Our friend Elisa at ForzaFutbol posed an interesting question: What is the club's best XI of the 2000s? There are some obvious choices; in fact, seven players in my starting XI currently feature for Juan Carlos Garrido (along with one substitute). But at some positions, the competition is very tight.
For example, who are the two center backs? We've been spoiled recently by Gonzalo Rodríguez and the recently departed Diego Godín (how's "big club" Atlético treating you?), but Rodolfo Arruabarrena and Quique Álvarez were reliable mainstays for years.
Some biases to acknowledge: first, I only started following the club actively in 2005, so my knowledge is skewed toward the second half of the decade. But as the club's big achievements only date back to 2003-04, I think it's not a huge issue. Second, though this list only covers the 2000s, any all-time Villarreal XI would include players from Segunda B and the Tercera, which is nearly impossible to compare to the Primera.
My starting XI: Diego López; Javi Venta, Gonzalo, Arruabarrena (C), Capdevila; Cani, Riquelme, Senna, Cazorla; Forlán, Rossi.
Substitutes: Reina; Godín, Sorín; Bruno, Eguren, Pirès; Llorente.
After the jump is a rationale for each selection:
GK: Diego López. A tough choice between him and Pepe Reina, who makes the bench, but López gets the nod for consistency (barring his gaffes against Zenit St. Petersburg in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup). And Reina's performances for Liverpool and Spain, aside from some penalty saves, have not altered my decision in retrospect.
RB: Javi Venta. A club legend, both on and off the pitch. Renowned for his smile and the ability to keep his job in the face of younger competition (Kromkamp and Ángel, to name two), Venta aged with grace and left for Levante this past summer. 182 appearances for the club, even with only 1 goal scored, earns him a spot on the list.
CBs: Gonzalo Rodríguez, Rodolfo Arruabarrena. The two Argentines beat out an Uruguayan (Godín) and a Galician (Quique Álvarez) for the starting spots. Gonzalo already has made 147 appearances for Villarreal at age 26 (it just seems like he's been around forever), and despite a public falling-out with management over the summer, he has worked his way back into the squad.
Arruabarrena made 219 appearances for the club over 7 seasons and, if nothing else, scored the most important goal in club history. I still get shivers watching it:
LB: Joan Capdevila. A rock at the back, though he now struggles a bit to cope with pace at age 32. A threat going forward, to the tune of 14 goals in 122 appearances. And now, a World Champion. Enough said.
RM: Rubén Cani. Unsurprisingly, this was the only point of disagreement among the three contributors to VillarrealUSA. Maddi and I chose Cani, based on his (generally) steady production over five seasons with the club, while Allen went for the more spectacular Robert Pirès, who only made my bench. If this team actually took the pitch, Cani would provide a sorely-needed two-way versatility, which helps to compensate for some of his more maddening moments.
CMs: Juan Román Riquelme, Marcos Senna. The easiest selections of all. Riquelme and Senna are perhaps the two most recognizable figures associated with Villarreal CF. With Riquelme, the club turned a surly Barcelona reject into the metronome of Pellegrini's highly successful sides. His spat with management and subsequent departure, following two spectacular failures in 2006 (in the Champions League and World Cup), was predictable yet saddening. The end of an era, for better and worse.
Senna provided balance and a defensive snarl to those Pellegrini sides, but in Riquelme's absence, he has spent more time in the attacking half. And some of the Argentine's free-kick magic must have rubbed off. Despite being plagued by a balky right hamstring over the past few seasons, Senna now is the club's all-time appearances leader (at 223 and counting), and he produced arguably the most beautiful goal in club history:
LM: Santi Cazorla. A truly homegrown talent, having come up through the club's youth system and then paid his dues on loan at Recreativo Huelva. Along with Capdevila, Diego López, and Senna, Cazorla was part of the Spanish side that won Euro 2008 and ended the country's big tournament jinx in time for South Africa 2010. Entering his prime at age 26, big things are expected of Santi, both on the pitch and in the changing room. And he gets bonus points for spurning Real Madrid's advances.
SSs: Diego Forlán, Giuseppe Rossi. Another easy choice: the top two marksmen in club history (in the Primera). Forlán shared the European Golden Boot award in his first season with the club and brought an uncanny flair for the game with him from Montevideo. Watching him bang in the goals (54 in 106 appearances- a great strike rate) and celebrate them with unbridled joy was a treat, and he did the club that resuscitated his career a final favor by commanding a record transfer fee from Atlético. Pure class.
Rossi has taken a more slow and steady approach, improving upon his goal total in each of his four seasons. Still to hit his prime at age 23, the best is yet to come for Il Bambino, whether here or on an even bigger stage. We hope that he stays, but if the Italian-American leaves, it will be interesting to see if he breaks Forlán's transfer fee record.
Substitutes: Pepe Reina; Diego Godín, Juan Pablo Sorín; Bruno Soriano, Sebastián Eguren, Robert Pirès; Joseba Llorente.
Nihat Kahveci, Nilmar (despite only one year with the club in the 2000s), and Jon Dahl Tomasson also received votes as substitute strikers.
Who would make your Villarreal starting XI for the 2000s? Chime in with your thoughts below, and let the debate begin.