Mario Gaspar: An emblem of the club
One of the great legends of Villarreal CF. Mario Gaspar arrived at the club in 2007, at just 16 years old, and has stayed fiercely loyal to the Yellows jersey ever since. The full-back promptly rose through the ranks and divisions, and in just three short years Mario made the leap to the first team, where he has spent the last eight seasons. Totalling over 300 matches, the 27-year-old is a substantial part of Villarreal’s history.
Mario was born on 24th November, 1990 in Novelda, a town located in the province of Alicante, Spain. His passion for football was there from a young age. Later down the line, Mario was approached to play professionally and had to make an important decision that would affect not only his life, but his family’s. Ultimately, the Novelda native left home to pursue his dreams. In an interview with Novelda Digital, Mario recalls: “It was very difficult to leave the house so young, although I eventually adjusted to it.” After arriving at Villarreal CF, Mario put in his best effort at training for his chance to succeed in the Academy. His consistent hard work and initiative granted him the opportunity to play for Villarreal B in the 2009–10 season. The Academy graduate started in all 31 games that season, helping the team maintain their newly-found Segunda División status.
“Without realising it one day I was there, competing for balls with some of the most important players in the world.”
Mario reached his dreams before he even realised he had. On 15th March, 2009, Mario made his First Team and LaLiga debut against Atlético Madrid at just 18 years old. Looking back on the special moment, Mario acknowledged that he knew it would be difficult to play to his best level on his debut. Furthermore, Mario expressed his concern for young players, saying: “The problem is that in football, as soon as things don’t work out well, it is very easy to criticise and that can affect a young kid a lot.” It is highly admirable that Mario took time to speak up for young players about how intimidating the start of a career can be.
After improving not only physically but mentally, the full-back was officially promoted to the squad midway through the 2010–11 season to replace Ángel López who had suffered a serious knee injury. The transition was smooth and Mario thrived in his first-team duties. “The truth is they are great players and it is always easier to play next to people so good, they help you a lot and you learn from the veteran players’ experiences,, Mario explained to Novelda Digital. His first starting game was on 16th January, 2011 in which he played the full 90 minutes in a 4–2 win against CA Osasuna. Flash forward to the next year, the homegrown Villarreal player scored his first goal against Sporting de Gijón in a 3–2 win on 1st May, 2012. In the next season, 2012–13, Villarreal dropped into Segunda, making it crucial to earn back their proper place in LaLiga. Mario was a strong contributing factor throughout the season, and considers the last game of the season as one of his favourite memories. In a defining moment for the club, Villarreal beat UD Almería to secure a spot back in La Liga.
“It was an unforgettable experience to wear the National Team shirt and to represent your country.”
The player’s defensive talent didn’t go unnoticed. Mario was chosen to play for his national team at U19, U20, and U21 level. In October 2015, he made a brilliant debut for the senior side, and scoring Spain’s only goal on the 12th against Ukraine. “It was an unforgettable experience to wear the National Team shirt and to represent your country,” the full-back said after the game. For Mario, the opportunity was gratifying and a reward for his daily effort. Mario also scored a spectacular goal against England in a 2–0 victory on 13th November, 2015.
On 19th May, 2016 the town of Novelda dedicated the entire day to honour the highly-rated player. ‘Super Mario’ Gaspar was presented by the mayor in the Plaza Vieja, where he received a well-deserved applause from thousands of his Novelda neighbours. The Mayor recognised Mario for staying true to Novelda’s values of ‘humility, effort, dedication, and hard-work’ and continued that, ‘we couldn’t be more proud of him’. The warm homage included a ceremony for Mario to add his signature in the town ‘Book of Honour’ in which he conveyed his gratitude. That week, the hometown hero took to social media to thank his town for the day full of support and affection.
Less than a month later, the Villarreal player revisited his former school to sign and dedicate a poster of himself that’s now displayed in the sports pavilion of San José de Cluny de Novelda. The alum shared advice and encouragement to the students, and later toured all of the classes for a chance to chat with his young fans.
“I have never considered leaving Villarreal, this is my home…”
In March 2018, the starting-right back passed the 300-match milestone mark becoming the fourth Villarreal player to reach this achievement. At the time, he said: “When I came here, to improve as a player in the Academy, it was a dream for me to reach the first team and, now, I’m lucky enough to have made a space for myself in the club’s history.” During the presentation of the award, Villarreal CEO Fernando Roig Negueroles, shared kind words about the Villarreal team vice-captain: “He’s one of our own and he has become one of the emblems of the club.” Mario has taken on an experienced role amongst the young team throughout the years. As for the future, Mario revealed to AS Online: “I have never considered leaving Villarreal, this is my home and I think I will continue here for many more years”. The Yellows №2 is under contract until June 2023, guaranteeing more special moments for Mario and his Villarreal fans. Thank you for the years of commitment, Mario!