Unai Emery – Let’s support the man set to be Arsenal’s new manger
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“Unless Arsenal are playing an unbelievable game of cloak and dagger the job is Mikel Arteta’s”. So said my trusted inside source at the club as late as Thursday evening. He was right. The North London giants were.
Despite having complete faith in my well-placed source I decided not to run the story on Friday as one look at the number of changes in the bookies favourites to take over from Arsene Wenger in the hours and days after the Frenchman bowed out on an emotional afternoon in Yorkshire two Sundays ago persuaded me otherwise.
It was just as well – because on Monday evening the news broke which blindsided many as Arsenal opted for the former PSG and Sevilla coach Unai Emery – a 66/1 outsider the morning after Wenger stepped down following a never-to-be-forgotten match at Huddersfield.
Such was his standing at that time – among the bookies at least – former Spurs boss Tim Sherwood was quoted at a better price than the 46-year-old Basque with a reputation for thoroughness.
While his former player Joaquin joked that “Emery put on so many videos I ran out of popcorn”, adding “He [Emery] is obsessed by football. It’s practically an illness.”
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If the desire for victory is seen as an sickness then the former Sevilla and Spartak Moscow leader must be severely stricken.
His CV is impressive.
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He claimed three successive Europa League titles with Sevilla, two French Cups and two French League Cups with PSG, as well as three third place finishes with Valencia – behind two of the biggest clubs in world football, Real Madrid and Barcelona – while the club experienced severe financial difficulties that were nothing to do with the Hondarribia-born former left-sided journeyman midfielder.
Emery came through Real Sociedad’s academy but only made five appearances for the first team during 1995-96 before spending the majority of his career in the Segunda Division.
While he was out with a serious knee injury at Lorca he was offered the vacant manager’s position by the club president – and immediately gained promotion to the second tier for only the second time in its history.
After finishing fifth, only five points off promotion to La Liga Emery moved to Segunda Division Almeria guiding them to a first ever promotion to the top flight in 2007.
He then guided the Anadalusian side to their highest ever finish, eighth in La Liga in 2008.
He was head hunted by Valencia, succeeding Ronald Koeman as manager, leading them to a sixth-place finish and qualifying for the Europa League despite the club’s mounting money problems.
After the trio of third place finishes he moved to Spartak Moscow. Emery returned to Spain replacing Michel at Sevilla leading the club to fifth place and winning the Europa League beating Benfica. He then guided the team to the same trophy the year after, beating Dnipro in the final.
In 2015-16 he lifted the former UEFA Cup for the third year in succession, beating Liverpool at St Jakob Park in Basel before moving to moneybags PSG in June 2016. During the course of his two-year reign has lifted Ligue 1, two French Cups and two French League Cups.
Quite simply Emery is a course and distance winner.
Yes, there are questions about his lack of progression in the Champions League – yet his friend Pep Guardiola still has to lift the coveted trophy as boss of billionaire aristocrats Manchester City.
But study the positives – there are enough of them.
He has experience of managing tight budgets at Valencia – and Sevilla to an extent – but equally he knows what it takes to lead a rich club in PSG.
He is also savvy in the transfer market, selling Carlos Bacca to AC Milan for £21 million while also extracting more than £30m from Manchester City for Negredo and Navas who went to City.
While at the Parisians he also picked up a cool £30m for David Luiz by selling him back to Chelsea while taking nearly £50m of Spurs money for Moura and Serge Aurier – while landing Neymar for a world record £198m.
He also landed long-term Arsenal target Julian Draxler from, Wolfsburg for £35.5m – who could conceivably be lured to the red half of North London further down the line.
He is also noted for favouring youth whenever possible but possesses tactical flexibility, while also being lauded for his pragmatism by those who know him.
He is happy playing 4-2-3-1 as much as he is in adopting 4-3-3 and is renowned for his in-depth preparation as a meticulous tactician with a considerable focus on the opposition.
All of which I say: Good. It’s about time.
For all Wenger’s love of the beautiful game it will be refreshing for an ‘old school’ Arsenal-watcher like myself to savour a team from N5 being able to defend well.
I covered Arsenal at PSG in September 2016 in the Champions League group stages and Emery used a translator in the post-match presser I attended in the Parc de Princes.
Whether that meant he simply didn’t want to speak English on the night or whether he’s unable to communicate effectively in the language remains to be seen but either way sources at Arsenal insist he has been busy learning the language.
It is important to be able to do so.
Not in a Brexit-style tub thumping style – heaven forbid – but simply to be able to master and deliver the nuances that his style demands and deserves – and which could be lost in translation. Literally.
Presumably Emery will be accompanied to Arsenal by his loyal No2 Juan Carlos Carcedo Mardones.
The former Espanyol B and Atletico Madrid B midfielder has been with Emery as assistant at UD Almeria, Valencia, Spartak Moscow and PSG.
All of which begs the question: Whither Steve Bould.
With the drama of the last few weeks set to roll on for a few more days yet – at least until the club officially unveil Emiery – it looks like a few complacent and underperforming Arsenal players could be in for a rude awakening as and when the North London giants announce him as their demanding new boss.
And as such it will be fair to say there will no more comfort zones for underachieving footballers at the Emirates.
Which can only be a good thing.
So ignore those fans on social media who are moaning about the lack of a ‘big name’ and get behind the new man – who once said: “Joy comes from the ilusión, the hope, the dream, of winning a title”, along with: “Football is all about moments.”
A new man, after all, is what the majority of us wanted – so let’s enjoy the ride and get behind Emery.
It’s the least he deserves – even if Arteta can feel hard done by.