“Unai Emery is an immortal figure at Villarreal at present and rightly so

 

Unai Emery boasts a fantastic record as a coach. He has been the architect is rejuvenating quite a few clubs in Europe and after the epic victory over Manchester United at Gdansk in a crazy, crazy final of the UEFA Europa League, it is proved yet again that this man – Unai Emery –is the master in lifting the fighting spirit of a unit.

Manchester United, without a doubt, were the favourites against a side who finished seventh in the La Liga. In the Premier League, the rise of Manchester United from the ashes was one of the stories this season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, like Emery, was the catalyst behind this turnaround, and the way his Red Devils thrashed AS Roma in the semifinals, the confidence of breaking the jinx against a Spanish side in the finals was pretty high.

Guess what, it was Villarreal, who prevailed in a penalty shootout which resulted in 21 goals – 11 for Villarreal and 10 for Manchester United. When Geronimo Rulli saved the penalty of David de Gea, there was a gathering of the yellow gems and jewels at the center of the penalty area who were ecstatic, speechless, and shedding tears of joy –this was Villarreal’s first major trophy in their 98-year old history and who else but Unai Emery deserves the credit more than anyone.

Manchester United failed to write their names into the club’s history, defeat to Villarreal preventing United from claiming a sixth European trophy and joining those who did previously in 2017, 2008, 1999, 1991, and 1968 – a costly miss. The wait prolongs.

Again, Manchester United have lost six of their last seven penalty shootouts in all competitions, beating only Rochdale in a third-round League Cup tie in September 2019 during this period.

The Red Devils failed to penetrate on the night against a compact Villarreal side and only managed two shots on target.

Scott McTominay impressed in midfield. Marcus Rashford was particularly poor as United failed to create anything fruitful apart from Edinson Cavani’s equalizer after Gerard Moreno had scored his 30th goal of the season to put Villarreal in front.

Unai Emery’s men had a more protagonist approach to start the second stanza and nearly snuck in a second when a mad scramble in front of goal almost led to a Bacca score.

Emery went to his bench for the first time on the hour mark, with former Arsenal man Francis Coquelin on for Bacca, but the momentum stayed with United, who looked the more energetic and aggressive side.

Cavani looked set to score his second of the night off a cross from Luke Shaw, but the Uruguayan’s header was headed away by Pau Torres to spare the Spaniards.

Paco Alcacer was next summoned by Emery to try to make a difference in place of Yeremy Pino, plus Moi Gomez for Manu Trigueros. That was followed by Alberto Moreno for Pedraza and Mario Gaspar for Juan Foyth.

Neither side could find a winner though before full-time, so matters went to extra time when United finally made their first sub, with Fred on for Greenwood.

Villarreal picked up the pace in the extra period but were never able to truly trouble De Gea in the Manchester United goal, so penalties had to settle things and the rest is history.

Villarreal were invincible in the Europa League this season.

They have become the seventh side to lift either the Europa League or its previous iteration, the UEFA Cup, without a single defeat, after Tottenham in 1971-72, Borussia Monchengladbach in 1978-79, Goteborg in 1981-82 & 1986-87, Ajax in 1991-92 and Chelsea in 2018-19.

After a remarkable hat-trick of triumphs with Sevilla in 2014, 2015, and 2016, Emery set his sights on something more. He replaced Laurent Blanc at Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

The Spaniard’s first season in Paris was a disaster, with Monaco beating his team to Ligue 1, ending a four-year streak of PSG victories.

Worse still, after a 4-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16; his team failed to qualify for the quarterfinals – Barcelona’s 6-1 ‘Remontada’ went down in history as one of the most shocking and incredible nights ever in the competition.

PSG, surprisingly, gave him another chance and, although he won Ligue 1 at the second attempt, Champions League heartbreak and this time at the hands of Real Madrid.

Emery left Paris.

The coach landed at the Emirates Stadium in May 2018, replacing club legend Arsene Wenger.

The Gunners had finally lost patience with the French coach after the club lost their grip on the top four and began to play Europa League football.

Unfortunately for Emery, he could not inspire them to anything more.

They finished fifth and were thrashed 4-1 by Chelsea in the Europa League final, unable to secure Champions League qualification.

