Villarreal’s run in the Champions League is no fluke: Are Liverpool the next team to be eliminated after Juventus and Bayern Munich?

Have Liverpool been eliminated from the Champions League after losing to Juventus and Bayern Munich?

When the Beatles released the Ringo Starr-sung “Yellow Submarine” in August 1966, Liverpool was the reigning English champions, had won the FA Cup the year before, and had already created a social phenomenon in the seething, swaying, chanting Kop.
The Reds’ star players, Ian Callaghan and Roger Hunt, had just won the World Cup with England a week before.

Champions League
Villarreal’s run in the Champions League is no fluke: Are Liverpool the next team to be eliminated after Juventus and Bayern Munich?

Villarreal were in Spain’s fifth division on the day the Beatles’ publicity machine for their Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby release went into overdrive. The club’s uncovered Madrigal “stadium,” with a capacity of a couple of thousand, was little more than a pitch with walls around it, located in a tiny agricultural and fishing town close to the Mediterranean Sea.

Fernando Roig, the Yellow Submarine’s visionary President who will celebrate 25 years in charge in a few days, had just turned 19, and Unai Emery, the man who will lead them to Anfield this week, hadn’t even been born.
(In 1971, he arrived.)

They wouldn’t have been compared to Liverpool’s Goliath; rather, they’d be compared to the guy who lived three doors down from David and collected sharp stones for him to earn a couple of dollars a month. But that annoyingly catchy song from the “Revolver” album, which went to No. 1 worldwide (except in Spain, where it reached No. 3), was quickly adopted by fans and local media.

There is an assumption that because the club has only recently become well-known around the world, the nickname is a recent invention. No, it does not. Villarreal were on a promotion mission that would see them wiggle back into the third division by 1967, and there’s a lovely faded black-and-white photo of a fan banner held up by first-team players on the day that reads: “The Yellow Submarine is Advancing At Full Steam.” And now they’re here. Los Groguets (“the Yellows”) are about to return “to the town where (their nickname) was born,” as Ringo would put it.

Whatever the outcome, it’s been a magnificent journey, one that backs up Fernando Roig’s response to my recent question about a single phrase to sum up his quarter-century reign, which has seen a tiny, lowly, practically village-team become one of Europe’s greatest and most admirable clubs.

“Hard work and big dreams,” Roig replied. When Villarreal eliminated Juventus from the Champions League last month, Roig went to Juve President Andrea Agnelli and told him that their idea of a “closed-shop” European League, in which clubs like Villarreal would not have an automatic right to play, was… garbage.

His message was emphasized by his team’s 3-0 victory in Turin — Davids all over the world rejoiced at seeing another Goliath not only defeated, but thrashed and, hopefully, taught a lesson in humility.

Villarreal the club, not Roig, is the “everyman” up against a behemoth in this match.
He is a billionaire, just like his brother and sister-in-law. Roig’s success in ceramics and as part of the family Mercadona supermarket chain enabled him to buy Villarreal for just over €400,000 in 1997, fund some of the club’s expansion, deal with relegation, invest in countless local jobs, and integrate his then-24-year-old son, Fernando Jr., into the club’s boardroom, where he is now effectively the lead figure.

The most painful experience he had during this magical quarter-century was relegation, from which the club rebounded with rubber-ball speed. The image of the Yellow Submarine reaching the Champions League semifinals in 2006, on the other hand, was more brutally iconic. Arsenal defeated them 1-0 in London, and with only seconds remaining at the Madrigal, Juan Román Riquelme failed to convert the penalty that would have sent the game to extra time and a potential trip to the final in Paris.

Which is, of course, where this year’s showpiece will now take place. Don’t ask a man who believes only in hard work and big dreams if destiny is calling.

