The Rise and Fall Of ‘El Submarino Amarillo’


Based in the tenth largest city in the ‘Comunidad Valenciana’ in Spain, a decade ago it would have been quite absurd to suggest that ‘El Submarino Amarillo’ would be about to embark on a period of unprecedented success not only in La Liga but also in Europe. Much to the dismay of many people on the Iberian peninsula, that is exactly what happened. There have been no trophies to boast, but Villarreal have been one of the most exciting teams to watch in Europe. After a recent flirt with the relegation zone and the sacking of Juan Carlos Garrido, is this the beginning of a dangerous slide back into obscurity for one of Spains brightest sparks of the 21st century?

First promoted in 1998, Villarreal played their first ever top flight league game against the might of Real Madrid at the Bernabèu. However, this ecstasy didnt last long as they were immediately relegated back to the Segunda dvision in their first season. But sitll, they proved that they were no flash in the pan and they regained instant promotion back to La Primera in 2000. This sparked the beginning of the most successful spell in the club’s history.

Steady progress was made in the following seasons with the club ensconced in La Liga. 2002 saw the yellow submarine make their European debut in the much criticised Intertoto Cup. Despite losing in the final to fellow Spanish side Málaga, this would prove to be only the start of the good times in Castellòn. The following season saw another forward step taken when the Intertoto Cup was won, thus, ensuring qualification for the UEFA Cup and this was repeated a year later when they miraculously reached the semi final only to lose to Rafa Benitez’s Valencia. This enabled top players such as Juan Roman Riquelme, Diego Forlan and Marcos Senna to be lured to the Madrigal by the promise of European Football instead of the top wages being offered by other clubs.

2004/05 started with a new manager at the helm, as largely unknown Chilian Manuel Pellegrini was unveiled as manager. This was the season that another breakthrough was made as a 3rd place finish was acquired in the league, thus earning a first appearance in the lucrative Champions League. This was mainly down to the goals of Diego Forlan who finished with the Pichichi in La Liga that season with 25 goals. The following season saw Pellegrini’s stock rise even further as he led Villarreal to the semi finals of the champions league, which was almost bettered when Riquelme squandered a great chance to take Arsenal to extra time when he missed a stoppage time penalty.

Juan Riquelme misses the penalty that ensures Arsenal knock Villarreal out of the Champions League in 2006

In the years that followed, it seemed as though the Submarine was beginning to plunge back into the unknown waters. The sale of star striker Diego Forlan to Atletico Madrid in 2007 seemed to suggest that their tight budget would struggle to keep top talent at the club. However, in 2008, Pellegrini and his players caused a massive shock when they began to take La Liga by the scruff of its neck as they became embroiled in a title race with Real Madrid. Los Blancos coasted to the title in the end, but Villarreal managed to finish ahead of Catalan giants Barcelona. The following season was not as frantic but a reasonable Champions League quarter final exit to old foes’ Arsenal was accepted by the Villarreal faithful. However, at the end of the season Pellegrini was lured by the big city as Real Madrid hired him to replace Juande Ramos as Head Coach and former Espanyol boss Ernesto Valverde was recruited as his replacement.

Valverde endured a turbulant spell as manager and after a 2-0 home defeat to Osasuna, the former Spanish International was relieved of his duties. Juan Carlos Garrido, then the B Team coach was promoted to the first team as an interim manager, however, he fronted a massive turnaround in fortunes and he was given the job on a full time basis. His first full season was one of immense enjoyment for everyone associated with the club. Outside of Barcelona, Garrido had them playing the best and most enjoyable football in the league. Borja Valero and Santi Carzorla were providing the bullets for Giuesepe Rossi and Nilmar to fire Villarreal to a 4th place finish and once again, to the semi final of the Europa League.

The summer of 2011 began to show signs of why the small club from Valencia will more than likely slip down La Liga. Because of their notoriously tight budget, the promise of money began to be put to star players. Rossi was the subject of interest from the Old Lady of Turin which he reluctantly turned down. However, the Nouveaux Riche of Spain, Málaga, began to use their financial muscle to try and buy their way to the top of La Liga and top of their shopping list was Santi Carzorla. The offer was too good to turn down and he joined Los Boquerones for €21m.

Because of all these distractions, the writing began to appear on the wall for Garrido and his team. A poor pre-season, which included a 4-3 defeat to Irish part-timers UCD was only the tip of the Iceberg. Qualification for the group stages of the Champions League was secured, though, but their form in the league continued to be poor. A tough group in the Champions League, which included Napoli, Bayern Munich and Manchester City meant that they lost all six games. And when minnows Mirandès beat them 3-1, Garrido was sacked with Villarreal worryingly close to the relegation zone.

With Málaga seemingly having an oil field full of cash, and Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and especially Valencia beginning to show signs of making themselves permanent fixtures in and around the top 4, it seems unlikely that we will see Villarreal back at the top table of European Football any time soon. If anything, the long term injury to Giuseppe Rossi this season means that they will have a serious fight on their hands to keep their top flight status. For all the enjoyment that El Submarino Amarillo have given me and many other La Liga fans over the past few years, it would catastrophic for them to lose that fight.

Follow me on twitter @Robbie_OR

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One Comment on “The Rise and Fall Of ‘El Submarino Amarillo’”

  1. markdbiram2011 says:

    interesting post. villarreal’s success has been a great story for sure, but difficult to sustain without a significant fan-base. i read martin palermo’s autobiography recently and he complained that he felt they settled for mediocrity too much and were just happy to be in the top division. he said the spanish mentality prevented them from believing they could challenge the giants on any level (gates, performances, attracting players, europe). palermo said he found all this alien coming from argentina were everyone has a strong desire to win and believes it achievable. anyway, palermo left in 2003, and of course pellegrini came in and made them more than competitive, as your blog says. well done.


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