Summer Transfer Business
Unai Emery had his work cut out at the beginning of the summer transfer window as he was faced with the immediate challenge of replacing some key players. Santi Cazorla, Villarreal’s star man over the last two seasons departed for Al-Saad while central midfielder Zambo Anguissa’s loan spell at the club also came to an end as he now looks to edge his way into Scott Parker’s plans at Fulham. In addition, veteran of the Submarino Amarillo and one-club-man Bruno Soriano retired after three years of relative inactivity as the result of a chronic knee injury.
While the loss of Cazorla has been arguably the defining issue of Emery’s first season in charge, the club’s inability – or unwillingness – to pay the 25 million required for Anguissa’s signature is perhaps more representative of the difficulty involved in putting together a top-four squad on what is to all appearances a relatively modest budget. Fortune was however on his side as the mini exodus at Valencia driven by the board’s aggressive spending cuts led to the high-profile departures of Francis Coquelin and captain Dani Parejo, both of whom were snapped up by Emery on four-year deals.
A highly creditable fifth-place finish to last season suggested that things were just beginning to click at Villarreal under the stewardship of Javi Calleja, whose sacking by the club raised more than a few eyebrows when it was announced at the end of July. Hours after the news of his dismissal broke, a calm yet noticeably perplexed Calleja appeared on Spanish radio to give his thoughts on the matter.
“They hadn’t said anything to me until today. My record here speaks for itself and that’s why I leave here with a clear conscience,” said the former boss on Cadena Ser’s late-night program El Larguero. “At the end of the day those in charge at Villarreal want to take the club into a new era, and for them, that means hiring a new manager. It’s something they’ve been contemplating since we lost that game at home against Leganés.”
Whatever way one looks at it, the decision to bring in a manager of Emery’s stature is a clear statement of intent from the Villarreal board who, according to Calleja, share an unambiguous belief that this season should mark the beginning of a renewed age of success at the club. Early signs are promising; fans of Villarreal have a combination of quick thinking and a touch of good fortune to thank for what is arguably the most exciting influx of players in recent years at La Cerámica.
Player to watch
Former Valencia captain Dani Parejo’s transfer to Villarreal alongside his teammate Francis Coquelin sparked outrage from the club’s fans towards their chairman Peter Lim, and it’s easy to understand why. Parejo’s intelligent, effective play and ability to marshall the side from the centre of midfield have seen him named in the La Liga team of the year for two of the last three campaigns.
Parejo has had a mixed start at La Cerámica as far as pre-season results are concerned, having participated in 2-1 losses to Valencia and Levante either side of a win against Real Sociedad. Following the defeat to Levante, Parejo took to Twitter to express his belief that patience will be the key to success for the squad. “More minutes means more learning and a greater understanding of this team.”
As he continues to get used to life in Castellón, the man who captained Valencia to the Copa del Rey in 2019 will be fundamental in Villarreal’s pursuit of a top-four finish as he looks set to pull the strings at the heart of Emery’s midfield.
One for the future
The signing of Takefusa Kubo on loan from Real Madrid is perhaps the single aspect of Villarreal’s summer dealings which has stirred the most excitement in recent weeks. The Japanese international’s excellent dribbling ability and electric style of attacking play have led many to compare the 19-year-old with Lionel Messi – a suggestion that some may rightly dismiss as unreasonable at this stage but one that surely has fans quietly optimistic about their chances of achieving something special this year.
Villarreal missed out on a Champions League place by ten points last season and will undoubtedly have their sights set on a top-four finish this time around. With players such as Paco Alcácer, Gerard Moreno and Pau Torres to call upon in addition to the new signings, they are more than capable of achieving this goal with an attractive mix of youth and experience standing in their favour. However, recent history tells us that cautious optimism is the best position to take for fans of the Yellow Submarine. After all, similar praise was heaped upon Fran Escribá’s Celta Vigo side at the beginning of last year, and their rather spectacular fall from Champions League hopefuls to last day relegation escapees should serve as a reminder of the speed in which excitement with such a squad can turn to disillusionment.