When two survivors of Villarreal's Champions League adventures under Manuel Pellegrini seven years ago finally left the Spanish club this summer, one of them – midfielder Marcos Senna – headed for the Big Apple to help restart the New York Cosmos franchise. The other, Javi Venta, chose a rather less flamboyant destination: Brentford.
If that sounds something of a comedown for a player whose only previous appearance in London had been a Champions League semi-final against Arsenal in 2006, you would never guess so from hearing the 37-year-old's enthusiasm about life at Griffin Park. "It has surprised me, especially the atmosphere and how people live their football," says the full-back, brought to west London on a 12-month deal and impressed particularly by the "professionalism" of the League One club. "No club in Spain at this level has everything Brentford does – the medical staff, coaches, facilities, organisation. The ground and the atmosphere, all of this helps you."
If these comments reflect well on the comparative health of our lower divisions, they highlight also the positivity around a club showing no signs of a hangover from last season's traumatic finale, when Marcello Trotta's injury time penalty miss against Doncaster cost them automatic promotion before defeat by Yeovil in the play-off final.
"They've not really talked about it," says Venta, whose move to England was motivated by several factors, including a longstanding curiosity about English football – he nearly joined Bolton once – and the proximity of clinics specialising in the muscular condition that afflicts his young daughter.
He was one of 10 players recruited by Brentford for another tilt at promotion in a busy off-season, which also saw the club submit to Hounslow Council a planning application for a new 20,000-seat stadium at Lionel Road, west London. His fellow new faces include Northern Ireland striker Will Grigg, who scored twice in an impressive 3-1 home win over Sheffield United a fortnight ago, and loan forward Conor McAleny, who has trodden a path from Everton already successfully taken by Adam Forshaw and Jake Bidwell.
"There are many young players here and my first impression is they've got a lot of potential," says Venta "One of them asked me what it's like playing against Messi at the Nou Camp. There are players here who could perfectly go on to the Premier League."
An injury to Bidwell gave Venta his League One debut as a substitute at Gillingham last Saturday, when Farid El Alagui's last-gasp equaliser kept the Bees unbeaten. A first league start now beckons against Walsall tomorrow, though he acknowledges that his job is not limited to what he brings on to the pitch. Just as when helping Villarreal win promotion to La Liga last term, Venta is there to set an example. "[Manager Uwe Rösler] thinks I can help the team a lot by bringing my experience and talking to the youngsters, letting them see that to get to the top level you have to be consistent and work hard every day.
"Last year the club were very close [to promotion]," he continues. "I like the way they play, and the ideas the coach has got. They're serious about their work and this leads to success. At Villarreal over many years I saw the club grow and hard work is the key."
Venta spent a combined nine seasons at Villarreal, over two separate spells, and was one of the players who "had to work hard and run hard" while the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme and Diego Forlan produced the magic that took the modest-sized club to the Champions League semi-finals under Pellegrini. Venta recalls a "very direct" communicator when asked about Manchester City's new manager. "Pellegrini is a coach who has clear ideas and gets across clearly what he wants. Whoever we played, we had a clear plan. His idea is to play good football and keep the ball."
The parallels between Villarreal and his new club may not seem obvious but there is one thing they have in common. For Trotta's final-day spot-kick nightmare, read Riquelme's last-minute penalty at El Madrigal saved by Jens Lehmann as Arsenal defended a 1-0 first-leg lead in that semi-final.
"I was pleased to have got that far with a team like Villarreal and deservedly so by playing good football," says Venta, "but in the semi-final we had chances and especially that penalty at the end. You go back over the game, remembering the chances. It was painful." At Griffin Park, they can certainly empathise with that.Reuse content