Villarreal CF The changing of the Guard

Consider this Villarreal lineup. In goal the safe and dependable Diego Lopez. For the back four at right back the highly experienced Javi Venta; at centre back the fabulous Double G force, Godin and Gonzalo, internationalists both; and at left back Marcano, a Spanish Under 21 internationalist.

A defensive midfield pairing of Marcos Senna, star of Spain’s Euro 2008 championship victory, alongside Eguren, a Uruguayan internationalist. Two highly skilled Argentinians in offensive midfield, Ibagaza and Escudero.

Further forward, an advanced midfielder Robert Pires playing behind the sole front man, the hard working Joseba Llorente.

That is a better side, certainly a better balanced side, than many of those played last season by Pellegrini’s replacement Valverde. Valverde’s teams never seemed to know exactly what he wanted them to do and how he wanted them to play. The team outlined above would know how to play the Villarreal way, after all except for  Marcano, all had been managed by Pellegrini and taught his ways.

 Yet not one of these 10 outfield players will be part of new Manager Garrido’s top team for the coming season. Indeed 8 of them have already left the club over the summer and the other two, Senna and Gonzalo Rodriquez,  have both had pretty clear messages that they are not part of Garrido’s first eleven, or in Gonzalo’s case not even part of the first team squad.

Godin Villarreal sell one of the top centre backs in the world

Of the 8 departees the most mourned and the most missed on the pitch will be Diego Godin. Godin was Villarreal’s best player last season, topping the Spanish statistical charts for successful tackles made, and generally proving his class as one of the best half dozen centre backs in world football. This status was confirmed in the World Cup where along with ex-Villarreal star Forlan, he helped guide Uruguay to the semi-finals. Last season President Fernando Roig had given hints that Godin might be sold but only if some club matched his valuation of 25 million euros. Now Godin has gone, to Atletico Madrid, and yet the Villarreal coffers have not been swelled by anything like that amount of money. The transfer arrangements have been complicated and shrouded in secrecy but it would appear that only about 7 million euros have actually come to Villarreal. Apparently Atletico Madrid have bought only 50% of the player for just under 10 million euros, with a commitment to buy the other 50% next summer. And it emerged that Villarreal only owned 70% of Godin in the first place, hence the diminished amount actually received.

There is some surprise that he has been sold to Atletico, given the grumblings all last season about Villarreal being handicapped by not yet receiving all the transfer fee agreed for Forlan, sold to Atletico in summer of 2007. And in letting them have Godin they have strengthened one of their direct rivals for those essential Champions League places, in their area of greatest weakness. Surely it would have been better selling him to an Italian or English club?

Frankly none of the other 7 will be greatly missed. Robert Pires was a great player with Villarreal and last season he had patches of inspired form and even scored some crucial goals. But even as a great Pires admirer, a s a man as well as a player, I cannot really argue with Garrido’s decision that his era at Villarreal was over. He would have been interested in going to Celtic but the thoughts there appear to have been that at pushing 37 he was too old. But Celtic could surely use a man who can hold the ball and pass it intelligently, controlling his side’s play  even if only in 45-60  minute bursts. It is a surprise, to Pires as well as others, that no other team has sought to access his fine football mind for one last swansong.

Javi Venta, a great club servant had overstayed his time at Villarreal. Marcano impressed Valverde but no-one else and has been lent to Getafe where he will play in the first team. Ibagaza and Escudero were both major disappointments last season. Eguren fell victim to a fatal combination of his ill-disciplined anger at Valverde’s incompetence and to the full maturation of Bruno into one of the best holding midfielders in Spain. Llorente was a grafter who would run all night for you but he blatantly lacked the class and control required at the highest level.

Other than Godin the release of the other seven brought in little hard revenue. Javi Venta, Pires and Ibagaza went free, out of contract. Marcano brought only a small fee for his loan. Llorente and Escudero brought in 5 million euros between them with more to come later if Boca purchase the other 50%. So overall only about 12.5 million euros was raised, but at least many of the highest earners were removed from the wage bill.

