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The end of an era at Villarreal as Unai Emery trims squad to ease salary stress

Only Gerard and Manu Trigueros remain from the 2012-13 squad.

Sporting CP v Villarreal CF - Pre-Season Friendly
Gaspar has joined Watford
Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

For those of us like me who have a long history with Villarreal (and with this website), this week really has signalled the end of an era.

The three years from 2010-13 were, in retrospect, remarkable: first Villarreal made it to the Europa League semifinal and qualified for the Champions League; then they crashed out of the Champions League without a single point, and went through three coaches on their way to relegation.

Then, after hiring a beloved coach who passed away from a heart attack on the day he was appointed, and making yet another managerial change in midseason, the Submarine finished second in the Segunda so made an immediate return to La Liga.

By comparison, everything since has been calm!!!

If there aren’t many of us who went through that rollercoaster ride, there are still fewer Villarreal players now who went through it after this week’s upheavals.

It really does feel like the end of an era at Villarreal—Mario Gaspar, who came up to the first team when Angel Lopez was injured in the middle of the 2010-11 season, Moi Gomez, who was a part of the 2012-13 promotion team, and Sergio Asenjo, who joined Villarreal for the first season back in the Primera, have all been released or sold.

Kiko Femenia of Villarreal
Femenia has joined from Watford
Villarreal CF

It’s partly due to the need to reduce salary, but it’s also looking forward to a younger generation of players. Yes, Villarreal signed Pepe Reina to a one-year deal to take Asenjo’s spot, but he’s a bridge to our young home-grown keepers, Iker Alvarez and Jorgenson.

Moi has been made surplus to requirements by the emergence of Yeremy Pino (last season) and Alex Baena (this summer), and perhaps Nicolas Jackson too.

Now Vicente Iborra has returned to the Segunda on loan to help Levante battle to return to the Primera, and he’s not expected to return, with Manu Morlanes able to fill his role.

The Mario/Kiko Feminía swap (effectively) is a little harder to understand: both players are the same age, but Kiko wanted a return to Spain, Mario was OK with Watford, so there we go.

Last year, according to Capology, Villarreal’s first team payroll was €106m gross. €21.4m of that is now gone, if you assume Levante is picking up all of Iborra’s pay (I don’t, so suspect the savings are more like €17-18m).

Against that, we have to add back the salaries of Pepe Reina, José Luis Morales, and Feminía. I would guess they would be €5m or so, based on their salaries at their former clubs, so that would mean a savings of say €12m.

Would this give room for us to sign Gio Lo Celso and Edinson Cavani?

Gio was earning €4.3m gross last season (his Spurs salary) so presumably would be getting something similar from Villarreal this time, Cavani would surely be willing to take a substantial pay cut from his Man United days (around €15m).

However, Villarreal’s salary cap is presumably less than it was in 2021-22, so there may be more trimming to go yet. And Cavani has Paco and Dia still sitting on the roster as strikers.

Anyhow, to return to the players rather than the money, the sort of clearout we’ve seen this week really has very little precedent in the last 15 years or so.

I guess after relegation in 2011-12 would be the closest when we sold Diego Lopez, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Nilmar and Borja Valero, though only the first two had been with the club for more than 4 years.