Our story opens on the Eastern seaboard of Spain in the quaint, orange-picking town of Villarreal. A place devoid of the rampant lonely planet summation or the general scrawling modernisation of the West, Villarreal sits firmly in the shadow of neighbouring Valencia, and in footballing terms (for what other terms could exist) the town sits equidistant from the two most important titans of Spanish culture, Barcelona in the North-East and Madrid in the West. What this Spanish microcosm does possess, is a football side that appears atop the all-conquering hit list of a Google search for “Villarreal”, just as it embodies the town itself; first and foremost.
Villarreal are the archetypal model for overachieving outfits. The Yellow Submarine has been a veritable symbol of success against the odds; and the cheque book. Their first junket into the Primera Liga was a fleeting visit in 1998. It was an inauspicious beginning to the long and complex entanglement that was to follow over the next decade. It took a further consolidating season in the lower tiers before establishing themselves from relative obscurity to 1st division mediocrity. The UEFA Intertoto Cup, far from a household name, marks the next stage in progress for the, by this stage, burgeoning club. It also marked the entrée to a glorious stretch of European adventure that so nearly culminated in a Champions League final place, were it not for an errant Riquelme penalty at Highbury in 2005. With this gallant over-achieving came a drastic decline, that ended in last season’s drab relegation.