Few young defenders have made a quicker impact on LaLiga than Villarreal’s Pau Torres, with the physically and technically gifted centre-back’s present quality and future potential clear for all to see.
Just three months after making his first LaLiga Santander start, the composed and committed 22-year-old impressed sufficiently to earn a call up to Spain’s senior international side. He then scored just 59 seconds into his La Roja debut, in November’s 7-0 Euro 2020 qualifier against Malta, with Villarreal clubmates Santi Cazorla, Gerard Moreno and centre-back partner Raul Albiol all on-hand to join in the celebrations. He’s now a fixture at the back for both club and country, and looks set to lead the defensive line for Spain at this summer’s European Championships.
While few would have predicted such a spectacular debut on the international stage, Torres was long seen as an outstanding defensive prospect as he moved seamlessly up towards the top senior level through recent seasons.
Born in the town of Villarreal in January 1997, when the town’s club had not yet dreamed of playing at LaLiga Santander level, Torres joined their youth ranks aged just six years old, and also overcame a serious double leg break as a teenager as he progressed towards the senior ranks.
The 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons saw him a regular starter as Villarreal’s B side challenged for promotion from the Segunda B third tier. His first team debut came aged 19 in the Copa del Rey in December 2016, while he also gained European experience in that season’s Europa League with the seniors and Youth League with the under-19s. The following year he made his LaLiga Santander debut as a late substitute at Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium.
Other clubs had also been following his progression carefully, and Malaga took him on loan for 2018/19 campaign. He played 40 times in LaLiga SmartBank last season, as the Andalusian side also just missed out on promotion to LaLiga Santander. A first senior goal came at Osasuna in November 2018, but it was his defensive solidity and calmness on the ball which really impressed with the Andalusians.
Then-Villarreal first team coach Javi Calleja had been a close follower of Torres’ development, and decided to make him a first-choice central defender for 2019/20 alongside experienced veteran Raul Albiol. The complementary pairing clicked immediately, playing almost every minute together over the first 15 matches of the LaLiga season.
Despite being new to the top level, Torres was not overawed by taking on big name attackers like Karim Benzema and Luis Suarez as Villarreal matched Real Madrid in a 2-2 draw at the Estadio de la Ceramica and were narrowly defeated 2-1 at Barcelona’s Camp Nou. The opening weeks also saw the youngster also got his first senior goal for his hometown club, again at Osasuna’s El Sadar.
Quick to learn, the left-footed now 24-year-old is excellent in the air, no surprise given his 1.91 metre frame, and impressive at reading the game. Well capable of passing the ball accurately out from the back, he has said he modelled his play on Villarreal legend Bruno Soriano.
In fact, Giuseppe Rossi, Villarreal’s all-time leading goalscorer who trained with the first-team squad back in 2019 with a view to making a comeback following a series of serious knee injuries, declared that “the sky is the limit” for the youngster.
In spite of his age, Torres is now a regular for Spain and one of the finest centre-backs in LaLiga. His quality has been instrumental in Villarreal’s run to the UEFA Europa League final, and the coming years should bring much more recognition and success for one of Spain’s best defenders.