Marchena come to teach Villarreal how to win medals

To replace these 8 departures only two new faces have arrived at the club. Carlos Marchena the crude but determined warrior from Valencia who brings with him winners medals not just from the World Cup and Euro 2008 with Spain but also the Spanish League, the Spanish Cup and the UEFA Cup with Valencia. Marchena has more medals the rest of the Villarreal pool of 25 players put together and it is President Roig’s fervent hope that this proven ability to win will rub off on his new team mates. He is not as gifted or as subtle as either of the Double G duo, but he is probably more determined than both put together.

The other new face belongs to Borja Valero. Some might call him a West Brom reject but last season on loan at Mallorca he was the key influence in their very successful season. He ended up as the top rated player in the whole of Spain, above all the super stars of Barcelona and Real Madrid in Don Balon’s annual ratings. That ranking meant that over the last 6 seasons Villarreal have had 4 of the top ranked players Riquelme, Santi Cazorla, Senna and now Valero. Quite a record.

The money Villarreal spent on these two signings took around 7.5million of the 12.5 received from outgoing players, leaving the club with a transfer balance of around 5 million euros net profit. A useful contribution in the new era of austerity preached by Roig.

But the true story of the summer ins and outs is the ten players who have been added to Garrido’s first team squad at no extra cost. All ten of these newcomers have been promoted from last season’s Villarreal B team, who finished 6th in the Second Division at their first attempt despite Garrido regularly weakening the team by pulling key players away to sit on the first team bench.

Juan Carlos is a competent young goalkeeper who has already been told by Garrido that he will replace veteran Oliva as the number two goalie. Newly promoted Levante wanted him for their return to La Liga but Garrido insisted on keeping him. Young Argentinean centre back Musacchio played enough games for the first team last season to show he has enormous talent and potential. Right back Mario Gaspar and centre back Kiko have both starred for Spain at under 21 level. Left back Oriol should prove a capable deputy for Capdevila. Catala can play at centre back and full back and has the confidence of Garrido.

To strengthen the midfield has come Matilla a young pocket dynamo who has starred at under 21 level for Spain and is definitely a talented player with a great future. Cristobal is an offensive wide midfielder with good close skills and  powerful shot. And Marco Ruben is an Argentinean centre forward with a sharp eye for goal.

Paquito a great fan of Jimmy Johnstone

But good as many of these nine players are, the final addition will probably turn out to be the best and most sensational. When I interviewed Paquito the legendary coach who has played a greater role than anyone else in creating and sustaining the “Villarreal” style of play at all levels throughout the club, he told me that Jefferson Montero, the young winger signed from Ecuador in the summer of 2009, reminded him very much of a Scottish player. It turned out he was referring to Jimmy Johnstone whom Paquito rates as one of the greatest players he has ever seen. Montero is faster and more direct than Jinky, and more inclined to shoot and score, but he is just as tricky and almost as difficult to dispossess as the Scottish legend. Only 20 years old Montero is already a full Ecuadorean internationalist. It will be fascinating to see the effect such talent can have in this season’s Spanish League.

Garrido knows all these players very well, having been the coach of the Villarreal B team until the inspired decision in February 2010 to have him replace the hapless Valverde.

It is impossible to say definitively how much these 10 new recruits would have cost on the open market. But given Wigan were prepared to pay £5million for Ruben last winter; and Montero is seen as being in the same class league as Brazilians like Douglas Costa and Pato; plus the highly rated status of under 21 caps Gaspar, Kiko, Matilla; and the money being paid for Argentineans not as good as Musacchio, then 25 million euros is not an unreasonable estimate of the current market value of the gang of ten.

So in summary, Villarreal made a 5 million profit on transfer dealings then brought in 25 million worth of talent for nothing, while reducing the club wage bill considerably.

The bringing in of these 10 players has transformed the Villarreal squad, which was aging dangerously. Of the 10, only Musacchio who should help Marchena replace the Double G Force with the new Super M duo seems a guaranteed first team starter. But Ruben up front and Montero out wide are likely to push for regular inclusion. And the other seven are ready and equipped for first team action when required.

 Last night saw the first serious test of the new Villarreal, playing at home to Besiktas of Turkey for their own trophy the Trofeu Ceramica donated by Pamesa. A crowd of some 12,000 turned out to watch, not bad considering 99% of Spain go on holiday for the whole of August.

