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When you think of the Yellows Academy, you think of Migue Leal
When you think of the Yellows Academy, you think of Migue Leal

The Mini Submarine’s right-back has been part of the Villarreal CF youth system for 20 years

The town of Vila-real celebrated its 749th birthday on 20th February. And Miguel Ángel Leal, better known as Migue, has played 20 of them for his hometown team at the highest level. He has passed through each and every one of the levels of the youth system, since he started playing in the Mini D, corresponding to the U7 (Prebenjamín) age group. In that Mini D team, he already shared a dressing room with Pau Torres, without knowing that they would do it again years later in several teams of the Yellows’ youth set-up, such as Villarreal B and even in the first team.

Two decades later, Migue has made history in the Yellows Academy, achieving great feats such as the long-awaited promotion to the Second Division with the B team and being one of the captains of a team that will always be remembered at the José Manuel Llaneza Training Ground.

“Promotion to the second division is something very difficult, but even more so for a B team. The team had been looking to return to the second division for nine seasons and it was a clear objective that we had after several campaigns in which it hadn’t happened. However, I would also highlight having been called up to the first team on several occasions and my debut in the Copa del Rey”, says Leal about his happiest moments with the Yellows.

In the years leading up to an achievement of such calibre, there were others of paramount importance, such as the División de Honor title with the U19s (Juvenil A) in a season, 2015/16, which could have been even more glorious had they progressed beyond the disputed Youth Copa de Rey semi-finals against Real Madrid.

“It was a very fun year because I remember that we won a lot. The league was very tight with Valencia and we knew that we couldn’t miss a single game, but I remember that good atmosphere and enjoying a lot,” confesses the full-back.

Despite all these positive experiences, not everything has been a bed of roses in Migue’s sporting life. After a spell with Villarreal C in the RFEF Third Division and a good start to the season with the B team, the defender went out on loan to Real Murcia for half a season.

Two years later, already settled in the Mini Submarine in the third tier (then known as Segunda B) and after being one more in the post Covid bubble with the first team and training in the following pre-season under Unai Emery, he went out on loan again to Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie.

This is how Migue remembers his time away from Miralcamp: “When you leave Villarreal you realise how well looked after we are here and the facilities we are given for everything in terms of equipment, coaching staff and disposition towards the player. The experience at Groningen was a very important step towards maturing as a professional footballer in the Dutch First Division, sharing a dressing room with players like Arjen Robben, but as always, one is happy to return home to be with your own people and even more so if it is to return to the club of my life.”

With all these experiences behind him, the debut with the first team came for Migue. It was in December 2019, in the resounding victory in the first round of the Copa del Rey against Comillas CF (0-5). Along with Pau Torres, the full-back made up a defence with 50% of players from Vila-real. In that eleven, there were also promising young players such as Álex Baena and Sergio Lozano.

He has also taken part in several friendly matches with the first team against big-name rivals such as Real Sociedad, Valencia and Levante. “I saw it as a reward for the work I had been doing for so many years in the youth academy and as an opportunity to show that there is also a lot of talent at home,” he explains.

In the future, Migue will be remembered as one of the players from Vila-real who have played in the first team in official matches, like Pau Torres, Xisco Nadal, Héctor Font or César Arzo, among others.

Meanwhile, Migue Leal continues to enjoy the second division with Villarreal B, with whom he has accumulated almost a hundred appearances. In the current campaign, he provided two assists against Real Sporting and Real Zaragoza and also scored a great goal against Mirandés, in which his iconic celebration went viral on social networks, showing how much fun the full-back is still having in the Yellows Academy.