On Friday, Villarreal will celebrate a momentous occasion: their 100th birthday. The club was established on the 10th of March 1923 as Club Deportivo Villarreal. In 1946, they rebranded to CAF Villarreal, before renaming to their current title eight years later.
One of the club’s greatest sons, Marcos Senna, who played for 11 years between 2002 and 2013, returned to the club following the end of his playing days and is now in charge of institutional relations. Speaking to Football Espana at a La Liga event, he revealed that there are big things planned for the celebration.
“It’s a very special week for us. There’s a lot of things to do. There’s league matches, and there will be a big party for our centenary on Friday, and then we’ve got a match on Sunday (vs Real Betis). We’ve also got to go to Belgium (on Thursday, vs Anderlecht).”
The club’s nickname is famously know as El Submarino Amarillo – the Yellow Submarine – which references their yellow kits but also their status in Spanish football. They come from the city of Villarreal, in the province of Castellon, which just over 50,000 people call home.
Despite the lowly numbers, Villarreal have beaten the odds to get where they are today. They were only promoted to the top division in Spanish football in 1998, and within five years, they achieved European success as they won the now-defunct Intertoto Cup, which they also retained a year later. Senna gave an idea as to why Villarreal have been so successful, despite being smaller in stature than other top clubs in Spain.
“Villarreal is a family. We’ve got very clear ideas, and we’ve got a very good methodology that we follow. The secret to success is the hard work – people are very humble, and I’m sure that we will remain in La Liga for many years because we have a good project and a good structure.
“What we’ve done up to now has worked really well. We’re very humble, we’ve worked hard and we want to stay where we are today. It is a great privilege for me to be where I am today as part of this club, and I would like to stay here for many years.”
Villarreal hit centre stage in Europe in the 2005/06 season, when they reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in their very first time in the competition. After defeating Everton in a play-off to qualify for the group stages, they progressed to the knockout rounds after two wins and four draws, knocking out Manchester United in the process.
Rangers were defeated in the last 16, as were Inter Milan in the quarter-finals, which set up a semi-final clash with Arsenal. Unfortunately for Villarreal, they were knocked out 1-0 on aggregate, but they had shown Europe what they were all about. Senna defined that as his best moment in a Villarreal shirt, and believes that it was that run that gave the club its belief to compete in the years since.
“At Villarreal, my greatest moment was when we reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in the 2005/06 season. It was a great feeling to be so close to reaching the final. We fell short, but it was still a fantastic moment to be a part of.
“After that moment, the club realised that it was possible to compete in European competitions – it was difficult, but not impossible. From then to now, we have achieved good things. It’s never easy to continually maintain your place in European football, but we are trying very hard to achieve our goals.”
The feat was repeated against last season, with giants such as Juventus and Bayern Munich dispatched of en route to the semi-final. However, English opposition were their downfall once again, with Liverpool progressing to the final after a 5-2 aggregate victory.
However, their crowning glory was when they won the Europa League in the 2020/21 season, defeating Man Utd in the final after a mammoth penalty shoot-out, which finished 11-10. 98 years after their birth, Villarreal had their first major honour.
The focus for Villarreal has quickly shifted to the future. Having established themselves as a team that regularly competes up the top end of the La Liga table, new goals are being set by the club, which Senna explained.
“We want to compete for titles and continually compete in European competitions. From a financial perspective, it’s very important that we aim to qualify for the Champions League.
“We want to win the Copa del Rey, Europa Conference League and even the Champions League. We want to stay at the top, play good football and end up as one of the historical teams in world football. I think Villarreal can improve a lot in the coming years.”
For Senna himself, the club has had a lasting impact. He joined from Sao Caetano in Brazil in 2002, having been born in nearby Sao Paulo. He was granted Spanish citizenship in 2006, and was soon called up to La Roja to represent them at the World Cup in Germany.
Senna explained the circumstances around his switch of allegiance from Brazil to Spain, and hinted that Villarreal’s effect aided in his decision.
“Luis Aragones asked me to play for the Spanish national team, and I didn’t think twice. It was an opportunity to play at the World Cup, and then at the European Championships two years later, which we won.
“The adaptation to Spain for me was very quick, and I’ve always said that I feel like an adopted son of Spain. I still feel like that today – I feel truly at home. That’s why I decided to make that step to adopt Spanish allegiance.”
It’s easy to forget that Villarreal had not played in the top division in Spain until 25 years ago. They have firmly established themselves among the best in Spanish football, and the Yellow Submarine will hope to go from strength-to-strength as they look to build on their solid platform.