Unai Emery in UCL Semifinal, Mere Luck or a New Beginning?

Unai Emery reached his first Champions League semifinal with Villareal this year. It is interesting to see if he is just lucky or can replicate his Europa League success in the UEFA Champions League.

Unai Emery has established himself as the king of the Europa League, having won four titles in five finals with three different clubs, Sevilla, Arsenal, and Villareal. The Spanish boss led Los Nervionenses in dominating the second-tier continental competitions between 2014 and 2016, bringing The Gunners to the final in 2019 before guiding the Yellow Submarines for their first ever silverware in 2021 after a thrilling shootout against Manchester United.

However, until this season, he had a difficult time progressing past the Round of 16 in the Champions League. Since the 2010/11 season, he has pushed his luck in a number of clubs, from his own country such as Valencia to the elite teams abroad like PSG. Unfortunately, their European campaign in the top flight competition ended in disappointment. This season, the 50-year-old manager somehow managed to turn things around by reaching the semi-final with Villareal. Sadly, their mission to advance to the summit has just gotten tougher than expected after slumping to a 2-0 defeat on the road against Liverpool.

Unai Emery Reaching First UCL Semifinal Could Start a New Era

Villareal’s Full Support

Many might wonder how a manager who was considered a failure in the Premier League could almost instantly bounce back in a non-elite team like Villarreal with silverware on the table in his first season. Apparently, the key is full support.

The Yellow Submarines are not a star-studded club. They are more likely similar to Sevilla with a bunch of less well-known names, the unwanted players or loanees from the parent clubs, or senior figures who are on the verge of the latter stage of their playing career. The club backs and believes in the 50-year-old manager, who has a long list of continental accolades to his name. They believe in Emery’s ability to guide them to a triumphant campaign after Manuel Pellegrini’s era back in the mid-2000s when the squad had two Argentine stars, Roman Riquelme and Juan Sorin.

Such support along with a no-star squad has enabled him to optimize his team’s and his own potential. Emery would never have any players confronting or disagreeing with him or his tactics or approach on the pitch. Villarreal skipper, Raul Albiol once said to his boss that he wanted his team to take down the pathway of glory. If this goes on well, Emery might be on his way to carving his new milestone of success in UCL.

Moreover, here in Villarreal, Emery avoids putting pressure on his team to win. He would rather let them enjoy the game and concentrate on one game at a time, without thinking about the prize.

The Trouble in Big Clubs

Such circumstances might be tricky to find in big clubs such as Arsenal, PSG, or even the Russian giant, Spartak Moscow. The Basque manager could only guide them to the round of 16 of UCL once while being in charge of Le Parisien from 2016 to 2018. Yet, his side’s 6-1 defeat against Barcelona who made a stunning comeback despite a 4-0 win in Paris in 2017 has been the most devastating which leaves a stain on his impressive CV.

Emery’s failure at those three clubs is most likely due to a combination of language barriers, inability to control the big stars, and the squad’s disbelief in him as manager. Not to mention the internal strife that resulted in his poor relationships with the likes of Granit Xhaka, Mesut Ozil, and others in North London, or Neymar in Paris. As a result, the dressing room is beyond his reach, the team unity was in trouble and the stars remained untouchable.

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