Football is often terrible. Absurdly rich clubs spend and spend, and then they win trophies, and their fans mock the people and clubs who don’t have their money for not winning trophies all the while they soak up higher shares of the money and leave more clubs out in the cold. It happens constantly. And then, just before we are all ready to quit from cynicism, you see rays of hope. Sometimes it’s a third tier side knocking a huge giant out of a domestic cup. Sometimes it’s a club like Lille beating an oil state funded PSG to a Ligue One title, and sometimes it’s a club from a little town of 50,000 people making a European Final.
Across from us is one of those other clubs. If Manchester United win this trophy, it will simply be a consolation prize to them as they look enviously across town at a rival club who won their league. They’ll be in the Champions League regardless of what happens in this match, and if they bring home this trophy it will likely be an afterthought for a club that has won more trophies than any other in English football.
For Villarreal, on the other hand, this is the biggest match we’ve ever played in. This is a club without a proper major trophy who 25 years ago saw just making it into the top flight as a pipe dream. Twenty years ago, that dream was realized, and shortly thereafter we found ourselves flying close to the Sun finishing second in La Liga and playing in a Champions League semi-final and perhaps we mistakenly thought this was just one step on a continual rise to glory. Less than ten years ago we were reminded of how fragile that dream was when we were relegated. We’ve been to four other European Semi-Finals before and only now have we reached a chance to win ourselves a trophy.
Some people in the football world see this as a reason to scorn us. If we lose on Wednesday they’ll laugh and mock about how we’ve been put ‘in our place’ as if they only people deserving of such glory are those with the deepest pockets. These people don’t understand football. In football as in life if the biggest hardship you’ve known is not being able to get the next shiny trinket you wanted you’re privileged and spoiled. Tears will be shed if we lose this final but it will be nothing compared to the heartache of getting relegated from a place in the top flight that it took nearly eighty years to earn. Football at its core is about your club being a member of the family, an embodiment of hopes and dreams that goes through genuine struggles in life just like we all do. Its something that reflects the human experience. And when a football club has done that, has been purified through that fire, and they come out the other side of it stronger than ever and make it to a cup final against a club many times their wealth, you can feel a different kind of joy because you know they got there by being smarter, wiser and yes, in some ways luckier... not just by being wealthier.
This isn’t our normal match preview. I’m not going to go on about our opponents- if you follow football you know who Man United are- and I’m not going to try and guess what Unai Emery has in store for us. I’m just going to encourage you to go into Wednesday’s match with hope. For all their money and for all their history, for one day in one match Villarreal and Manchester United are equals, arriving to the same final by merit of what they have done on the football pitch, and that itself is all the reason we need to believe.
We earned the right to dream, so dream. If that dream doesn’t work out, we’ll dust ourselves off, pour love on our players, and start to dream all over again because that’s what people do when they have a club as special as ours. If and when that dream becomes a reality, we’ll celebrate with our club family fully appreciating the achievement for its own sake. That’s football. That’s what Villarreal and clubs like it are: football in their purest form. Endavant Villarreal.