Despite spending big in the summer and showing early promises, the wheels just came off – he was removed and the Spanish coach landed in Spain, where, back in 2008-09, his first season as the coach of Valencia, Emery led them to a sixth-place finish, with subsequent qualification to the UEFA Europa League, in spite of the club’s serious financial problems.

In 2009–10, Emery led Valencia to third place, so the club returned to the UEFA Champions League after two years and in the following season, Valencia lost to Schalke in the Round of 16 while in 2011-12 season, Valencia entered the Champions League and was paired with Chelsea, Bayer Leverkusen, and Genk. They finished third in their group and subsequently entered the Europa League. His side lost in the semi-finals to eventual winners Atletico Madrid.

He returned as the coach of Sevilla in the 2013-14 season and scripted an absolute purple patch for three consecutive seasons in the Europa League.

Before that, in 2004-05, after suffering a serious knee injury while playing at Lorca, he was offered the vacant coaches position by the club president.

He immediately helped the club achieve promotion to the second division for the first time in its history, as well as beating top-level side Malaga in the Copa del Rey. He was subsequently awarded the Miguel Munoz Trophy as coach of the season. In his second season, the Murcians’ first ever in the second division, the team finished fifth with 69 points, only five points off promotion to the top flight; they suffered relegation in 2007, after Emery’s departure.

Emery then moved to Almeria in division two, and again helped his squad overachieve: after guiding them to a first-ever promotion in 2007, the Andalusian side finished eighth in La Liga in 2007–08.

Emery has fond memories in Spain and when he was appointed as the coach of Villarreal last year, he instilled the theory of playing disciplined football that helped Villarreal break the club record of 18 matches unbeaten, after a 1–1 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao on December 2020.

The experiences of the bad days helped him learn and grow – Emery has chiseled Villarreal into a tough, respectable side. He was more flexible in his thought process and earned the respect of his boys, who delivered according to the advice of their beloved coach

Castellon treated Emery like one of their own men and Emery accepted the love – the outcome has to be god and…. it was brilliant!

The club loaned Real Madrid youngster Takefusa Kubo but his spark was too raw for Emery and he let the Japanese forward go, cutting the loan short. He nurtured Moreno, whose talent was extremely beneficial or Emery and always helped to set the tone of a match. Most importantly, he developed a strong backline that was ready to weather the storm from any big strikers in Europe and fight it out till the end. They helped not to concede too many goals under pressure and this proved one of the best reasons for his success.

“In the Europa League we have been absolutely impeccable,” Emery said.

“Since the very first moment, some days we were coming at 6 am to the stadium to prepare a game for the Sunday. All of this makes the journey [worthwhile].”

“We were talking about enjoying these moments. In the end, you are proud to reach the title [decider] but if you don’t win, you are sad. Winning is another step, an important step ahead. We do this profession for these moments. We have been able to give joy to many people.”

Emery knocked his former club out of this season’s competition at the semi-final stage before taking down another Premier League club in United but said he did not see the achievement as a personal triumph.

“I insist it is not sports revenge at all. I try to enjoy every moment, winning and losing. I try to create new circumstances, so everywhere I have been, even in England at Arsenal, I have learned a lot, met many people, other cultures, and football.

“At the end of that story was professional frustration, but some other doors opened then. Winning today is a satisfaction, but for my club today, as it was when I was at Sevilla. When I was at Arsenal we played a Europa League final and could not win but it is a process; from that game, I learned a lot to win this one maybe.”

Asked if he had doubts after his sacking at Arsenal, Emery replied, “Doubts are something you can go through in your professional career. You can have doubts but then you find responses.”

“I doubt the eleven I’m going to put on the pitch, I doubt about the changes I should do during the game, how I’m going to plan a training session. But with this doubt, I ask myself questions and then I check the responses.”

“I’m enjoying my career because I like football, I like to work in the football world, I like that feeling of being in a club and everywhere I’ve been I’ve defended my colours with much pride and respecting everyone.”

“My idea is to bring with me my experiences, sometimes I manage to do it, sometimes not, but mainly I enjoy my work as a coach, I enjoy being with my team, my staff. I’m the visible one but there are many people behind me who bring a lot and give a lot. It was the same at Arsenal, Sevilla, Paris Saint-Germain, and it’s the same here.”

Unai Emery is an immortal figure at Villarreal at present and rightly so.

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