All owned by billionaires, Villarreal, Almería and Valencia—listed from highest to lowest in the table—are approaching a definitive spell in La Liga, with their campaigns hanging on a knife edge.
Overseen by businessman Fernando Roig, a supermarket-chain shareholder who made his name in ceramics, there is pressure on Villarreal to qualify for European soccer. Further down, Saudi Arabia’s general entertainment authority chairman Turki Al-Sheikh faces a challenge to keep Almería in the division, as does Peter Lim at Valencia, where he’s unpopular amongst supporters.
Asides from determining success, whether each team achieves its goals or not will have other implications—on both a financial and executive level moving forward.
So, let’s assess each club’s situation a little more closely, with just over a third of the season to go.
Villarreal middles under Setién
Held in high regard across the continent and with an upgraded stadium, Roig has headed a dynamic soccer enterprise in Vila-real—a small town of around 50,000 inhabitants. On the field, the momentum is slightly slowing.
Lucky for some, number seven is becoming the norm for the team. The Yellow Submarine is a decent bet to finish just outside the top six for a third successive term. Currently, the team can’t seem to shrug off competitors Real Sociedad, Real Betis and even Rayo Vallecano to pose a threat nearer the top of the standings.
Given its respected reputation in Europe, with a Europa League title in 2021 and a run to the Champions League semifinals the following year, the side is not reaching its full potential in the league. With this in mind, former Barcelona coach Quiqué Setién still has to prove himself at the Estadio de la Cerámica.
Sneaking into Europe has to be the minimum aim, especially if Villarreal wants to hold onto hometown hero Pau Torres, whose contract expires next year. All told, that would symbolize reasonable achievement—and bring in more money for appearing in another continental competition.
However, finishing 8th or worse would represent a comedown from its high standards. If consistent performances don’t arrive, Roig—a minority owner at Spanish retail giant Mercadona—will look at fresh leadership to ensure Villarreal stays amongst the best in the country.
Barcelona-beating Almería confident
Villarreal’s upcoming league opponent is lowly Almería, a team with more grounded expectations. Near the relegation zone, its results have fluctuated from the ridiculous, a 6-2 rout at Girona, to the outstanding after toppling Barcelona to leave the title race still in the balance.
Avoiding the drop would mark a success for the Andalusians, having gained promotion to compete at this level in the first place. With Al-Sheikh watching over, Almería has recruited smartly and got the most from its squad—especially during home games at the rebranded Power Horse Stadium.
Largie Ramazani is one example—a youth player signed for free. Meanwhile, Mali forward El Bilal Touré is proving a handy replacement for Umar Sadiq, whom it sold to Real Sociedad €20 million ($21 million).
While demotion would slightly derail the project—and lead to less allocated funds to spend on players—Almería can take comfort in being well-run by its Saudi owner. And as long as Al-Sheikh continues to dedicate enough time and resources to the project, it should be fine.
Then there’s Valencia, in peril and chancing second division soccer for the first time in nearly 40 years unless it can climb the table between now and the summer.
Its primary issues stem from a flaky sporting plan under owner Lim, with protests against the magnate intensifying lately. Although fans would prefer to see a team thriving in La Liga, they know simply staying afloat for another year won’t do much to disrupt the structure from the top down, meaning it’s in a particularly awkward predicament.
Indeed, it may take something more dramatic—like a relegation or even more emptying Mestalla seats—for things to change. They will probably worsen before they improve at one of Spain’s most historic clubs.
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