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Villarreal star Torres ready to join one of Europe’s elite clubs after silencing Lewandowski

09:00 BST 12/04/2022
Pau Torres Villarreal 2021-22
The centre-back was key to his side beating Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, but will likely leave this summer

Villarreal is not a big place. There are around 51,000 residents, which would fill barely two-thirds of Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena.

One of them, born in this tiny city a little over 25 years ago, is Pau Torres.

The Spanish centre-back came through the youth ranks at Villarreal, established his place in the first team and, last week, helped his beloved club pull off one of the biggest results in their 99-year history.

Torres kept Robert Lewandowski quiet as the Yellow Submarine earned a 1-0 win over visitors Bayern Munich, and to tell the truth, it could have been more.

The eyes of the world - and scheming sporting directors across Europe - will be watching as Torres tries to repeat the trick on Tuesday and help Villarreal reach the Champions League semi-finals, matching their best-ever campaign in the tournament.

In 2005-06, they beat Inter on away goals in the quarters, but were eliminated by Arsenal as a 1-0 defeat at Highbury was enough to seal their fate, thanks to Kolo Toure’s goal.

Midfielders Marcos Senna and Juan Roman Riquelme were that team’s stand-out names, while this time around, Arnaut Danjuma, Gerard Moreno and Torres are the flag bearers.

It was Argentina playmaker Riquelme who missed a crucial penalty in the 88th minute of the second leg against Arsenal, a 0-0 draw, which would have sent the game to extra-time.

Torres, eight years old and watching in the stands at El Madrigal, cried.

"Of course there were tears, those of an enraged child, who wanted his team to go through and be in a Champions League final,” he told Marca last season, before getting revenge of sorts on Arsenal in the Europa League semi-finals, and beating Manchester United on penalties to win the trophy - converting his own spot-kick into the top corner, no less.

The second leg in Munich, though, will be the biggest test of Torres’ career, as Bayern prepare to attack Villarreal to make up the ground they lost in Spain. 

Julian Nagelsmann’s side are built to destroy teams going forward, and a double date with Lewandowski usually leads to goals arriving for the striker. He has 46 goals in 40 club appearances this season, and it was his strike that earned Bayern a 1-0 victory over Augsburg on Saturday.

But it is precisely because of opportunities to make history on spring nights like these that Torres is still at Villarreal. And why he might not be for much longer.

Tottenham came for him last summer, offering to quadruple his salary, but Torres quickly resolved to stay.

“The pull of playing the Champions League with the team from my town was bigger,” he told The Guardian. “I was clear from the start. This is only the fourth time Villarreal reached the Champions League, which shows how hard it is and it was a dream to play the competition with my lifelong club.”

Antonio Conte’s side have picked up form in recent weeks and they may return for Torres in the summer, while he is also being linked to other Premier League sides, including Manchester United and Manchester City.

Chelsea, who are set to lose Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, might also be interested if by the summer they are allowed to purchase players again.

The left-footed defender was also previously considered a potential replacement for Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid, and they too may be interested again come the summer.

Torres was in Luis Enrique’s Spain squad for Euro 2020 and will likely be heading to the 2022 World Cup with his country. In the 6-0 Nations League win over Germany in 2020, he completed 115 passes, more than any other player had against them for a decade.

His quality on the ball makes him attractive for coaches like Pep Guardiola - and potentially Erik ten Hag if he takes over at Manchester United - although he is not afraid of a physical confrontation. Ask Leon Goretzka, who was left with blood streaming down his face after they clashed for the ball last week.

The threat of Torres leaving has hung over Villarreal for quite some time, with coach Unai Emery taking umbrage at that line of questioning when he overheard a pitchside reporter asking Torres about interest from Madrid and Barcelona.

“Ah! The little question,” said Emery, off-camera. “For God’s sake, the little question.” Later the coach said that if Torres leaves Villarreal, “it has to be for Madrid or Barca”.

Despite the prior links with Madrid, it is not hard to see why the Catalans would be interested in him. What is good for Luis Enrique’s Spain team is likely going to be good for Xavi’s Barcelona side, after all.

With Ferran Torres, Ansu Fati, Eric Garcia, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Gavi, among others, they have plenty of links to La Roja already.

Cost may prove to be an issue, though, with Villarreal unlikely to let the defender go cheaply as his contract runs until 2024 - and his display against Lewandowski and Bayern only added to his price tag.

Torres is not bad at the other end of the pitch, either, as he showed in the 3-0 win over Juventus in Turin, netting from a flicked-on corner. “It’s the most important goal of my career,” said Torres. So far, at least.

Europe’s giants will try to tear him away from his hometown club sooner or later, and even though Torres has thus far resisted, as Villarreal did against Bayern Munich, you get the feeling it will not last forever.

He has got a taste for the Champions League now, and with Villarreal currently seventh in La Liga, they will not be in next season’s competition - unless they go on to win it this year.

Unlikely, perhaps, but as they showed at the Estadio de la Ceramica, it is not impossible.