Unai Emery


Has Trust Issues With Processes
The rebirth of Unai Emery has Villarreal dreaming of glory

“Unai Emery’s first few months as Villarreal coach have gone spectacularly well. It could not have gone better, really,” former Villarreal midfielder Marcos Senna tells The Athletic.

“Unai has adapted really well to the club, and we have adapted to his way of working. Everyone is very happy at the moment, it could not be any other way. However, La Liga has just begun. We have to keep our feet on the ground.”

Senna played 363 games for Villarreal, was part of a team that got within a missed penalty of making the 2006 Champions League final and finished second in La Liga in 2007-08, and is now back at the club in an institutional relations role.

The Brazil-born player also won Euro 2008 with Spain, but beyond two Intertoto Cups in the early 2000s, Villarreal have never lifted a senior trophy. The family-run club have won plenty of friends over the last few decades, and lots of admirers, but players and staff have all had to move on to get their hands on silverware elsewhere.

Meanwhile, other teams Villarreal aspire to match have been quite regularly celebrating successes, most noticeably when Emery guided their near-neighbours Valencia to Champions League qualification in three of his four seasons, and then achieved the historic feat of three consecutive Europa League trophies with Sevilla. This is what the Basque is still most associated with in Spain, even after his more recent struggles with Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal, and explains why Villarreal president Fernando Roig pushed hard to sign him.

“With Unai, they went for a jump of quality on the bench,” says a source who knows Villarreal very well. “A coach with his CV, having won the Europa League and Ligue 1. Historically the club has lacked that a bit, just to compete for Champions League places in Spain or to play a final and win a trophy. That is what they are looking for with Emery.”

Villarreal’s story is quite well known — the small-town club who have long punched above their weight. Established in 1923, they spent decades working their way up from semi-professional regional divisions to reach the Primera Division for the first time in 1998, a year after Valencian retail and ceramics millionaire Roig became their owner and president.

They have since established themselves as one of Spain’s best-run clubs, thanks to a very professional and stable structure, although recent times have seen more movement than before. Long-time sporting director Antonio Cordon was lured away by Monaco in 2016, then successor Pablo Ortells and his assistant Sergio Moya moved to US-owned Mallorca this April. Academy chief Raul Herrera also left earlier this year. Continuity comes from the very top — Roig is a very hands-on president, while his son Fernando Roig Negueroles, now 46, has long worked full-time at the club.

“There has been a lot of change recently, but the day-to-day at Villarreal has always been managed by Fernando Roig, father and son,” says the source. “They have built Villarreal, although Cordon was very important. It is not the usual son who just gets to work in his father’s club. They have done exemplary work. A club from a city with 50,000 people competing at this level, and now they want to jump even further.”

Whoever was the first-team coach has generally been just another cog in the system, and one that can be quickly changed if things are going wrong. A dilemma for the Roigs came earlier this year. Villarreal hit a slump in form under Javi Calleja, a former midfielder for the club, who had coached their youth ranks and was now in his second term in charge of the first team.

Villarreal were eliminated from the Copa del Rey by Segunda side Mirandes in February, then the COVID-19 crisis hit after a run of just one win in five La Liga games, with their final match before lockdown being a 2-1 home defeat against bottom club Leganes that dropped them to eighth in the table, four points off Europa League qualification.

Emery was the chosen man for this season (Photo: Jose Miguel Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
There had already been some contact at the start of the year with Emery, who after leaving Arsenal last November was back living on his old stomping ground in Valencia, where he had kept a house. Now, it was agreed in principle that he would take over in the summer. But then, after lockdown, Calleja’s form immediately picked up, winning five of their next six games and eventually finishing fifth to secure a return to European competition. The homegrown coach was well-liked and thought that he had done enough to keep his job, but Emery had been identified as someone who could take them to the next level and finally win a trophy.

Emery himself was also keen to get back into the game, and saw in Villarreal an opportunity to repeat his successes at Valencia and especially Sevilla, and also to avoid dealing with the complex hierarchies which hampered his ability to work as he wanted to in Paris and north London.

“Emery was crazy (excited) to come here, he needed something like this, (back at the) Valencia and Sevilla level,” says the source. “At Arsenal and PSG, he enjoyed being at a big team but he could not be himself. And here we see he can do what he likes; he has the power, he has good players, he can control things. And he can live football — what he likes most. At other clubs you lose time on other things; here, it is just football.”

