With Manuel Pellegrini due to be appointed as a manager of Manchester City within the next few days, the Chilean will have time to reflect on how he got there. Much will be publicised about his stints at Real Madrid and Malaga but it was his spell as manager of Villarreal brought him the most media attention. Under Pellegrini’s mentorship, Villarreal became a force with European football including a semi final appearance in the Champions League in 2006. However in recent years, the club known as ‘Yellow Submarine’ has fallen on darker days with several top stars like Diego Forlan, Guiseppi Rossi and Juan Roman Riquelme departing due to financial difficulties which ultimately led to their relegation from La Liga in 2011.
But after a season toiling in the lower divisions, Villarreal are ready to come back to Spain’s top league having won automatic promotion this season. A 1-0 victory over promotion hopefuls Almeria was enough to secure the points needed to cement second place and a return. Going into the season, they were favourites to win the league but it has been anything but an easy return for the club. Following their relegation, Villarreal sacked their coach and replaced him with former Sporting Gijon coach Manuel Preciado. However tragedy struck only 24 hours after the appointment, when Preciado had a fatal heart attack and died. The club was plunged into mourning and planning for the new season thrown into disarray. After several weeks, Villarreal turned to former B team coach Julio Velazquez to lead the team into the new season, but after a poor run for form and with the club languishing in 7th place, Velazquez was dismissed in the January transfer window.
With everything at stake, the club turned to Marcelino Garcia Toral to turn fortunes around and that is exactly what he did. Despite being ravaged by injuries, Marcelino inspired his team to a series of victories that helped them climb further up the table. Focusing on a core set of veteran players such as defender Olaf Mellberg, midfield trio Marco Senna, Cani, Bruno Soriano and returning striker Jonathan Pereira, Marcelino built a team of grafters who worked tirelessly to grab every point they could. Midfield maestro Cani (a veteran of the Pellegrini day) has heaped praise onto Marcelino and in particular the team spirit he created this season stating that without it the club would not have been able to overcome whatever difficulty (injuries, suspensions, oppositions goals) the club faced.
Marcelino however credits his players and the clubs fans as the key reasons why promotion was secured. Having praised his players publically over the course of the season, he left it to the end of the campaign to talk about the faithful fans. Despite relegation to Spain’s second division, the El Madrigal support has turned out in their thousands to continue to push the team forward.
“One of the key things has been the support from the stands. The support from our fans has been 10 out of 10 and they give us a lot of confidence”
For the fans, promotion back to La Liga is reward enough for their loyalty and support. However if Marcelino and his team can then follow that up in the next few years with a return for Villarreal to European competition, the fans will no doubt be happy with this too. The prospect of facing a Pellegrini inspired Manchester City side in the Champions League would be a dream come true for the Yellow Submarines.