The ‘Derbi de la Comunitat’, and the little brother who is growing up fast
In eastern Spain thrives a football rivalry that has family discord and underdog drama at its heart. The namesake capital of the community of Valencia boasts several rivalries in which Valencia CF has always played the dominant protagonist. It is the youngest of these rivals, though, that has disrupted Valencia’s long-standing supremacy, with the emergence of Villarreal CF creating a Valencia-Villarreal footballing duopoly that is inexorably linked to the Roig family’s monopoly over the industrial and sporting economy of Valencia. It is a fascinating football rivalry that has gone from strength to strength, so much so that Copa90 just had to know more about how the rivalry came about and how it has developed. It all starts with a family by the name of Roig…
Until 1997, Valencia CF were the undisputed kings of football in the community of Valencia. Their main rivals at that time were Levante UD, as both clubs battled for power in the capital city of Valencia. But, even then, Levante’s time at the top was fleeting. Valencia were relatively untroubled by Villarreal CF, the only football club of a tiny city nearby who, despite being founded in 1923, had spent most of their 80 years in the lower leagues. This changed though when Fernando Roig, one of the three Roig brothers who had a strong hold on the economy, business and sport of Valencia, became the majority shareholder of Villarreal. After seemingly being frozen out of a shareholding of Valencia by his brother Francisco, who was the president of Valencia from 1994 to 1997, Fernando Roig decided to invest in the club of the town where he had his ‘Mercadona’ business – Villarreal. Within a few years of his presidency and with strong financial backing, Villarreal acquired high-profile players such as Sonny Anderson and Juan Román Riquelme. It was these star players that helped Villarreal shrug off the notion that they were nothing more than Valencia’s harmless little brother, and during the 2003-2004 campaign, Valencia’s cursory glance over the shoulder swiftly turned into a genuine fear of being overtaken. The power in the community of Valencia was shifting, and on the 7th May 2004, a UEFA Cup semi final between the two sides would taint the formerly friendly, ‘brotherly’ rivalry with bad blood.
A controversial penalty awarded to Valencia and converted by Mista denied the side from Villarreal their first ever UEFA Cup Final. Even though Valencia advanced to the Final, which they went on to win comfortably against Marseille in Gothenburg, they were surprised and cautious of their lowly neighbour’s rise. Naturally they revelled in the defeat of their rivals, but they also feared the sense of injustice that plagued the Villarreal fans – not so much at the penalty decision that went against them, which was indeed debatable, but the feeling that their coming-of-age was cut short. They felt that this was a team that deserved to go through against a side that had reigned uncontested in Valencia for almost a century. Valencia knew this too, and knew that they could no longer rely on the incompetence of their neighbours to remain the strongest team in the Valencian community. From this point on, both sets of fans held each other at arm’s length inside and outside the stadium. No longer could they sit together peacefully in the stands, nor share a table at the restaurant before the game – the Valencia-Villarreal rivalry had simultaneously soured and flourished, and the fans knew it.
Fast-forward a decade and we find the Derby de la Comunitat in as tense a state as ever. With Valencia effectively sending Villarreal down to the Second Division in 2012 (and celebrating it as if they had just won the Champions League), the already frayed relations became irretrievably thin. Now that Villarreal have come back up to La Liga and look set to solidify their place in the league for years to come, the Valencia faithful best start looking over their shoulder, or else their vengeful little brother might overtake them for good.