But if you ask him about the night of broken hearts 16 years ago, he’ll say, “I remember it well. “I slid out of my seat, landing on my knees. I was on the verge of collapsing. Reaching the semifinals was a huge accomplishment at the time.”
“I was disappointed because we didn’t meet our goal, but I always tell Juan Román that only those who dare to take penalties miss them. I couldn’t have missed it if I hadn’t taken it. Villarreal is now much larger than it was back then.”

Of course, Roig’s most famous triumph came a year ago, against another Premier League and European behemoth. Although Manchester United were defeated in Gdansk in the Europa League, many people forget that this remarkable 74-year-old had only recently recovered from the coronavirus in time to fly his private jet from Spain’s eastern coast to Poland’s most famous Baltic port. On arrival, he was informed that his negative test had not been produced in time for him to enter the stadium, where his team was on the verge of making history.
So, hours before kick-off, he turned tail and returned to Villarreal, where he sat alone in his living room, watching Geronimo Rulli win the Yellow Submarine in one of the most incredible penalty shoot-outs ever and his boys, his club, lift a European trophy.

‘My sofa was draped with Villarreal flags placed there by my wife so I could be surrounded by our colors,’ he recalls. I saw the final by myself because my children were in Poland, my brother was in Poland, and everyone else was in Poland. Because my wife finds it very tense, I watched it mostly alone. She is more stressed than I am because of her son! She does, however, suffer.
I didn’t shed a tear.
I was extremely tense.
I did, in fact, cheer.”
When the game was over, I came out onto my house’s balcony and yelled for two or three minutes, releasing all my nerves, shouting and shouting.”

Imagine, as another Beatles member might have put it, all that work and all those dreams, but not being present at the coronation.

Unai Emery is the key figure to whom Roig Sr. owes the realization of his dream.

Emery, a Basque-born footballer with workmanlike ability, is a good example of what his boss has accomplished. He played a few games for Toledo against the old Villarreal, both before and after Roig’s purchase, always in the second division, in an ultra-small stadium, back when the team still trained in a public park or on school playing fields.

Whether you win, lose, or draw, Emery could sense the Yellow Submarine project’s urgency, ambition, and grit right away. Now, after a distinguished career in which he appears to believe he will return to Premier League management in the near future, he has led Villarreal to their first significant trophy in their history.

Roig Jr. appointed him rather than the club’s president, and he has presided over two absolutely incredible seasons. To eliminate Arsenal in the semifinals last season, beat United as heavy underdogs, remain undefeated throughout that entire Europa League campaign, and absolutely go toe-to-toe with European Champions Chelsea in Belfast at the start of this season in the UEFA Super Cup, would be enough for most people.
Yet, in the words of the Yellow Submarine, he is the one ensuring that “everyone of us” has “everything we need” for a Champions League semifinal against the six-time competition winners.

Whoever is fit (hopefully Francis Coquelin this week and Gerard Moreno next), whatever the tactics, however important it is for Emery to avoid his previous two results at Anfield (losing 5-1 and then 3-1 in charge of Arsenal), you must be confident that his players will be well-informed and well-analyzed.

“There is always a lot of analysis of our opponents,” Emery recently told UEFA, “so that my players know their opponent as much as possible.”So that we can all learn how to be better.
In general, if we face an opponent with a larger budget, better players, more trophies, and more success, we can beat them in our best version, competing with our best performance.”

“As a result, I always try to give the players more work rather than less, more information rather than less, and more information rather than less. Then we have high hopes, but they are based on a lot of hard work.”

“You can’t be an optimist unless you have a solid foundation of something: meaning work, dedication, knowing ourselves, and knowing our opponents.”
That is where optimistic, but realistic, confidence stems.”

There’s no doubt that these are the same elements Emery used the last time he faced Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in Europe: the 2016 Europa League final win in Switzerland, which was one-way Liverpool traffic for 45 minutes and then a Seville steamroller for the rest of the game.
Viewing, planning, persuading, and believing – winning.

Working hard and dreaming big, just like Roig Sr. and Villarreal over the last 25 years.
And now they’re back in the town where their moniker was born.

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