There were just under five minutes to go to 90. The ball came down from the sky of the oldest stadium in Spanish football after a ball hit the air in a stressful end of the game for Sporting, who defended tooth and nail their advantage against Leganés. Fran Villalba appeared then glued to the lime line, near the visitor's bench, to make a control only suitable for the technically better equipped for this sport. The action lifted more than a few fans from their seats.
Villalba ended up losing the ball in the dispute with a rival, fell and was left on the ground, exhausted. Moments later the change came and El Molinón exploded with a shocking farewell to his new idol. Back he had left his mark this time with his first goal with Sporting, which served to put the victory on track against Leganés de Garitano.
“For a stadium like El Molinón to shout your name, it's incredible; it gave me goose bumps,” said Fran Villalba after the match. In just five days he has already put the sporting fans in his pocket, who debates every week if his signing improves the benefits of Manu García that he should make forget. Some believe that the version of the Oviedo international now on loan to Deportivo Alavés has improved.
The paths of Fran Villalba and Sporting have joined three years later than planned. In the summer of 2018, Rubén Baraja wanted to join the rojiblanco team. I knew him from his time at the Valencia youth academy; in particular he had directed him in the youth A of the Che entity in a season in which he made the leap to the Valencian subsidiary, Valencia Mestalla, with only 16 years. A year later he even made his debut with the first team in the duel with Villarreal on matchday 17 in the Primera; Gary Neville gave him the alternative in the last minutes of that meeting.
It was about the pearl of the Valencia quarry that FC Barcelona persecuted at an early age. The azulgrana club managed to sign him in the children's category but his experience at La Masía was unpleasant and it barely lasted a couple of months. Back home and the beginning of a career that did not finish on his land. A loan to Numancia, in which he debuted as a scorer precisely at El Molinón, seemed like he could open the doors of Valencia but did not quite convince Marcelino García Toral and his transfer to Birmingham City was decided.
Fran Villalba also did not fit into the Championship, the second category of English football. After playing 17 games in England, in which he scored a goal, Almería gets his loan. He arrived at the Indálico club in January 2020 to play the second round of the 19-20 season and his contribution to the Andalusian team lasted one more season, the last one.
Without changing the colors of the shirt, Fran Villalba wants to take another leap in his football progression in Gijón. It is one more of that generation of 98 that monopolizes so much prominence in Sporting. Pedro Díaz, Nacho Méndez and Manu García himself are his contemporaries.