Guti Still a great playewr but not liked in Vila-real

Besiktas have a new manager, Bernd Schuster in his first job since leaving Real Madrid  18 months ago. Two of their players brought wildly contrasting reactions from the Villarreal crowd. Wearing the number 14 shirt he made famous at Real Madrid new signing Guti was loudly booed every time he touched the ball. This hostility was not because he was from Real Madrid but because of a previous incident when he had made rudely disrespectful gestures to Villarreal supporters. He apologised before the game saying he had “made a mistake in a moment of passion” but it was not enough to protect him from the constant barrage of abuse. Not that it affected his play. He coolly ran the Besiktas game and after Villarreal scorned over a dozen clear chances to score, Guti laid on a perfect pass for the opening goal.

Just before and just after this opening goal the other player recognised by the Villarreal crowd missed two very good chances to score. Unlike Guti, Nihat was welcomed very warmly by the Villarreal crowd. He had been the top scorer for Villarreal the season they finished Vice Champions of La Liga. He was not jeered for his misses and when he was substituted in the second half the applause he received was even warmer than it had been at the start of the game.

Villarreal despite having most of the possession and almost all of the pressure ended the first half 2 goals down. Neither goal was the fault of Diego Lopez and the club’s supporters should be very grateful he has not moved on as once seemed likely. Both goals were the fault of the centre back pairing of Marchena and Kiko. Marchena has just arrived at the club, after his post World Cup holidays and in time he and Musacchio should form a strong partnership, perhaps almost as good as the G Force in their prime. But frankly neither Kiko nor Catala looked good enough yet for the highest level and hopefully Gonzalo Rodriguez can overcome his problems with Garrido and reclaim a place in the first team squad. However from the coach’s guarded comments it would appear his relegation from the squad is about something other than a rational assessment of his relative ability and there may be no way back.

Bruno  wanted by Spain, the President's prideIn defensive midfield Bruno showed why wise old Del Bosque has brought him into the Spanish squad to compete with Sergio Busquets. This call up almost brought Fernando Roig to tears, of pride, as at last a member of his Cantera (youth set-up) got a call up for the full international squad. He said “The call up of Bruno to the Spanish squad is the culmination of the Project of the Cantera. Now I only want to see him wearing the red shirt of Spain with the Star awarded for the World Cup on the Spanish crest of the jersey”

The other defensive midfielder Senna played the full 90 minutes despite 8 Villarreal substitutions. As always he was impressive and hopefully Garrido has now decided that Senna does after all have a positive role to play for the club in what will definitely be his last season.

Cazorla, just  recently restored to the Spanish international squad for their first post World Cup game, was the star player of the first half. But all his mesmeric work was wasted because Ruben, Fuster and Valero all played too tightly squeezed up in the middle with no attacking threat out wide. The 4:5:1 formation used, with Fuster supporting Ruben, did not work. It was only in the second half, with  the three attacking substitutes; Montero brilliant on the left; Nilmar using the right, and an impressive young Altidore through an unpacked middle, that Villarreal looked more like a traditional Villarreal team. Cazorla had been rested at halftime but his replacement Cani did enough to be named man of the match, scoring the first goal and laying on the second for Altidore.

GGW hopes Garrido abandons 4:5:1 and plumps for a more adventurous 4:4:2 cum 4:3:3 with Nilmar, Rossi, Ruben and Altidore supported by wide players Cazorla, Cani and Montero. Bruno, Senna and Matilla would provide defensive cover with Fuster, Valero Cristobal, Cani and Cazorla available for offensive midfield. Since it is not yet certain that Guiseppe Rossi, totally absent last night presumably on Italian international duty, will not be sold to an Italian club this summer, it might make sense to keep Altidore on board, rather than take a loss on his transfer.

Villarreal win their own trophy. Next time a real one?

After the game, won by Villarreal on penalties, Garrido took comfort from the winning mentality of his team, capable of coming from 2 goals down to triumph in the end. But he had the integrity to acknowledge that many things were not right on the night and that a great deal of work needed to be done before the first official game of the season at home on the19th August to a Byelorussian team in the Play-off Round of the Europa League. Garrido stated he knew the things that had to be corrected and was confident that things would