Under the vivid lights of the Emirates Stadium, Pau Torres and his president Fernando Roig walked, one arm around each other, bursting with pride over what the defender and his teammates had just achieved.
A first ever major final had been secured after weathering what turned out to be a mild Arsenal storm in the semi-final second leg in north London.
As he has been all season, Torres was key to Villarreal’s success, and as almost everyone knows by now, the win was all the sweeter for the talented centre-back, who watched as a youngster as the Yellow Submarine fell short against Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final in 2006.
This time, there was no semi-final heartbreak, and the 24-year-old will be desperate to ensure there’s no shortage of celebration in the final, either. Torres has been with Villarreal since the age of five having grown up in the town and progressed through the club’s cantera. This opportunity in Gdansk means the world to him and his family, and winning the Europa League for his boyhood club is not his only motivation.
It would be remiss of us not to mention the transfer rumours surrounding Torres ahead of this summer, when he will jet off with Spain to play a starring role in La Roja’s Euro 2020 bid.
Villarreal will be desperate to keep their star centre-back, but the truth is they are resigned to his departure this summer. Torres deserves this opportunity, and even at the risk of scuppering his own move, he has already helped the club by agreeing to raise his release clause to €65million. Though, given his undeniable talent, his leadership at such a young age, that price tag is not going to put teams off. Even Unai Emery said last week: “I see him playing for a big club. I would like him to stay in Spain.”
The problem is, Emery is not likely to get his wish.
The financial issues of Barcelona and Real Madrid are likely to prevent them from landing Torres this summer, and with Manchester United serious about a move, it looks like Old Trafford could be his next destination. They are also his next opponent, but while this could be a transfer audition of sorts for Torres, there is absolutely no question of a conflict of interest.
Villarreal means as much to the defender as any Groguet sat in the stands at La Ceramica. To go out having done what no other Villarreal player has done by winning a major trophy would be the farewell of all farewells. It would inscribe Torres, and indeed his teammates, in history.
And so it is to Gdansk, to the Europa League final, where Torres will once again be hoping to wrap his arms around his president at full-time ahead of his likely breakup from Señor Roig and Villarreal, but this time, he will be hoping to be wearing a winners’ medal around his neck after denying his potential next employers their only piece of silverware this season.