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Yeremy Pino: Villarreal wonderkid who rejected Barcelona

4:00 AM EDT 5/26/21
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The 18-year-old has enjoyed a breakout campaign at El Madrigal and could become the youngest winner of the Europa League on Wednesday

Regardless of the result on Wednesday, this promises to be a momentous week in the history of Villarreal.

Their Europa League showdown with Manchester United marks the club's first ever European final, less than 20 years after they first played in continental competition.

Much of their success since the turn of the century has been built around their academy, with the likes of Santi Cazorla, Bruno Soriano and current Spain No.9 Gerard Moreno having flourished both in La Liga and further afield.

The latest youngster to emerge from that production line, meanwhile, looks set to follow in their footsteps after a breakout campaign in 2020-21.

Even before Villarreal landed in Poland, this has been a memorable week for Yeremy Pino, who rounded off the season by becoming the youngest player to score an away league goal against Real Madrid in the 21st century.

The 18-year-old has another record in his sights, too, as he could become the youngest player to win the Europa League if the Yellow Submarine can take down the Red Devils in Gdansk, breaking a record currently held by Robin van Persie, who won what was then the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord in 2002.

It is a competition that has already been good to Yeremy this season, too.

Having sat out the opening month of the season due to a positive coronavirus test, he celebrated his 18th birthday in October by making his first-team debut against Sivasspor two days later.

A week on, he was again celebrating, this time after cutting inside and unleashing a superb strike into the top corner for his first senior goal against Qarabag.

In between, he had also been handed a La Liga debut by Unai Emery.

"The truth is that I was not expecting it," Yeremy told La Provincia of his breakthrough into the senior ranks. "I tried to do the best I could and he (Emery) kept giving me opportunities.

"In the end, you have so much desire and so much enthusiasm that you grow because things are turning out well. The coach and the club believe a lot in the academy and it shows."

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With one game to go, Yeremy already has seven goals to show for his campaign, finding the net, on average, every 170 minutes.

His form over the winter even instigated the premature departure of Take Kubo, as the star summer signing from Real Madrid cut his loan deal short in January before joining Getafe because he had not been able to force his way into the team ahead of Yeremy.

What makes Canary Islander stand out is his willingness to take on opposition defenders in one-on-one situations, as well as the confidence he shows when cutting in from the left onto his favoured right foot when in shooting positions.

His game has been likened to that of Arjen Robben, though he learned a lot of his skills on the streets, as his first taste of academy football did not arrive until he was 11, after he had been signed by hometown club Las Palmas.

Yeremy first came to the attention of teams on the Spanish mainland during a national tournament for regional teams at the age of 14, with his performances for the Canary Islands catching the eye of both Villarreal and Barcelona.

Both clubs were keen to sign him, and while the pull of La Masia is generally hard to resist, Yeremy was instead won over by the facilities and quality of teaching on offer at Villarreal's Miralcamp training centre.

It has proven the right decision, with the teenager having dazzled on his way through the youth ranks in Castellon, making his debut for Villarreal 'C' in the fourth tier of Spanish football at the age of 16.

"Yeremy stands out for his character," Villarreal Under-23s assistant coach, Nando Martinez, told El Pais. "The more difficult the challenge, the more able he is to demonstrate his potential.

"He maintains the essence of when he played on the street as a child. In addition, he lives for football, and every day ensures he has the right complementary training, nutrition and rest.

"Yeremy has been, and is, a blessing for his coaches."

As well as proving a standout performer at club level, the wideman has also been a regular in Spain's various age-group sides, though it was with La Rojita that he suffered one of the worst moments of his short career.

Despite being named in Spain's squad for the 2019 U17 World Cup, he never got the chance to play in Brazil after an unfortunate and scary incident involving his fellow Canarian, Barcelona starlet Pedri.

During a training session ahead of the tournament, Yeremy was caught in the eye by Pedri's foot, leaving him without sight for around an hour. Though the potentially career-threatening situation resolved itself, he was advised to travel home and recover.

Just over 18 months on, he will be part of Spain's squad for the knockout stages of the U21s European Championship, starting with their quarter-final against Croatia on Monday, and could yet force his way into contention for a place at this summer's Olympic Games.

First, though, he has a European trophy to win, and more history to make.