May 13, 2012. Villarreal's 12-year stay in La Liga ends as Radamel Falcao delivers a dagger to the heart of El Submarino Amarillo – The Yellow Submarine.
Attention was cast as to who would be jumping ship as Villarreal prepared for life in the Segunda Division. Diego Lopez, Marco Ruben and Wakaso Mubarak will all be playing their football away from El Madrigal next season whilst Borja Valero and Bruno Soriano are attracting interest from many teams on the continent.
But, hidden away behind the masses of bodies scrambling for safety, Jonathan de Guzman cut a forlorn figure on the east coast of Spain. Bought by Juan Carlos Garrido and underused by Jose Francisco Molina, de Guzman's spell with Villarreal was an unhappy one.
Purchased for €8.5m last summer, De Guzman was supposed to be the replacement for Malaga-bound Santi Cazorla having impressed for Mallorca in 2010-11. The Dutchman never really settled in at Villarreal and it seemed like something was missing from his game. After flourishing under Michael Laudrup with Mallorca, it seemed Villarreal's Coaches – three for 2011-12 – didn't utilise his talent properly, so it was no surprise when Villarreal allowed the 24-year-old to move to Swansea City – where Laudrup has just been appointed new manager.
Laudrup's appointment has coincided with the loss of Gylfi Sigurdsson, the playmaker who dazzled in south Wales last season. His loan from Hoffenheim ended and he turned down a permanent move to the Liberty Stadium in favour of joining Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham. In Swansea's free-flowing passing style, an advanced playmaker is key to their supply line and the loss of Sigurdsson left a hole in their system.
As soon as Laudrup set foot in Wales, the rumours of De Guzman's addition began circulating. Villarreal's relegation and the youngster’s frustration gave Laudrup the perfect chance to reunite with a player he can get the best out of. De Guzman's departure from Mallorca had direct repercussions on Laudrup's longevity as Mallorca manager. The Dane was left fuming when the Mallorca board sold him on transfer deadline day without consulting with him. He clearly felt that his team would be damaged by the loss and just a month later, Laudrup resigned citing disagreements with those in charge.
Laudrup's struggles with a De Guzman-less Mallorca and the former Feyenoord's man unhappy time with Villarreal just served to show how much they need each other. De Guzman was clearly delighted at the chance to work under Laudrup again.
“Once the opportunity came along to join Swansea and Michael Laudrup it was a done deal,” he enthused since confirmation came through. “I didn't have to think twice about it. He’s a very smart man and knows what he wants tactically, and he loves football.”
But why did de Guzman fail so miserably at El Madrigal?
Under Laudrup, De Guzman was allowed to sit behind a central striker, usually Pierre Webo, and create chances for other players. He drifted wide at times but Chori Castro and Emilio Nsue provided pace on the wings, leaving De Guzman to dictate the team’s attacking play through the middle.
When he moved over to Villarreal however, he was bought as Cazorla's replacement on the wing. Whilst De Guzman has pace, it's not his primary attribute. He's a technically-gifted player and was constantly trying to drift inside to support the front man, exposing Cristian Zapata at right-back. It just wasn't the way De Guzman should've been used, but at Swansea he'll be able to play behind Danny Graham and create through the middle alongside Leon Britton and Joe Allen.
If Laudrup can get De Guzman playing like he did at Mallorca, both the player’s misery at Villarreal and the hole at Swansea left by Sigurdsson's departure will be forgotten very, very quickly.