Part one in a series on clubs like Villarreal in other major leagues. There’s no team quite like Villarreal in European football, but it’s interesting to compare our playing style, history, and financial power with others.
The English Premier League is the most popular league in the world, so any comparison falls short. The relative equality of wealth distribution puts consolidated teams on the same playing field as financial giants like the Manchester and London duopolies. So we have a wider range of choices as Villarreal look-alikes.
Villarreal CF is known for its attractive football. Every Yellow Submarine manager has eventually reverted to playing interiores and the doble pivote in a 4-2-2-2. This formation relies on strength up the middle, as currently embodied by goalkeeper Diego López, center back Gonzalo Rodríguez, defensive midfielders Bruno Soriano and Marcos Senna, and attacking midfielder Borja Valero.
Style is a "plus factor" for some EPL teams. Outside the European places, Aston Villa, Everton, Fulham, Sunderland, Swansea City, and Wigan Athletic all try to play football. The Swans are new to the EPL, and I recall many drab Black Cats sides, so this factor does not weigh as strongly for the pair.
Of the lead group, almost the same this year as any other, the flashy candidates are Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle, and Tottenham Hotspur. Chelsea and Liverpool have been built from the back forward, while Manchester City is still a flash in the pan.
Villarreal CF was founded in 1923 and spent most of its first seven decades in semi-professional obscurity. In 1992, the club reached the Segunda División for the second time and has not looked back since. Make it thirteen years in La Liga, the last twelve in succession, and eight straight European appearances.
So Villarreal is neither a historical relic nor a nouveau riche. English clubs tend to be older, but the Yellow Submarine is in a different class from legends Liverpool and Man United. And Chelsea and Man City have shot to prominence in their recent oligarch and sheikh eras, respectively.
Villarreal's lack of trophies is often cited by skeptics. But for comparison, in the Premier League era (since 1992), only four clubs have won the EPL: Man United (12), Arsenal (3), Chelsea (3), and Blackburn Rovers (1). Missing from that list: Liverpool, Man City, and Spurs, among others.
Villarreal's rise to prominence has coincided with the ownership of Fernando Roig, who acquired a majority of the club's shares in 1997-98. Not surprisingly, that year marked the Yellow Submarine's first ascension to La Liga.
So additional financial power has contributed to Villarreal's rise, but its books have been consistently balanced. Big-money sales of Diego Forlán and Santi Cazorla have more than offset the purchases of strike tandem Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi. Financial stability at Villarreal is a must, and it has been observed, even at the expense of results.
The big five in England (Liverpool, Manchester duo, central London duo) have no concept of these financial realities. Emmanuel Adebayor can switch teams and ride the pine for months, then dominate for the league's third-placed side. All at a huge loss to City, with no real consequences. That's not the world of Villarreal.
My three finalists:
- Everton. Liverpool's eternal rivals may do more with less, on a consistent basis, than any other EPL side. And the club's academy has produced Wayne Rooney, among other talents. Add in some style under David Moyes, and the Toffees are an arguable fit. But no top-two finishes since the late 1980s, along with a barren run during Villarreal's rise to prominence, raise questions about the direction in which the club is heading. Not to mention the Yellow Submarine's two-legged victory in 2005 to qualify for the Champions League group stage.
- Fulham. A club on the rise under the ownership of Dodi Fayed's father (yes, that one). Perhaps my favorite team to watch in the EPL, and Craven Cottage is an El Madrigal-like bandbox, by English standards. And the club just sold its best player Bobby Zamora to Queens Park Rangers, albeit under want-away circumstances. But Fulham debuted in the Premier League only in 2001, and its best-ever league finish was 7th in 2008-09. The Europa League final a year later was nice, but that's not enough in terms of results.
- Tottenham Hotspur. Villarreal humbled Harry Redknapp's outfit 1-4 at White Hart Lane last preseason. A preview of our fourth-place league campaign and Europa League semifinals appearance. But don't let looks deceive you: that side was not the same one four up on Newcastle after 34 minutes. We all know about Adebayor (from his Champions League exploits with Arsenal) and Gareth Bale, but the team flows through the middle: Brad Friedel; Ledley King; Scott Parker and Luka Modric. Sounds familiar. Spurs' periodic historical successes are not familiar to Villarreal, but its recent renaissance via attacking football is.
And The Winner Is...
Tottenham Hotspur. Congratulations on being the EPL club most like Villarreal CF. To continued successes in breaking the EPL's hegemony, further heavy defeats to the Yellow Submarine, hands off Giuseppe Rossi, and a willingness to sell Giovani dos Santos.
Your thoughts: Is Tottenham too rich? Too successful? Was a lower-profile team a better fit? From a smaller city?