With a bit of distance from the 2015 winter transfer window, it’s time to look back at Villarreal’s business. 3 out (2 on loan), 2 in (1 on loan). The Yellow Submarine started early with two midfield departures from bit players in the current campaign, made a big outbound splash naturally in England, and closed with two promising acquisitions of non-Europeans.
In order of importance:
Gabriel Paulista. The soon-to-be Brazilian international(?) left for free-spending, underachieving Arsenal (not that a Yellow Submarine fan would have animus towards Arsene Wenger’s bunch) in a move out of necessity considering the Gunners’ injuries at center back. Villarreal turned an astronomical profit on a player brought over from Brazil just eighteen months ago and with less than a year of Primera football.
That said, Gabriel was a fixture in manager Marcelino García Toral’s XI this season, and rightfully so. Only Barcelona would not envy Villarreal’s defensive record in La Liga in 2014-15. From early results (albeit without his replacement in the lineup and Mateo Musacchio still regaining his form), the Yellow Submarine greatly misses the Brazilian.
Eric Bailly. The already-decorated Cote d’Ivoire international became an African Cup of Nations champion before donning the yellow kit. Awkward timing for a transfer, but with Espanyol’s financial problems, the pericos could not turn down a buyer with cash in hand (thanks to Gabriel’s sale). A nice immediate return on investment for the shrewd buyer spearheaded by Sr. Llaneza.
Bailly gives Villarreal the speed and anticipation of Gabriel with the aerial ability and toughness of Cristián Zapata – a nice combination. And he’s just 20 years old. But expecting a center back with five games of Primera experience to slot into a defense in three competitions and expected to qualify for Europe is a tall ask, even for the confident Bailly – his penalty in the AFCON final and hairstyle speak for themselves.
Rubén Cani. Sad it came to this. One of Villarreal’s talismans over the past decade left on a 6-month loan for a bench role at Atlético Madrid in a messy divorce with Marcelino – almost the same fate of the now-retired Juan Román Riquelme. And as with the departures of Joan Capdevila, Diego Godín, and Gonzalo Rodríguez, some dirty laundry was aired.
Cani’s in the twilight of his career, but he’s still got the talent to unlock a defense in a tight encounter. And the audacity to score wonder goals from midfield when on song. But the manager rules, and Sr. Roig has always allowed his employees free rein in personnel matters (to his credit – we often see the opposite to poor effect in American sports). And Marcelino decided that Cani didn’t fit, so he had to go – and don’t expect #10 to return to Vila-real after the loan spell.
Joel Campbell. The Costa Rican international on a 6-month loan from Arsenal is…a half-baked product. He was part of the revelation side of Brazil 2014, but in getting there, he had Matt Besler booked in one of the most ridiculous acting jobs this writer has seen. But to his credit (I suppose), he stuck the dagger into the Americans in that match with a well-taken goal.
He’s Gunner property, but as is typical for bloated Premier League squads, Campbell has bounced from Lorient to Real Betis to Olympiacos and now Villarreal. Marcelino brought him in as a right-sided interior (where he played in Greece), but Campbell starred for the ticos as a lone striker. The jury is out on the 22-year-old talent, but the thought of him and Denis Cheryshev tearing down the flanks is tantalizing for Yellow Submarine fans. Wait and see.
Javier Espinosa. Often the forgotten man in the first-team squad, the ex-Barcelona B midfielder went on a 6-month loan to relegation battlers Almería. The timing is more surprising than the loan itself – Espinosa was not expected to make the first team out of preseason. But he did, and Marcelino immediately showed trust in the La Masia product.
After appearing in the first six(!) La Liga matches, Espinosa disappeared from Marcelino’s radar in league play, only featuring in the Copa del Rey and Europa League. That’s OK for a goalkeeper or someone alternating between the A and B teams, but not for a consolidated Primera player like Espinosa. More concerning is Espinosa’s lack of playing time with the Andalusians.
Now it’s your turn – tell us what you make of Villarreal’s transfer activities. Will Campbell and Bailly have a significant impact on the team down the stretch? Can the defense recover from Gabriel’s loss? And will morale be affected by Cani’s departure?