With only Barcelona and Real Madrid ahead of them in Spain's Primera Liga, Villarreal have abundant faith in Juan Carlos Garrido and his 'this is a family club' approach to football.
Juan Carlos Garrido: Villarreal's family guy
The man in the centre circle with the whistle carries the authority of an army general. He is bigger than the professional footballers around him, taller, heavier, sterner. He transmits ideas, orders and enthusiasm. He is respected.
Juan Carlos Garrido, 41, has been Villarreal's first-team coach for less than a year, but he is a long-term fixture at the club from Vila-real, a town of about 42,000 an hour north of Spain's third biggest city, Valencia.
Garrido has worked for Villarreal for 12 years. A local boy, he grew up nearby in a small village by the sea close to Valencia. A moderate amateur footballer, he was 21 when he decided he wanted to be a coach.
He is now in charge of the team who are third in Spain's Primera Liga. Only Barcelona and Real Madrid are ahead of them and such has been his impact at Villarreal, he has just been offered and signed a new three-year contract which will keep him at the club until 2014.
Given the lack of longevity in the coaching profession in a country where Real Madrid have used eight coaches in as many years, he is actually one of the few coaches in Spain who is likely to see his contract out.
Garrido invited journalists to see him at the place he calls work. Sure, we could do the interview over the telephone, but then we would not see what Villarreal is really about.
We would miss how busy the training ground is, with its training fields full of children. Youngsters from local schools, youngsters who are part of the Villarreal academy.
One hundred of them live on the site, where they train in the morning and study at an adjacent school in the afternoon. Their bedrooms overlook the pitch where Garrido takes training. If they want to see what they can achieve all they have to do is look out of the window.
There they can watch players such as Spanish internationals Joan Capdevila, Marcos Senna, Bruno or Carlos Marchena. Or there will be the Brazil forward Nilmar, Italy's Giuseppe Rossi, or Jozy Altidore from the United States.
Yet Villarreal are not only about big- name internationals or foreign stars. They have one of the best youth systems in football and promoted nine B team players into their first team at the start of this season.
As well as the players, the youngsters in their bedrooms and the youth team can watch the coach, motivated and working alongside his assistant Raul, who happens to be his brother.
"This is a family club," said Garrido after training. "We're all together on one site, the first team, the second team, the youth teams. Even the stadium of the reserve team is here. All the players use the same canteen. There, they can speak to people like Paquito, a club legend who managed here. He watches us train most days."
"I've been to Manchester United and Liverpool in England to see how they train. United's training centre at Carrington is the best I've seen and their coach [Sir Alex] Ferguson an example for me. I watched how he was in control of everything, yet he also created a family spirit. You don't get that at many clubs."
Villarreal's main 25,000 capacity El Madrigal stadium can be seen from the training centre, the towering stand behind one goal almost too big for a town which boasts just one hotel.
Average crowds are 18,000 - a staggering percentage given the limited population - with season tickets as cheap as €10 (Dh48) per game. For their comparatively modest outlay, fans get to see top-level domestic and European football, whereas in England, for example, towns of a similar size stage third division football.
Garrido loves the set-up.
"The people who make the decisions are all here," he said. "If I have a problem then I can speak to my president or sporting director, two people who have offices 10 metres from mine. At other clubs you can wait a month for a decision; here I can have one in 10 minutes."
Having a wealthy benefactor helps; in Villarreal's case it is Fernando Roig, a ceramics entrepreneur. Despite a collapse in Spain's construction industry leading to a downturn in the ceramics industry, Villarreal are one of the few clubs in Spain on a solid financial footing.
They cut their wage bill from €80 million last season to €67m this, but they are still the sixth best payers in Spain behind Real Madrid, Barca, Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla.
Their wage bill is tiny compared with Real's €450m annual outlay, but it appears lavish alongside the €22m paid at Almeria or even Deportivo La Coruna's €55m. The Yellow Submarines also pay their players on time, which is not taken for granted in Iberia.
That wage bill also covers Villarreal's B team, who became the only B team in Spanish football to reach Spain's second division in 2009.
They have since been joined by Barca B, but it remains an impressive achievement for such a small club. The man responsible for their exponential rise? Garrido.
"I began here 12 years ago," he said. "Eight years I was in charge of the B team and led them to three promotions. Winning promotion to the second division was the highlight of my career.
"People said that we couldn't do it, that no other team had managed it, not even Barca or Madrid. So we went to the key game against a team who had not been beaten at home all season.
