Villarreal rising star Yeremi Pino, the Europa League’s youngest ever champion

Yeremi ‘Yeremy’ Pino’s 2020/21 season was a rollercoaster. It started with a positive COVID-19 test, which saw him forced into isolation in the first month of the season, but the winger finished the campaign on a high by becoming the youngest ever winner of the Europa League. He lifted the huge trophy into the Gdańsk sky at the age of 18 years and 218 days, prising the long-standing record away from Robin van Persie.

Despite his youth, Yeremy was a key part of that Europa League run as Villarreal won their first ever major trophy, featuring in nine of the Yellow Submarine’s 14 matches. From coming off the bench to make his senior debut in a Europa League group game against Sivasspor to starting the final against Manchester United, the teenager had a European campaign to remember.

There was a goal in a match against Qarabağ, but Yeremy’s most important contribution came in the semi-final second leg away at Arsenal. Then, Samu Chukwueze suffered an injury just 30 minutes into the game and Unai Emery turned to Pino for what was going to be the most important hour of football of his life. He delivered. By breaking lines and keeping the ball, he helped relieve the pressure on Villarreal’s defence at decisive moments as they earned the goalless draw necessary to qualify for the final.

It’s fair to say that Yeremy became one of Emery’s most important players by the end of the 2020/21 campaign, even scoring against Real Madrid in the final LaLiga Santander match of the season. Had he not missed the start of that campaign with coronavirus, he could have become a starter even earlier.

Whether he starts or comes off the bench, Yeremy will always give every ounce of energy he has. His style of play is both urgent and smooth at the same time, with the winger even described as “a street footballer” by some of his former coaches. It was there that he first learned how to play, perfecting his craft on the streets of his native Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, as a youngster.

After spending time in UD Las Palmas’ academy, Yeremy stood out at youth football tournaments and received various offers from top LaLiga Santander clubs to continue his footballing education in their schools. Villarreal’s proposal stood out and Pino moved to the mainland and the east coast club in 2017.

The attraction of Villarreal makes sense since the academy is one of the very best in Europe, with president Fernando Roig having identified the importance of developing homegrown talent from day one. “When Roig arrived at the club, the first thing he did was build a sporting complex as he was very clear in his mind that the base of the club had to be the academy,” methodology director Luis Arnau Pilar explained in an interview with LaLiga in 2021.

Yeremy was able to refine his skills at the club’s world-class facilities, reaching the point where a top coach like Emery could rely on him in huge knockout games. Such performances earned him minutes for Spain’s U21s in this summer’s European Under-21 Championship and a place on the 100-player list of nominees for this year’s prestigious Golden Boy award.

There is still more to come from Yeremy; he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet. For Emery and for all at Villarreal, the prospect of having the 18-year-old involved in first-team training from the very first round of the season is a tantalising one. He looks set to pick up where he left off and hit the ground running this season. Watch this space!

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