Andrei Ratiu: An unstoppable desire to succeed
When the Villarreal first team return to the Training Ground later on this summer to begin their preparations ahead of the 2021/22 season, it will represent the chance to seize a key moment for one man in particular — Andrei Ratiu.
The powerful 22-year-old right-back knows that a strong pre-season will be crucial as he looks to cement his place in the first team; a dream he has pursued relentlessly since he arrived at the club 12 years ago.
As Ratiu grew up in Aiud, Romania, his obsession with football was evident, so when he moved with his family at the age of six to Aragon in 2004, he soon joined local futsal team Águaviva, before later moving to Andorra CF.
His rapid development during his two years at Andorra CF saw him join Villarreal’s cantera in 2010, with his journey towards becoming a professional footballer underway.
However, his time at the club during his teenage years was not straightforward in spite of his outstanding footballing ability, he wasn’t always on the elite teams, playing on the B team at U16 level.
Nevertheless, these difficult experiences during his formative years served to make him stronger and further fuel his unstoppable desire to succeed, which he maintained as he reached the Villarreal C side in August 2016.
The 2017/18 campaign saw Ratiu take his first steps in the B team, making his debut against SCR Peña Deportiva in December 2017. At the start of that season, he worked with Javi Calleja, a coach who had already played a key role in his development.
Before working with Calleja, Ratiu had played either in central midfield, on the wing or up front during his time at the Yellows Academy. The coach sought to maximise his excellent physical and attacking qualities by establishing him as a right-back; a position he has played in ever since.
Ahead of the start of the 2018/19 season Ratiu became a full-time member of the B team and earned his first call-up for the Romania Under-21 side, but the best moment of his Villarreal career to date was just around the corner.
The belief of Calleja, now the first team manager, in Ratiu saw him hand the flying full-back his first team debut in the second leg of Villarreal’s Europa League quarter-final against Valencia in April 2019. Whilst it proved to be a difficult night for Villarreal with a 2–0 defeat at Mestalla, Ratiu’s assured performance earned him high praise from his coach at full-time.
“Since it was Andrei’s first match he played well, and that is positive news. He showed a lot of personality on the pitch,” said Calleja, in his post-match press conference.
As Ratiu celebrated ten years at Villarreal in 2020, the next stage of his development was mapped out: a loan move to Dutch Eredivisie side ADO Den Haag to gain experience and opportunities in the first team.
After establishing himself as one of the first names on the team sheet at ADO Den Haag, he was recalled by Villarreal in January. This happened not only in light of injuries to Mario Gaspar and Juan Foyth, but because Unai Emery wanted Ratiu to be in his first-team squad, as he possessed the exact profile he wanted in that position: a powerful, athletic player with outstanding technique and a rock-solid winning mentality.
Although he did not play for the first team after his return, he was no longer a novice around the first team setup. As Villarreal clinched the Europa League title, he celebrated the triumph with his teammates on the pitch in Gdańsk, before getting his hands on the famous trophy.
Andrei Ratiu has progressed through the ranks at Villarreal thanks to his hard work and his determination to overcome any obstacle in his path, as well as his enormous talent.