By Andreas Vou (@AndreasVou89)
Villarreal are embarking on a surprise push for Champions League football this campaign, and much of that is down to their midfield lynchpin who, over the years, has defied the norms of modern football to help reconvert the Yellow Submarine into a force in Spain.
At 31 years of age and with over 250 appearances for the club, it could be forgiven if Bruno Soriano was unable to maintain the stellar performances of his younger days, yet the Spaniard’s influence in the center of the park continues to get stronger with each passing game.
This small club from Castellon has been home to a handful of mesmeric midfielders, with the likes of Santi Cazorla, Marcos Senna, and Juan Roman Riquelme contributing massively to the club’s meteoric rise since the turn of the century. Bruno may not have the same global reputation as some of his former colleagues, but his legacy merits just as much recognition.
Bruno is the antithesis of the modern footballer; despite consistently being courted by some of Europe’s top teams, he has remained loyal to his lifelong club through both the best and the very worst of times.
Born in Artana, a village situated just 20 kilometers from El Madrigal, it is easy to understand why Bruno’s connection to Villarreal has remained so strong. After graduating from the club’s academy, Bruno played for Villarreal B in the fourth tier of Spanish football from 2004 to 2007. His three appearances with the first team in the 2006-07 campaign were enough to catch the eye of manager Manuel Pellegrini, who promoted the then-23-year-old to the first team.
Villarreal went on to achieve their best ever season in La Liga, beating FC Barcelona to second spot, behind only Real Madrid in the standings. The slick central midfielder earned his place alongside Senna in midfield for the large part of the season but it would not be plain sailing from then on, as he was edged out by Sebastian Eguren towards the end.
And the arrival of Edmilson in the summer of 2008 meant more competition for Bruno. Others may have grumbled or looked to have forced a move but that was never an option for Bruno who instead voiced his keenness to play in an unfamiliar left-back position in order to help the team.
He would eventually go on to become a mainstay in the side, as Villarreal became an established club, challenging at the higher ends of La Liga and playing in European competition. That was until the unthinkable happened in 2012, when the club was relegated.
Villarreal began to fall apart: Borja Valero and Giuseppe Rossi were sold to Fiorentina and Diego Lopez moved to Sevilla, as Europe’s big names sniffed an opportunity to raid the wounded club.
For Bruno, interest from Atletico Madrid and Valencia were well-documented, as well as links to Arsenal, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, but he remained loyal. Instead of looking for a quick exit, the midfielder stayed on to help his beloved club return to La Liga, which was achieved at the first time of asking.
That gesture alone cemented him as a club great, and interest from big clubs has never ceased. Sergio Ramos openly admitted that he tried to convince Real Madrid president Florentino President to sign him in 2014 after the club sold Xabi Alonso: “I have always thought of him as a great ball player.”
Bruno became a full international in 2011, and would certainly have gone on to make many more had he accepted the riches of one of Spain’s big two.
But Bruno’s chosen career path is one to be lauded, such is the rarity of his loyalty in the fast-paced business that football is today.
The 31-year-old is still going strong in his ninth season with the first team, and is leading Villarreal’s charge for a return to Europe’s elite. Bruno has even notched a few rare yet crucial goals this campaign, and few will have felt sweeter than his free-kick to secure victory in the local derby against Valencia.
Bruno’s decision to remain loyal to Villarreal through all the hardships and temptations took immense courage, and managing to guide them back into the Champions League wearing the captain’s armband will be the ultimate validation that it was all worthwhile.