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Farewell, Super Mario: Mario Gaspar is released by Villarreal

It’s hard to imagine a Villarreal squad without Mario Gaspar in it.

Villarreal CF v Athletic Club - La Liga Santander Photo by Jose Miguel Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Modern football can be cruel. Clearly he wasn’t in Unai Emery’s plans, but it is nonetheless hard to see Mario Gaspar departing—given a release from the year remaining on his contract—after spending his entire career with Villarreal.

Mario, from Novelda in the Valencian Community, played youth football for Villarreal. He signed his first professional contract with the Submarine in July 2007, when he joined our C team from our under-19’s. By the following January, he had joined our B team.

Juan Carlos Garrido can be blamed for many things, but he was a good judge of talent. Not only did he persuade Bruno Soriano to continue with football, he also saw something in Mario to fast-track him to the top. Villarreal’s B team was playing in the old Segunda B at the time, and Garrido installed Mario as the regular right back. The B team wound up being promoted to the Segunda and Mario even made his debut with the first team, against Atletico Madrid in March 2009.

He played every minute of the promotion matches which resulted in Villarreal B’s ascent to the Segunda, and in the Segunda he was an omnipresent starter until he ruptured an ankle ligament in April of that year—one of the few injuries he suffered with us. At the same time, he was a Spanish youth international, seeing action in the European under-19 championship.

In 2010-11 he started out with the B team again, but he was called up definitely to the first team when Angel Lopez injured his knee, and from that point Mario never looked back. In all, he played 425 matches with our first team squad over the years in all competitions.

Let’s be honest—Mario was not a speed demon at right back. He wasn’t a player who ran forward at every opportunity to support an attack; rather, he was a player who tackled well, made good interceptions, but primarily in his own end of the pitch. He made up for his physical limitations by playing carefully and conservatively, while positioning himself well.

It’s been clear for some time that Mario was probably on his way out. His minutes declined significantly this past season with the installation of Juan Foyth as regular right back, and it was clear that infrequent play was not really helping Mario retain what little speed he had.

In 2017 he signed a six-year deal, and so Villarreal and Mario have agreed to end it a year early. For those of you who have only followed Villarreal over the last ten years or so, it’s true Mario was not like Bruno Soriano or Santi Cazorla in defining an era, but he was a loyal club player who was always there.

A unique treble:

Mario scored a penalty in the 2020-21 Europa League Final, and hoisted the trophy, as a co-captain, with Raul Albiol.

Mario was a part of our 2012-13 squad that was promoted to the Primera under Marcelino.

Mario was part of our 2008-09 B squad that was promoted to the Segunda under Garrido.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t note Mario’s international record—2 goals in 3 matches for the Spanish first team, including a strike in a friendly against England that was nominated for the Puskas award.

Mario played his last league match at the Camp Nou in May—our 2-0 win against Barcelona.

We wish “Super Mario” all the best, wherever his next destination is, and will always have fond memories of his contributions to Villarreal over 15 years.