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Sr. Roig still draws the line at "rent-a-player"

Our goalkeeper search has been difficult, but we can look at it as a guide to Villarreal's guiding principles.

Marc Bartra: a future Villarreal centerback?
Marc Bartra: a future Villarreal centerback?
Lars Baron

Villarreal's goalkeeper search seems to have concluded with the signing of Sergio Asenjo from Atletico Madrid. Contrary to original reports, which had Villarreal fans a bit worried, we didn't spend €4m for him--in fact, we didn't pay a transfer fee at all. Instead, we took him on loan for the 2013-14 season, with an option to buy at the end of the year (terms not disclosed). That makes sense, given his original promise but injury-plagued career since signing for Atleti.

Management texts frequently mention the need for a business organization to identify and follow its "guiding principles". With Sr. Roig's business background, it makes sense to look at Villarreal's transfer activity and see if we can tease out those guiding principles, which can then give us a guide to future transfers. Here's my list.

(1) We are willing to spend a bit to give promising players playing time somewhere else.

A prime example was Santi Cazorla (did you know he was chosen as Arsenal's "Player of the Year" by their supporters this season)?.

In 2006 we sold him to Recreativo Huelva for €600,000; he played that year for the Decano, scored seven goals, and at the end of the year we bought him back for €1.2 million. His progress at Villarreal (he was only 22 at the time) was impeded by lack of playing time, and we were willing to essentially pay another team to give him a chance and let us figure out what we had.

Fast forward to 2013 and Diego Mariño. We sold him to Real Valladolid for a small fee (€300,000 or so) with a buyback option. If he gets some playing time and is able to prove himself, we will exercise our buyback option, probably around €600,000 or so, and take him back.

(2) We are not interested in being on the other end of these types of deals.

Remember January 2012 and Sergio Canales. Madrid had signed the promising starlet from Racing, he had languished on the bench at the Bernabéu, and we were looking for an attacker. Canales would have fit the bill, but Madrid were only willing to let him go to Villarreal on a four-year deal, with a buyyback option for each of the first three years. In other words, if he worked out, we would make little to nothing on the transaction, and the better he performed, the more certain we would be he wouldn't stay around, because Madrid would buy him back.

Of course hindsight is 20/20, but Sr. Roig decided that rather than pick up a player who would be likely to leave if he succeeded, we should go for a player who would be likely to stay if he succeeded. Which brings us to

(3) We like picking up players on loan with purchase options.

This has been especially important the last two years: we picked up Alejandro Martinuccio when we were in the Primera, but threatened by relegation; we picked up Jéremy Perbet when we were in the Segunda, but hoping to go up, both initially on six-month loans but with options to buy.

Our record here is mixed: we passed on Martinuccio, though I'm convinced he could have helped us more if Lotina hadn't been so afraid of playing an attacking game and scoring goals. No way would we have gotten promoted last season without Perbet (or Jony Pereira), both of whom arrived on loan-with-option deals--and we subsequently exercised their purchase options.

Now we're doing the same with Sergio Asenjo. If all goes well, we have a purchase option (around €5m, though the actual cash out the door would be less since Atleti still owes us money and we would offset that against the purchase price).

Tito Canteros turned out to be a sad footnote here. Between injury and Velazquez, he only played an important role in the last third of the 2012-13 season. His Argentine club held fast for the €5m purchase option they'd negotiated up front, and in spite of Tito's wish to stay and our coach's satisfaction with him, we weren't able to justify this sort of expense. Which brings me to

(4) We are not going to let emotions unduly affect our decisions.

Looking back at the 2012-13 season, Olof Mellberg played an important role in our promotion--especially in the first half of the season. But at the end of the day,it was determined he would not be up to the Primera pace, and the decision was made not to resign him.

Similarly, Canteros scored one of the iconic goals of the season at Alcorcon and was an everyday starter over our key promotion run, but at the end of the day, that didn't justify overpaying for him.

This has caused us problems sometimes--I think most of us immediately thought selling Santi would backfire, and so it did--but it is a trademark of Sr. Roig's ownership, and has generally worked out for the best. No one individual is bigger than the project.

(5) We are not interested in making deals with investment funds or third-party owners.

Personally, I am convinced UEFA/FIFA need to outlaw these sorts of things (as the EPL has), but for now, we can still have cases like that of Falcao. He basically had no say in his transfer from Atleti to Monaco, and Atleti didn't have any say either since they never really owned him.

Roberto (Real Zaragoza) is another case like this. Note he was mentioned as a possible keeper for us--and since Zara were relegated, it would make sense--but since they didn't really own him, an investment group did, we were never in a position to do anything other than rent his services in the short term.

Now, Villarreal has always prospered by holding fast to these sorts of principles, as well as fiscal prudence. It's not accidental that our relegation coincided with a "blowout" of our budget, and (I think) letting our mister at the time set our transfer targets. It's interesting that Marcelino has deflected discussion of player signings this summer, saying he was willing to trust Srs. Roig/Roig Negueroles to deal with that.

(6) We continue to like players with something to prove, who come from under-scouted areas, or have significant upside.

In the first group I would put Gio dos Santos, and Asenjo. In the second group, Pantic, Jokic, and Ilic; and in the third group, I would add Pina in addition to Gio and Asenjo. It may seem an obvious strategy, but there are plenty of clubs who prefer to go for the splashy signing of a player at the top of his game, making deals with teams at a similar level.

Villarreal has had ta good deal of success with players like Forlán,Rossi, or Riquelme--players who were under contract to a "bigger team", but needed a change of scenery to get playing time, confidence, etc.. So should we be surprised Villarreal is sniffing around Barca, hoping to prise away Marc Bartra?