: 356
What a midfield duo this was! Marcos Senna, who represented Spain and won Euro 2008 thanks to his 11-year stay with Villarreal. Senna stayed at Villarreal following their relegation in 2012 and helped them return to La Liga at the first time of asking before moving on to Major League Soccer side New York Cosmos.
Left-midfielder: Juan Pablo Sorin
Career path: Argentinos Juniors, Juventus, River Plate, Cruzeiro, Lazio, Barcelona, PSG, Villarreal, Hamburg, Cruzeiro.
Villarreal appearances: 60
A journeyman, Juan Pablo Sorin left Villarreal at the end of the 2005/06 campaign for a two-year stay in Germany with Hamburg before ending his career at Cruzeiro after an injury-riddled final season. He is often seen on television now, giving his views as a pundit and analyst.
Striker: Diego Forlan
Career path: Independiente, Manchester United, Villarreal, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, Internacional, Cerezo Osaka, Penarol, Mumbai City, Kitchee.
Villarreal appearances: 121
A real household name, the former Manchester United striker was unable to come back to bite English rivals Arsenal after joining Villarreal from Old Trafford two years prior. He would go on to enjoy an impressive stint at Atletico Madrid but, following relatively unsuccessful terms at Inter Milan, Internacional and Cerezo Osaka he is returned to boyhood club Penarol, the most prestigious team in Uruguay. Forlan officially announced his retirement in 2019 at the age of 40 and turned to management, first taking charge of Penarol before joining current club Club Atlético Atenas in Uruguay’s second tier.
Striker: Guillermo Franco
Career path: San Lorenzo, Monterrey, Villarreal, West Ham, Velez Sarsfield, CF Pachuca, Chicago Fire.
Villarreal appearances: 101
Franco came on as a substitute in the first leg but was entrusted to start in the crunch return meeting with Arsenal, being denied by Jens Lehmann before sending a flashing header inches wide of the post later in the game. He last played in MLS with Chicago Fire in 2012.