Amid the flurry of constant transfers and sales, one player making the headlines in recent weeks has been Pablo Fornals. The 21-year-old completed a transfer from Málaga back to Villarreal, where he played for five years as a child between 2003 and 2008. The Yellow Submarines paid his release clause of €12 million to complete the move, and the promising midfielder will now return to his childhood club to further his development.
Fornals was born in Castellón de la Plana in February 1996, and he joined Villarreal for the first time in 2003. He spent five years with the club before moving to his hometown club Castellón in 2008. He spent four years there before making the move to Andalucia and Malaga in 2012 as a 16 year old. Fornals spent several years with the youth team before making his debut for Atlético Malagueño (Málaga B) during the 2014/15 season where he went on to make over 40 appearances in the Spanish Tercera Division.
In September 2015, he was handed his first team debut at the Santiago Bernabeu, where he started in a league encounter against Real Madrid, and although he went on to participate in 27 La Liga games, he only started 14 of them, playing the full 90 minutes in just six matches. In total, he racked up 1,295 minutes in the 2015/16 La Liga season across 27 games, for an average of just under 48 minutes per appearance. He scored just the one goal (against Granada), and as well as playing in the centre midfield role that he is best known for, he also made a number of appearances on the right wing.
In March 2016, Fornals made his international debut when he played for the Spanish under-21 team in a 1-0 friendly victory over Norway, which came just days after he had been an unused substitute in a 3-0 defeat to Croatia’s under-21’s in a European Championship Qualifier. In May of the same year, he made his senior international debut when he came on as a substitute for Spain in a 3-1 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those two appearances are the only international caps he has to date, but surely it will only be a matter of time before he is called up to represent his country again.
In the 2016/17 season, Fornals became a more permanent fixture in the Málaga side, participating in 32 of their league games, and solidifying his reputation as one of Spain’s notable breakout stars. In total, he played 2,673 minutes in La Liga; across the 32 games he played in, he averaged 84 minutes per match. He actually got off to a poor start, playing just 51 minutes across Malaga’s opening seven games, five of which he didn’t participate in at all (two of which he wasn’t even named in the matchday squad for), but after that, he earned a regular place in the team and started all but one of their remaining league games.
Although he did have spells on the wing, the vast majority of his time on the pitch last season came as a central or attacking midfielder in the number ten role. He found an eye for goal in this position and scored six times, second only to Sandro Ramírez’s 14 goals for Málaga in La Liga. Fornals also weighed in with two assists, as he became one of the club’s most important attacking outlets. Of all his goals and assists, most came in front of his home fans at La Rosaleda, with the only two away goals coming at Mestalla in December, as his brace helped Málaga earn a point in a 2-2 draw with Valencia. This was one of his best performances in a Málaga shirt, although he also impressed in a 4-0 win over Leganés, a 3-2 win over Sporting Gijón in which he scored the equaliser after Sporting had took the lead, and above all, in Málaga’s 2-0 win over Barcelona when he assisted Jony in stoppage time to secure the three points.
Fornals will now begin the next chapter of his career as he goes back to Villarreal, and there is deservedly a lot of excitement among El Submarino Amarillo’s faithful regarding the transfer. There should be no issues with the player struggling to settle on the east coast, as it is the place where he grew up, allowing him to solely focus on honing his skills pitch. Many fans are looking forward to him joining Manu Trigueros in the Villarreal midfield next season, as the duo promises to be one of La Liga’s most entertaining midfield partnerships.
Several clubs wanted to sign Fornals this summer with Premier League giants Arsenal among the potential suitors, but the player decided he wanted to return home, and his style of play should suit Villarreal perfectly. He is a very creative player who can dribble the ball as well as pick out teammates with his passing. It is an appropriate homecoming, and everyone from neutrals to diehard Villarreal fans will enjoy his development, as he becomes a focal point for Spain’s next generation.
By: Gerry Johnston/@gjsportsblog