All billionaire-owned, Villarreal, Almería and Valencia – listed top to bottom in the table – are nearing a final time in La Liga with their campaigns on the razor’s edge.
Led by businessman Fernando Roig, a shareholder in a supermarket chain who has made a name for himself in the ceramics industry, Villarreal is under pressure to qualify for European football. Below, Turki Al-Sheikh, head of Saudi Arabia’s general entertainment authority, faces a challenge to keep Almería in the division, as does Peter Lim at Valencia, where he is unpopular with fans.
Whether or not each team achieves its goals has other implications—both financial and managerial—in addition to determining success.
So let’s take a closer look at each club’s situation with just over a third of the season still to go.
Villarreal In the heart of Setién
Roig is well respected across the continent and has a modernized stadium. He runs a dynamic football company in Vila-real – a small town with around 50,000 inhabitants. On the pitch, the dynamics are a bit off.
Luckily for some, number seven is becoming the norm for the team. The Yellow Submarine is a decent bet to finish just outside the top 6 for the third year in a row. Currently, the team cannot shake off rivals Real Sociedad, Real Betis and even Rayo Vallecano to pose a threat closer to the top of the table.
Given their respected reputation in Europe with a Europa League title in 2021 and a Champions League semi-finals the following year, the side are not realizing their full potential in the league. Against this backdrop, former Barcelona coach Quiqué Setién has yet to prove himself at the Estadio de la Cerámica.
Sneaking into Europe must be the minimum goal, especially if Villarreal are looking to hold on to homeland hero Pau Torres, whose contract expires next year. All in all, that would symbolize a decent achievement – and earn more money to enter another continental competition.
However, an 8th or worse finish would mean relegation from his high standards. Barring consistent performances, Roig – a minority owner of Spanish retail giant Mercadona – will be looking for new leadership to ensure Villarreal is among the best in the country.
Barcelona confidently beat Almeria
Villarreal’s next league opponents are the unassuming Almería, a team with more reasonable expectations. Near the relegation zone, results have varied from ridiculous, a 6-2 defeat at Girona, to stellar results after Barcelona fell to leave the title race still in the balance.
Avoiding relegation would be a win for the Andalusians, who have only been able to compete at this level. Under Al-Sheikh’s supervision, Almería have recruited wisely and got the best out of their squad – particularly at home games at the renamed Power Horse Stadium.
Largie Ramazani is one example – a youth player signed for free. Meanwhile, Mali striker El Bilal Touré is proving to be a practical replacement for Umar Sadiq, whom he has sold to Real Sociedad for €20m.
While a downgrade would easily derail the project – and result in less allocated funds for players – Almería can rest assured that it is 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, who are in jeopardy and risking second division football for the first time in almost 40 years if they fail to climb the table by the summer.
Its main problems stem from an unreliable sporting schedule under owner Lim, with protests against the magnate rising of late. While fans would prefer to see a team thrive in La Liga, they know it doesn’t matter much to disrupt the top-down structure if they simply stay afloat for another year, which means it’s doing well is in a particularly awkward situation.
Indeed, it may take something more dramatic – like a relegation or even more empty Mestalla spots – for things to change. At one of Spain’s most storied clubs, they’re likely to get worse before they get better.