Pau Torres proffers a phrase that, in his mind, sums up Villarreal – both the football club and the town. “I think the saying ‘Sempre endavant’, which the club also uses as its motto, is very representative of this town: we always look forward, towards the future.”
That motto literally means “Always onwards.” It applies pretty well to Torres’s own career with his home-town side, the fruits of which include the Europa League winners’ medal he collected last May and this season’s Champions League adventure. And, as the centre-back explains, it applies neatly to the place itself as well. This is an unpretentious town, an hour north of Valencia on Spain’s east coast, that is home to just over 50,000 inhabitants but has gained worldwide renown thanks to its football team.
“The club has put Villarreal on the map, nationally and internationally,” says Torres. “In the Valencia region, and the Castellón province, we are like lots of the other towns around us – but because of football, people know who we are.” He should know, having grown up in Vila-real (to spell it as the locals do). Indeed, save for the 2018/19 campaign spent on loan at Málaga, Torres has been with Villarreal his entire career so far. Of course, he may yet head for pastures new but as it stands, he’s in esteemed company: the likes of Paolo Maldini, Paul Scholes and Francesco Totti were all local one-club men.
The 25-year-old goes on to explain how his town has been following a similar path to his career. “It has changed – it’s become a bigger town,” he says. “When I was little there weren’t many of the restaurants that we have now. The town square has also changed completely. We’ve had the same cinemas since I was little but we have those big brands, big fast-food chains. And the biggest change has been the football stadium, of course.”
That tight, cosy ground, flanked by narrow streets, opens at one end onto a square where the locals congregate in bars prior to matches. Indeed, on a big European night, it can feel like the whole town has come out to show support. These days the stadium is wrapped in striking yellow tiles – as befits the club’s Yellow Submarine moniker – and has swapped its original name of El Madrigal for La Cerámica, a nod to the most important local industry. The club’s billionaire owner, Fernando Roig, owns Pamesa, the ceramics company that sponsors Villarreal’s shirts (as well as being a part-owner of Mercadona, Spain’s biggest supermarket chain).