ARSENAL FEATURE on Unai Emery: ‘The past does not exist. Only the present and the future’
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FEATURE: ‘The past does not exist. Only the present and future.’ Read on for Layth Yousif’s feature on Arsenal boss Unai Emery ahead of the vital Europa League clash with Rennes at the Emirates.
The new man wore an expensive but not ostentatious watch and his jet black hair was slicked back.
Unai Emery looked immaculate on the day he was appointed in late May 2018, resplendent in his fitted Arsenal suit, bearing an embroidered club badge with red thread.
The only hint of a rushed few days on the red-eye to the US to meet the club’s owner Stan Kroenke was the fact his cufflinks on a stylish cream shirt were white plastic pins rather than more classic solid silver a man of his stature might sport.
A nod to the fact he perhaps hadn’t had time to shop for himself recently while his possessions were mothballed in the French capital after parting company with PSG.
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His press conference downstairs in the press theatre next to the media room deep in the Emirates had ended.
He was now speaking upstairs, appropriately enough at boardroom level to the chosen few – including the Islington Gazette.
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What shone through was his passion and attention to detail which so enamoured the board, and the three wise men leading the hunt for the man to replace the long-serving Arsene Wenger.
Chief executive Ivan Gazidis who fronted the search – along with the club’s head of football relations, Raul Sanllehi, and head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat – sat next to the 46-year-old Basque who had so impressed him at the interview process.
“I am thrilled to be joining one of the great clubs in the game,” he said at the time, adding: “I’m excited about what we can do together and I look forward to giving everyone who loves Arsenal some special moments and memories.”
On Thursday evening at the Emirates Emery will aim to provide one of those special moments he promised when his Arsenal team will aim to pull back a two goal deficit on Rennes at the Emirates in the second leg of the Europa League round of 16 tie.
Emery is a course and distance winner in this competition with Sevilla.
He lifted the predecessor to the UEFA Cup three times between 2014 to 2016 eclipsing his Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán forebear Juande Ramos a decade earlier who won it twice with the Los Rojiblancos in 2006, and in 2007
Having stated earlier in the season the trophy is one he wants to win again, the Islington Gazette asked Emery at his weekly pre-conference at the club’s HQ, London Colney on Wednesday what the tournament meant to him.
He replied gnomically, as befits an intelligent man who gives little away about his team. Or for that matter himself.
Or at least tries not to. Save for the time he spoke enthusiastically about the superb cult British box set Peaky Blinders.
“The past does not exist,” he mused. “Only the present and the future.
“I am here to create a new present and a new future with this club and these players.
“I am not living with my past, I am living with my present.”
The present means winning by two clear goals after his ten-man Gunners subsided to a 3-1 defeat in deepest Brittany last week at the surprisingly atmospheric Roazhon Park.
Rennes 25-year-old Calais-born Benjamin Bouriegeaud fired home a rebound from the resulting free-kick to level the scores before a Nacho Monreal own goal and an 88th minute strike from Ismailia Sarr - who was superb on the evening and will have to be monitored closely in North London - put Emery’s chance of landing the trophy he won three times in a row with Sevilla in serious doubt.
He added during his press conference in which he looked as focused as seasoned Emery-watchers have ever seen him: “I think we are playing well now, we are feeling in a good moment. I am seeing the players and they give me a lot of confidence but each match is a big test.
“I am very demanding of myself and want the players with the same spirit and same motivation for each match. It’s very important the Premier League but it’s also very important the Europa League.
“[Against Rennes] I want the players to give us big spirit, 100 per cent playing physically and tactically like we want. With respect to them, but playing trying to impose our game on them.
The former Real Sociedad midfielder, who became a coach in 2004, was in charge of Valencia from 2008 to 2012 before assuming charge at Sevilla in 2013, shaping them into one of the most competitive sides in European football.
In the process he lifted the Europa League three times on the bounce, the first manager to have done so.
He drew on those experiences in Spain as well as an unhappy six months in Moscow at the helm of Spartak Moscow sandwiched between his spells in Valencia and Andalusia.
“I have had a lot of situations similar to tomorrow and I think Arsenal the same. We have experience as a coach for me and also as a player here, a lot of players in his career.
“[Rennes] is one experience more. I spoke with the players about that and we need to move positive in our thoughts and also use our best experience to play tomorrow because this result is coming a difficult 90 minutes.
“The energy, yes. We need positive energy tomorrow, and we need to create a big atmosphere with our supporters.”
Yet whatever happens against Julien Stephan’s Rennes at the Emirates his position has been strengthened as boss of Arsenal.
For it is an irony surely not lost on the man himself: the fact the three men involved in the chase to headhunt him in May 2018 have since departed the North London giants.
After excellent 2-0 victories over Chelsea and Manchester United this year, not to mention utterly dominating the North London derby at Wembley, progression in the Europa League against the dogged Rennes, will see Emery’s star rise further.
It is the least he deserves after steadying a listing, moribund football club, heading for the doldrums of transition.
Who knows, he may even find time to buy those special cufflinks he sorely missed on his first day in charge of the Gunners.
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth Yousif on Twitter and Instagram @laythy29