"There were 18,000 there; we were used to playing front of 500. It was very tense, the crowd were against us, but we won. It's moments like that which make you love football."
Before that, Garrido had started coaching at the age of 21 at his village club by the beach in El Puig, where he also played.
"I was younger than virtually all of the players," he said. "But they respected me. I learned a lot when I was young, not just about coaching on the pitch, but working with people."
His no-nonsense approach has brought dividends and he has been credited with restoring the club's style following the misjudged appointment of Ernesto Valverde after Manuel Pellegrini's departure to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009.
Garrido praises Pellegrini, who served the club for five years, as "the most successful coach in Villarreal's history" and said: "I learned so much from him, but you can't copy other people, you have to be your own man."
Garrido is that. We were speaking three days after he confronted Barca's Pep Guardiola on the Camp Nou touchline during a league game.
Upset at Guardiola's persistent moaning, Garrido rose from the bench and told him to shut up. The stunned Guardiola quickly quietened down in the face of an equally smartly suited rival.
The pair shook hands after the game, when Guardiola lavished praise on Garrido's Yellow Submarines, describing them as "one of the best teams in the world". The respect is mutual, with Garrido naming Guardiola in his best ever Spanish XI. He brushed away talk of any spat.
"I prefer to remember going to Camp Nou and trying to win by playing our passing game using a 4-4-2 system which we play all the time, even in training," he said. "I tell my players to want the ball all the time. When we have the ball we can attack. It wasn't easy against Barca because they have a similar philosophy and great players, but it was difficult for them, too."
Garrido is full of admiration for the players at Spain's big two, but at the same time he resents how the clubs are so financially pampered. Unlike in England's Premier League, where television money is distributed relatively evenly among clubs, the disparity is vast in Spain.
"It's simply not fair," Garrido said. "And it needs to be resolved or it will damage Spanish football. Sevilla, the third-placed team in Spain last season, finished 25 points behind Real Madrid in second. That's not good for the league. There are proposals for a fairer system and I hope they are made."
In spite of the handicaps, Garrido is confident of success. His team are unbeaten at home, where they have scored 15 and conceded just two goals in seven games. Tomorrow they host Real Mallorca, a game they would expect to win.
"We showed that we can play against Barcelona in Camp Nou," he said. "We have a very clear philosophy of how football should be played here at Villarreal and that doesn't change from the young players to the first team. We play an attacking 4-4-2 where we like to dominate games.
"We have good players coming through our system all the time and they know exactly how to play. They also have the perfect role models on the training field every day with players like Joan Capdevila, whose professionalism has won him the World Cup and the European championships.
"I want to be here coaching Villarreal. Maybe in the future I would like to coach in England or France or Italy [Garrido speaks five languages including French and English], but I'm ambitious to win trophies here at Villarreal."
Villarreal: The little club that grew
- Villarreal became the smallest town to host Champions League football in 2005. The Yellow Submarines reached the semi-finals in their first season, before being knocked out by Arsenal.
- Villarreal’s average crowd last season was 17,000, a considerable increase on the 500 or so they were attracting as a third division club throughout the 1980s. Neighbouring Castellon, once of the Primera Liga, were traditionally the biggest team in the area. They were relegated from the second division last season and now play in a league below Villarreal’s reserves. Their fans are among the few not to be enamoured by Villarreal’s rise.
- Villarreal were promoted to the Primera Liga for the first time in 1998/99. Relegated after one season, they bounced back immediately and have been there ever since.
Villarreal’s highest league position was second in 2007/2008 – when they finished 10 points ahead of Barcelona. They have finished in the top seven in each of the last six seasons and become European regulars.
- Diego Forlan and Juan Roman Riquelme both credit the club with kick-starting their careers after flopping at Manchester United and Barcelona respectively.Forlan remains Villarreal’s all-time leading Primera Liga scorer with 54 goals in three seasons. He won the first of two European Golden boots at the club in 2005.
- Fernando Roig, 63, the president, is now in his 14th season at the club. He offered free season tickets to match-going fans who became unemployed last season.
- El Madrigal has continually been expanded to meet demand. The current capacity is 25,400 – more than half the population of the town – but there is little room for further expansion.
- Villarreal’s long term sponsor is a local airport. Which has yet to be built.
- Other former big name players include Robert Pires, Pepe Reina and Martin Palermo.