Sunday, December 5

Gerónimo Rulli: ‘I never thought of United, De Gea, I hit him with all my soul’ | Villarreal

“’Gero, don’t screw it up. Just put it in. ‘ Gerónimo Rulli falls back on the ground and smiles. “And that’s what happened,” he says. Everybody that and came to is, to the. A shot that would be forever. Well, two: the penalty he would take and the penalty he would face. It was 10-10 in an extraordinary shootout at the end of the Europa League encounter with Manchester United in May, the first final Villarreal had ever played, this city team of just 50,577, and history was calling for him. So was the referee.

“I was walking away when he said, ‘Goalkeeper, your turn,'” recalls Rulli. “‘Me? Are you sure?’ I lost count. Are you sure there is no one left? From the moment I took the ball, the key was not to think. In a shootout for a goalkeeper there is a lot of time alone to think, to increase the pressure. Your teammates The team is scoring all their penalties, the responsibility grows and then they depend solely on you. And that’s lovely. “

Anyway, it’s after. Rulli scored the 21st and saved the 22nd penalty of the penalty shootout, leading Villarreal to their first trophy and sending them back to the Champions League, where they will face United again on Wednesday night. It was the kind of moment a statue deserves. “No, no, no, there is no statue,” laughs Rulli. “The score stands out and that was incredible, but the ‘photo’ is the salvation, the flight, those two seconds, the whole tribe running towards me, all the suffering was worth it.”

Suffering is the word. He shouldn’t have gotten that far, says Rulli, and doesn’t share the assumption that goalkeepers can’t lose in a shootout. When he placed the ball, there had been pressure. Ira too. “My colleagues did their job: everyone was scoring. The one who wasn’t doing his job was me because I hadn’t stopped any of them. He knew how most United players took them, although intuition kicks in and some switched sides, and he was upset that he had touched almost every kick, five or so, but hadn’t stopped any.

“I knew exactly where my wife was: at the penalty spot, to the left. The rest of the family couldn’t be there, but my wife was and was pregnant at the time. I said, ‘If your nerves didn’t kill you today, nothing will.’ He couldn’t bear to look. She had nagged me for years: ‘When are you going to save a penalty? When are you going to score a goal?

“I never thought it would be my turn and I had never taken one. We had not practiced sanctions because you cannot recreate all that. The manager had said, “Hit him with your heart but with a cool head.” I was thinking about the penalties that goalkeepers hate. We have the odds against us. The distance from the place to the goal is short, the goal is great. If it is well taken, it is very difficult to save. It has been a case of hitting him high where it is difficult to reach and, above all, hard.

“But I tried not to think of anything, thinking would have been worse: just hit it hard. It had a touch of the previous one, [Victor] Lindelöf and I were wounded. I never thought it was a final, Manchester United, David de Gea. I just thought, ‘Don’t screw it up. Hit it hard, with everything you have left. And I hit him with all my soul. “

The ball flew into the net and the roles were reversed for one last shot. De Gea stayed in place, Rulli on his line. “During the entire shooting, we did not speak. He is in his own world, I am in mine. I was just concentrating on memorizing who was taking it and where their penalties would go. When it was David’s turn, I had no idea where he was going, but the way he approached the ball and the last step of his career made me think that it was impossible that he could hit it very hard. Everything is happening in milliseconds, but I could see it clearly by the way he slowed down before the ball, the shape of his body.

Rulli saves De Gea's kick to win the Europa League.
Rulli saves De Gea’s kick to win the Europa League. Photograph: Kacper Pempel / Reuters

“After the game he congratulated me,” says Rulli. There is a pause. “I would have preferred that the penalty shoot-out had ended earlier, to have saved any penalty other than his own. I know how a goalkeeper suffers ”.

The gloves entered the crowd, the jersey in a box ready to be framed. The boots are also in a safe place, a reminder of a long journey and an extraordinary ending. “When it happens, you think about all the bad times, how you left your last club here [Real Sociedad]Having to go to France, how Villarreal trusted you when many would not. This was for the people who helped me. Winning is saying: ‘It was all worth it.’

For Rulli, that feeling runs deep. His wife, crying, has suffered the cruelty of criticism she has often faced. Sergio Asenjo’s second national pick, there were suggestions that he would lose his European spot once Villarreal reached the final. Returning to Spain at Villarreal was an opportunity he needed, a new beginning after leaving Real Sociedad for Montpellier under difficult circumstances in 2019. He had resisted that move, his relationship with the La Real sports director was strained and he talks of “dark days.” insecurity, the importance of the person behind the player.

“It was not working at La Real and the relationship with the fans was not as it should have been. There were many things, some personal, that kept me from being at my best. I did not feel comfortable. There was a lot of work behind the scenes, people who have nothing to do with football … mental work. I’m glad I went through that now because I came out a better person. It is important that the people around you trust you, like you, support you. I never had a bad relationship with teammates, but with other people … “

There is a pause. “You start thinking, ‘What am I not doing right?’ Uncertainty, insecurity grows. I think I’m a good guy and I want a good relationship with the people I work with. It is very important that you are sure of yourself. “

That is not always easy, and Rulli has not always been in control of his own destiny: his path to his extraordinary place in history was not the straightest and he certainly did not follow his own plans, the journey took a silent and invisible spell. at Manchester City in 2016. If you do not remember, there is a good reason: Rulli did not play a game, did not attend training, stepped on the Etihad or met Pep Guardiola.

Gerónimo Rulli says: 'I'm still proud that Manchester City has qualified me enough to go after me.'
Gerónimo Rulli says: ‘I’m still proud that Manchester City qualified me enough to go after me.’ Photography: Pablo García

“The clubs in Argentina weren’t going through the best of times and investment companies come in and buy you. The business belongs to them. He bought me a fund when I was in Estudiantes. They came, they bought me, they loaned me to La Real the first year, then they sold me to City, which gave me back to La Real. When I arrived in Spain, I did not have the freedom that I have now; fortunately now I am 100% from Villarreal. I was depending on that investment group, who sold me to the highest bidder and had nothing to say. If young players can avoid that, I would recommend doing so.

“I am still proud that Manchester City qualified me enough to go after me. I am grateful to the people there. History will say that I was part of City, although I did not play for a minute, and I never entered the stadium ”. Rulli laughs. “I have never been to Manchester, it will be the first time.

“We played Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea and we didn’t lose in 90 minutes, which speaks highly of the club. We eliminated Arsenal and got to penalties against United and Chelsea, one that we won [with Rulli in goal], one that we lost [without Rulli in goal]. We can compete with any team and this is a game with a twist. There is the final of the Europa League and it is [Cristiano] Ronaldo’s first Champions League game at Old Trafford. So this [Raphaël] Early, [Jadon] Sancho ”.

When asked how he had fared the last time he faced Ronaldo, the goalkeeper laughs. “I think he scored a hat-trick,” he replies. “He threw two penalties: he scored one but the other missed … which counts as mine.” A repeat of the final is impossible, but another moment from the place is not. And since Bruno Fernandes is unlikely to have another chance after last weekend, it would have to be Ronaldo who he saves this time, a prospect that has Rulli smiling again. “Well,” he says, “I’ll try.”

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