In El Madrigal, the bar of many Villarreal supporters, just across the street was the stadium, a sea of scarves can be seen, pinned onto the wall behind the counter. Each commemorates a great night of the past, a night filled with Champions League joy, or sorrow. If teams such as Manchester United, Napoli, or Barcelona play, you can expect to see a scarf very soon. One scarf on that wall will haunt many El Submarino Amarillo fans. Villarreal were to play Arsenal in the Semi-Final. The game could certainly be won by Villarreal, giving them a ticket to the final.
Villarreal lined up with a strong side, who could dominate any team in Europe when on fine form. Juan Román Riquelme, one of the greatest players in the world at the time would feature regularly in the notorious yellow shirt, alongside Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan. Then of course there was the Spanish midfielder playing his first few seasons, Santi Cazorla. Marcos Senna too was included regularly, becoming a Villarreal great. Antonio Valencia could also pull on a yellow shirt, but was currently out on loan to Recreativo, only managing to feature for Villarreal twice before his permanent move to Wigan Athletic. Villarreal had potential, and everyone could see it.
Villarreal traveled to London for the first leg, in which they lost 1-0. The result wasn't too bad. The side had performed well, an excellent display away from home, and were unlucky to concede. Manchester United had already been held to two 0-0 draws by the Spanish side, so Arsenal knew exactly what they could do. The second leg was to be played in front of a swarm of yellow, thousands of fans cheering to try and reach the final, with the potential of being crowned Champions of Europe. It sounded sweet, and every fan wanted it. Throughout the game Villarreal played their hearts out, trying to get that one vital goal, which simply wouldn't come. Jens Lehmann was having the performance of a life time, and was stopping everything. Diego Forlan came close to scoring, but couldn't hit the white net of the goal, the only thing stopping Villarreal from making the trip.
The referee had awarded a penalty to Villarreal, in front of their home crowd, in the last minute of the game. Score, and the game would be taken to extra time. Miss, and Villarreal are staying in Spain, while Arsenal compete to become Champions of Europe. Juan Roman Riquelme, the team's key player and top scorer stepped up to take the penalty. It was placed coolly into the bottom left corner, but German intentional Lehmann got to it. That was it. With only seconds remaining, everyone in El Madrigal knew the outcome. Villarreal were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League. And to top it off, the side only managed to finish in seventh place in the league.
However, times have moved on, players and staff have left, clubs have changed. Manuel Pellegrini, the manager at the time of the defeat is expected to be announced as manager of Manchester City. Santi Cazorla, one of the best players to have graced the field for Villarreal in the last few years enjoyed a fine first season in England. While these players left, finding glory at other clubs, such as Cazorla guiding Malaga to Europe for the first time, Villarreal endured a season of misery. Forced to sell Cazorla to their rivals for a top-four place for financial reasons, they then saw one of their other key assets, Italy's Giuseppe Rossi, suffer a serious knee injury. Villarreal were soon to lose all six Champions League games, and were then relegated from the Liga BBVA. The yellow submarine, was sinking.
When Villarreal wanted to get back on track, the campaign suffered a tragic start. In June 2012, Villarreal appointed Manuel Preciado, the former Sporting Gijon coach. Preciado looked like a brilliant capture, and many thought he could be the man to help the club get back to their best. Preciado had been sacked by Sporting Gijon in January after twice earning them promotion into Spain's top flight and in April 2011, his Gijon team ended Jose Mourinho's nine-year unbeaten home league record when they defeated Real Madrid. 24 hours after the appointment, Manuel suffered a heart attack, and passed away. All hopes of a possible comeback were gone, as they said goodbye to their newly signed boss.
His successor, former B team coach Julio Velazquez, was sacked in just January, with the team anguishing in seventh place, a far cry from the battles in Europe faced under the reign of Manuel Pellegrini, now the boss of Malaga, alongside Santi Cazorla. The fans knew they needed to get behind the players, to spur them on, to get them success. Even when in the top flight, Villarreal often struggled to fill their 25,000-capacity stadium, but now, every seat was taken. However, now is a different story.
With Marcelino García Toral, Villarreal are making a comeback. With one match remaining, Villarreal are sitting in second place. They can't win the title, but they will play Almeria, who are sitting in third with the same points. Whoever wins will gain automatic promotion, and the loser, will have to fight in the play-offs. A draw would be enough to send Villarreal back to the top leagues, where they belong. This could be the opportunity Villarreal have needed. If Marcelino's men do seal the deal, there will be no Monaco-style spending spree to celebrate. Consolidation will most definitely be key, with 2000 champions Deportivo La Coruna's relegation last Saturday after one season a warning of how winning promotion is the easy part. Yet for now, everyone will be happy to see Villarreal just back up at the top.
Villarreal CF, the yellow submarines, are finally rising.