Villarreal, inconsistent in La Liga, beating Manchester United in the final of the Europa League has sparked a lot of discussion online. Spanish football has taken a beating in online discourse this season, with many viewing the poor performance of its Champions League clubs, coupled with its lack of spending power in the market, as symptoms of a power shift and a long-forecasted decline.
Within this context, Villarreal’s defeat of United, one of the biggest clubs in the European game, was viewed by many as the perfect chance to stick it to the perceived arrogance of the Premier League, specifically. United were heavy favourites before kick-off, with many in the English media seeing it as essentially a case of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side having to turn up and do their jobs to secure the title.
Anyone taking a nuanced view of the game wouldn’t have said that, however. Solskjaer’s United have consistently failed in the biggest games, whether that’s in the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Champions League, the Premier League or even last season’s Europa League, when eventual-winners Sevilla knocked them out in the semi-final.
Villarreal, on the other hand, were led by Unai Emery. An imperfect coach, without doubt, but one driven by his failure in England with Arsenal and with three Europa League titles under his belt. It was he who eventually won out, Villarreal winning 11-10 on penalties after the game finished 1-1 after extra-time.
The victory was especially sweet in the context of the recently-botched Super League project, of which United were a major player. Had it come to fruition it would have been to their benefit and to the detriment of a club like Villarreal, who operate out of a city of just 50,000 people. Their squad is a million miles from the big-name stars out of Old Trafford; it’s a combination of promising youth and under-appreciated, grizzled experience.
But a triumph is, by nature, fleeting. The truth is that there has been a power shift to English football in recent years, exemplified by the two clubs locking horns in Saturday evening’s Champions League final, Chelsea and Manchester City, a game worth a bet not unlike the flutters you could find at bonus casino. Both are backed with serious finance and led by two coaches at the vanguard of the modern game, Thomas Tuchel and Pep Guardiola. Spain’s biggest two clubs are led by Ronald Koeman, a man with a mediocre managerial career, and, as of right now, nobody following Zinedine Zidane’s resignation.
Both Barcelona and Real Madrid, alongside Juventus, are still part of the much-derided Super League project; they’re shaken by the financial dominance of English football. So while victories like Villarreal’s are inspiring, to gloat is to err. Villarreal are indeed special, if not super, as are positive stories like Sevilla and Real Sociedad. But elite football is escaping Spain, and they need to act quickly to avoid a fall from grace like Italy.