Thursday, January 27

The glory of Villarreal is a story of redemption, vindication and disbelief | Villarreal

TThe biggest victory of all was of all, an effort of the whole team. Said so often, this time it was true. Gerard Moreno, Dani Raba, Paco Alcácer, Alberto Moreno, Dani Parejo, Moi Gómez, Raúl Albiol, Francis Coquelin, Mario Gaspar, Pau Torres, Gerónimo Rulli: when Villarreal won their first trophy, all the players on the field had not scored either. only them. It was everything and everyone; a city of 50,577 inhabitants, the smallest to have a European title, and then at the end of it all, a single man standing there alone, trying not to think about it.

After 98 years of history, 24 years under the men who changed clubs forever, 21 seasons in the top flight, 14 years in Europe and four semi-finals in which they fell, always standing at the door; After 120 minutes, two goals and 20 penalties, each stopped, it all came down to this. To your doorman. Your second-choice goalkeeper.

Rulli has been given the opportunity in Europe and has remained against Manchester United despite doubts as to whether, having led Villarreal to a place they had never been, Unai Emery would turn to Sergio Asenjo. Now, late on Wednesday, he had a chance to make history. Well, two: the one he would take and the one he would face. Twenty outfield players had scored, leaving Rulli and David de Gea, fate in their hands and feet.

“I’ve never taken a penalty before,” Rulli said. “I was upset because I had put my hand on all three or four of the penalties but I didn’t save any. And I could see my family in the gallery behind the goal.

“I really didn’t think; it would be worse to think. I would give everything I have. I was just thinking, ‘Just come in, just come in,’ and he walked in. “

Rulli smashed it like he was shooting a bow shot, and the ball soared hard into the upper left corner. “I was getting ready to have another one,” Moreno said, thinking it was time to back down. He had scored the opening goal of the game, the opening goal of the penalty shoot-out and now he was going to have to do it again. Manu Trigueros, however, had other ideas and it turned out that he was right. When Rulli saved, Trigueros turned to a colleague and said: “It’s over.”

And, finally, it was. De Gea’s penalty went to Rulli’s left and everyone went crazy, the goalkeeper dived to save. Suddenly there was yellow everywhere, although as the beautiful cover of Marca said: “It’s not yellow, it’s gold.

They had done it and so on. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Parejo said. Albiol said: “The last time I took a penalty was in childish, those under 13. “This was the second time he won the UEFA Cup. The last time was 17 years ago.

Gerónimo Rulli saves a penalty from David de Gea to ensure Villarreal's victory.
Gerónimo Rulli saves a penalty from David de Gea to ensure Villarreal’s victory. Photograph: Boris Streubel / Uefa / Getty Images

Moreno’s teammates were about to find out how much that piece of iron weighs and he was right, they were losing their minds. I would have been happy just to watch this final from the bench, to make a bad year a great one; instead, it had come to play a key role.

There were beautiful stories everywhere, redemption and vindication. Gaspar, the captain who has played the most games for the club than anyone else, comes in and lifts the trophy. Foyth, war wounded. Parejo and Coquelin, sold by Valencia and celebrating. Trigueros, the qualified teacher with another story to tell his class. Yeremi Pino, the youngest Spaniard to win a European trophy. Gerard Moreno scores his goal with a gesture of “getting vaccinated”.

And there was Torres, the kid who had gone to Villarreal at the age of five and whom United now wants, the kid from the town of Vila-real who was in the stands crying when Juan Román Riquelme had his penalty arrested in 2006 in the Champions. semifinal against Arsenal. Before the game, Emery had urged them to do it for “the city of Pau” and now they had.

For all of Spain, perhaps. After the semifinal, Roig had described European football as three Englishmen and a small Spaniard still standing and that was a subject many of them returned to. “We are a bit of the Spanish team now,” said José Manuel Llaneza, who for so many years led the club. In a moment of doubt, concerns that the Premier League is overshadowing them, there will be five La Liga teams in the Champions League next season.

When asked what the secret was, Unai Emery, who took the podium, shook Alex Ferguson’s hand and collected his fourth Europa League champion medal, said: “We watched 17 Manchester United games. It’s work, that’s all ”.

However, they had not practiced sanctions. And if they had, it is not as if they would have reached Rulli. Emery recalled a player from Almería, the first high-level club he coached, who was lost in a friendly despite endless practice. “Penalties are not a lottery but they are time,” he said. “And the players were fabulous.”

Unai Emery kisses the trophy.
Unai Emery kisses the trophy. Photograph: Michael Sohn / AP

“Now what?” They Asked. “Celebrate,” he said. “You have to know how to enjoy it too.”

“There are no words for this,” Parejo said. “My family will be watching me on television.” Others had reached Gdansk. A little over 2,000 fans attended. For the last year they have been in the Cerámica stadium only in the form of cardboard, a field full of clippings.

In the boardroom, Marcos Senna, the former club player who is now its ambassador, had almost lost his voice. “How strong! How strong! “He kept saying, which was almost all he could say, smiling incredulously, shaking his head. Incredible!

Senna had waited a long time for this and it was also about her generation, the men who had made this club what it is. Llaneza, the managing director who oversaw the sale in 1997 and then ushered them into a new era, couldn’t believe it. “We like to suffer, huh,” he said. “So many things go through your head. I would like to send a hug to everyone at the hospital everywhere. “

Bruno Soriano, the former captain was there. And Santi Cazorla, who played for the club in three seasons. This, they agreed, was a thorn finally removed from his side. Riquelme was watching television in Argentina. Now the penalties, another Argentine, had led them to victory. “I want to send you a hug,” Rulli said. “This has taken a weight off Roman,” Senna managed to say.

Villarreal's Juan Román Riquelme has his penalty saved by Jens Lehmann in the 2006 Champions League semi-final.
Villarreal’s Juan Román Riquelme has his penalty saved by Jens Lehmann in the 2006 Champions League semi-final. Photograph: Matt Dunham / AP

One person who wasn’t there was the man who should have been the most: Fernando Roig, the president who bought Villarreal in 1997 and built it. He had tested positive for Covid a fortnight ago after receiving the first dose of the vaccine. He tested negative again, two project completion reports proved it, and he was allowed to land in Poland. He had been to the last training session the night before, but on Wednesday UEFA’s medical committee said he did not meet the criteria and rejected him. “I don’t get it,” he said.

“He should have been here, poor man,” said Albiol. The first call Roig took was from his son, the Villarreal CEO, on the field full time. “We’ll come back and give you a hug,” Senna said looking down at the screen.

From his home, Roig spoke with the television channel on which he had seen the game. “As was?” They Asked. “Terrifying,” he replied. “Had to go back. It was the team that had to play, not me.

“Tonight marks 23 years and two days since our first promotion to the first division and I am very, very happy. When you get back to the airport at three or four in the morning, I’ll be there waiting for you. “

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