The expression on the faces of Villarreal president Fernando Roig and his board during last Sunday's 0-3 loss to Levante reflected more than annoyance.
The visiting side was busily destroying the Yellow Submarine, upon which rained boos and whistles from its own fans. Roig has always been the principal champion of Villarreal's coach, Juan Carlos Garrido. However, a few hours after the match, Roig sent his son, Roig Negueroles, the club's chief executive, to speak with him. The message: the board's patience is not infinite.
"This is a very close-knit club and everybody knows what everybody else is thinking. It is us that has to give ourselves a wake-up call because we know we are not doing things well," admitted Garrido.
"At this moment we are not going to make any comment on the coach or the team," Villarreal vice president José Manuel Llaneza said.
At this stage last season, Villarreal was in third place having won six of its first eight matches. Before Wednesday's game at the Bernabéu, Villarreal had just one victory to its name so far this season and is firmly rooted to the wrong end of the table. It has also lost all three of its Champions League games. Garrido has not been helped by the injuries sustained by his forward line at the beginning of the season. Nilmar has been out for a month and is not expected to be ready to play for at least another, while Marco Rubén has also been sidelined. "The injuries have obliged us to change the system," said Garrido, who has only one first team striker, Giuseppe Rossi, available.
Garrido took the reins at Villarreal 20 months ago after Ernesto Valverde, who was unable to understand the philosophy of the club, was sacked. The incoming coach believed he was in the place he deserved, even before the hiring of Valverde. He recovered the team's playing style and qualified for the Europa League after Mallorca's disqualification by Uefa over its financial woes.
The arrivals of Borja Valero and Carlos Marchena improved the team and Villarreal racked up 39 points in the first half of the season, adding 23 in the second to qualify for the Champions League. Villarreal also reached the semifinals of the Europa League where it was humbled by eventual winner Porto, with Garrido's thin squad showing signs of fatigue - just 14 players bore the main brunt of the entire campaign.
Roig and his directors are backing Garrido primarily because they know that Villarreal's slump in form is the result of poor planning. During the summer, the club's fans made plain their discontent over the sale of Spain international Santi Cazorla, who tried to stay until the last moment in spite of the fact that his eventual destination, Málaga, was willing to almost double his wages. They knew that the team would miss its playmaker. So did the players themselves. "We have lost a finger," said Marcos Senna. "Our sense of identity has gone," added Valero.
The team had been left without its soul. Garrido preferred to let Cazorla leave rather than Rossi, who had been courted by several clubs including Barcelona, and also sanctioned the departure of Joan Capdevila, another Spain international and another player who united the locker room.
Villarreal's precarious financial situation was Roig's justification for the sale of Cazorla. The 19 million euros received from Málaga was much needed. However, trusting in the club's previous good eye for a signing, practically all of that income was reinvested in three players: Javier Camuñas, Cristian Zapata and Jonathan de Guzmán, none of whom has noticeably improved a Villarreal whose principal players, with the exception of Bruno Soriano, are performing well below their usual standard. De Guzmán was requested by Garrido, but the Canada-born Dutchman is no Cazorla.
Without the backing of the club's fans, Garrido for the moment has the support of a board that is less convinced by the day and, it appears, of his players. "The technical staff is the best we could have," said Rossi.