Q&A with Villarreal fan Saul Ramos
What's the mood like in Spain ahead of Tuesday's key Champions League game between Villarreal and Manchester United?
Dedicated Villarreal fan Saul Ramos fills us in...
Villarreal fans must be on cloud nine at the moment, following the Europa League triumph?
“What happened last season was unbelievable. It might happen again, but it would never be the same. I have memories of going to the stadium with my friends when I was really young – eight, nine, 10 – and we played in the third division! We got maybe 500-600 people. Compare it to now: we’re playing in the best competition in the world. I couldn’t believe my eyes, being in Poland watching that game. It’s different for United supporters, for other supporters, who have won lots of trophies. But finally our dream became true, so you can imagine how I felt.”
Were you confident ahead of the final in Poland?
“At first I thought: wow, Manchester. But a game is always a game, and any rival can beat you. Football is more balanced now than it used to be; teams are better collectively. And when it got to penalties, everything became even more balanced, obviously. At that moment I knew it was 50-50 and we had every chance. We don’t have such great individuals, but we have a great team and a good manager.”
Did you go to the game, or were you watching in Spain?
“Of course I went! I had never seen Villarreal supporters like that. Never. I don’t think we’re ever going to repeat it. I was also in Belfast [for the Super Cup], by the way! There was a very special atmosphere. We have a lot of families – probably it’s more similar to America, when they go to baseball, with families, kids and quite a lot of older people and women. We have a lot of female supporters, which is important to us. We are quite peaceful; we don’t usually get into trouble. It was an unbelievable day.”
And what was the atmosphere like when you arrived back in Spain?
“I was really exhausted, that’s the first thing! I had no sleep for almost 34 hours. When we got to Villarreal, the buses parked just opposite one of the secondary schools in the city. When students saw us getting off the bus with yellow shirts they started shouting at us. It was quite touching. And then we had special celebrations in the street, in the afternoon, and quite a lot of people who weren’t available to attend in Poland joined us. It was very special.”
For people who don’t know, what is Villarreal like as a place?
“It has about 50,000 inhabitants and is a quite small city. When I was younger, the town was even smaller. Basically, most people work for tile companies! Pamesa is one of Fernando Roig’s companies; he’s the president [of Villarreal]. The company located in Villarreal is Porcelanosa and Pamesa is located in Almassora, which is just 500 metres from Villarreal. It’s a small community, where football means a lot. You go to the supporters’ club, and you almost know everybody in there.”
Tell us about your supporters’ club…
“It’s called Penya Celtic Submari supporters’ club. We are moving to a new place as we speak actually, but I told them I wouldn’t be able to help as I was talking to Manchester United [laughs]! It’s a new place, bigger, with better conditions. You are all invited to join us when United play here, because it seems something tells us to play against Manchester again and again! In Villarreal they tell an anecdote that we wanted to play a friendly against Manchester years ago, and Sir Alex Ferguson said we were not good enough! I don’t know if it’s true…”
You mentioned your manager earlier. In England, Unai Emery is associated with Arsenal, where he wasn’t so successful, but is he untouchable at Villarreal after the final in Gdansk?
“At this moment. Though results are results and finally they always decide in football! And I think you have more patience in England than we have in Spain. In Gdansk, before the match, Emery gave [Vicente] Iborra, who was injured, the chance to be the leader and make a short speech. There is a video of it and it almost made me cry! That was important; it gave the team a lift. He’s a good coach, but maybe a better psychologist and communicator. He’s been one of the best we’ve ever had, together with [Manuel] Pellegrini. He always surprises.”
What are your ambitions for this season, now you’ve bagged that first trophy?
“Our next ambition, or our next dream, probably would be to win the league, but that’s much more difficult. In a final, it’s only one match. During a long competition like a league, match after match after match, the gap to your rivals can become too big. But we’ve bought very good new footballers actually. I think we spent or invested more than any other Spanish team during this summer, beating even Barcelona – which is not difficult at the moment! – and Real Madrid. But we still have to build a good team with those players.”
This interview was first published in United Review, prior to the clash with Villarreal at Old Trafford in September.