Thursday, June 01, 2006

robert pires' new home

At last report it had one single hotel, but I cannot verify this because it doesn't show up in guidebooks. Not even the indefatigable Rick Steves has been here, it seems.

So this is what I can find out about Vila-real: it is a town of some 48,000 souls in eastern Spain; its stadium, El Madrigal, seats 23,000, and average match attendance is 14,500. It was founded in 1274 by James I of Aragon (vila-real: king's town) on the ancient Roman Via Augusta, some 65 km north of the city of Valencia, now their archrivals in football, a proximity giving rise to some of the most exciting derby matches in La Liga.

Throughout most of the 19th century the main trade here was in oranges, but brick and ceramic became the focus in the 2oth. And, of course, football. Villarreal CF was founded in March of 1923.

I first saw the Yellow Submarine (so called for the relentless hue of their home kits) in the disastrous second leg of the Champions semifinal in April. Arsenal played an ugly game of plodding catenaccio which brought them the nil-nil they wanted for their aggregate win, but it was a shameful victory. Villarreal played bravely but lucklessly. The graceful and open way the players grieved at game's end came back to mind in the wake of Arsenal's loss to Barca and the subsequent ill-tempered puddle of name-calling and sheer petulance into which the Gunners dissolved. Robert Pires was the man Wenger sacrificed in that game when Lehmann took his red, and one of those few who emerged from it with dignity.

It looks certain this year that Villarreal will lose Diego Forlan, one of its foremost talents ("the man with the perfect skin," my compatriot Lynda calls him) to Barca, and I am unutterably happy that Pires is moving in to take his place. Untapped for the French team,--a bad omission, I think, and possibly due to his birth-sign,--it looked like Arsenal might hold onto him when Thierry Henry made it an issue in his contract negotiation. But, happily, Pires has made the slip, leaving the Gunners behind after six years to try his luck in the beauty of Spain. We at a pretty move wish both him and Villarreal very well.

1 comment:

Zach Dundas said...

Villareal always plays some of the most compelling football in Spain, the most compelling league. Their rise to the top is the only argument in favor of a promotion/relegation system you'd ever need.