The Roigs were also happy to give Emery, who agreed a three-year contract, more control over different aspects of the club than Calleja or other previous coaches were permitted. No new senior sporting director has been hired and Emery works closely with Roig Negueroles, especially on transfers and a wide range of off-pitch decisions.

“Emery likes to control all the different elements,” says another source. “Obviously at Villarreal there are people above him, but he has arrived as the public face of the project. And that role suits him well. It is a club where everybody listens to everybody else, and that did not always happen in Paris, or at Arsenal.”

Villarreal’s well-managed finances saw them nicely placed to do business in the summer’s transfer market, especially compared to peers who had been hit much harder by the pandemic.

The biggest investment was €16.4 million to Watford for 22-year-old left-back Pervis Estupinan, who had been excellent on loan in La Liga last season with Osasuna and had reportedly interested Barcelona. They were also quick to take advantage of the chaos at Valencia to get one of Spain’s best playmakers, Dani Parejo, on a free transfer as well as his partner in midfield Francis Coquelin for €5 million. They also beat off competition to secure loan deals for Japanese starlet Takefusa Kubo from Real Madrid and young Argentinian defender Juan Foyth from Tottenham Hotspur.

This could all be done without causing any budgetary problems, as much-loved playmaker Santi Cazorla left to play in Qatar and fellow veteran Bruno Soriano retired. They had also banked €11.5 million from Lyon for Karl Toko Ekambi in January, then sold Turkish striker Enes Unal to Getafe for €9 million.

“Thankfully the club has been very stable,” Senna says. “We have been able to manage the COVID crisis, we have been fortunate with that. We have been doing our jobs well. And in the end we have been able to make these great signings, and we have started the season well.”

The well-known stability at Villarreal was also an advantage when looking to attract players. A source close to one of their new arrivals said that he chose to sign for them as he knew the club were well-run, and has since been impressed by how they function smoothly on all levels.

“(The player) had various options in the summer but he knew that Villarreal do things very well,” the source said. “It is a humble club but in the hands of very good professionals, something that is not the situation at all Spanish clubs. He has seen now that things are done right at all levels of the club — the back offices, the board, the communication team. All the details that you would expect from a much bigger club, Villarreal has, and they all work well.”

With a new high-profile coach on the bench and a feeling they “won” La Liga’s summer transfer market, there was a lot of excitement ahead of the first game of the season.

A draw at home to newly-promoted Huesca was a setback, then a 4-0 defeat away to Barcelona in week three, when Emery clearly lost the tactical battle to Ronald Koeman, led to some deep thinking. The shape of the team was changed from the 4-2-3-1 Emery had inherited from Calleja to a 4-3-3, with new team leader Parejo accompanied in a stronger centre by hard-working but forward-looking Manu Trigueros and Vicente Iborra.

“The style of play is more attacking, with more possession,” says another source close to the dressing room. “Since the change of system to three in the middle, the team dominate the ball and take the game to their opponents. Last year they were running more, now they are on the ball more. The players like that, and results are coming.”


Emery with his players ahead of a pre-season game (Photo: Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Senna is very careful not to be seen to play down the work done by Calleja, saying that there has been a pretty smooth transition under the new coach.

“We know that everyone has their own system, their own way of working and way of seeing things,” he says. “Calleja did spectacularly well but in the end the club had chosen Emery, for his experience, for his way of coaching, his way of seeing the game.”

Injuries to Coquelin and Estupinan mean they have not featured much, talented 19-year-old playmaker Kubo is being cautiously introduced into the team, while the less-heralded Moi Gomez is currently the attacking midfielder most used so far in La Liga. Emery has successfully “recovered” full-backs Alfonso Pedraza and Mario Gaspar, who had appeared set to leave but have been excellent through the opening months of the season. Centre-forward Paco Alcacer has five goals in La Liga already, while Gerard Moreno has four from a wide-attacking position. Homegrown youngster Pau Torres has continued his development into Spain’s outstanding young centre-back.

Also notable is that Emery has parted with long-term assistant Juan Carlos Carcedo, after they had worked together all through Almeria, Valencia, Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, PSG and Arsenal. In August, Carcedo took over as head coach of ambitious third-tier side Ibiza. The source close to the dressing room says Emery now works more closely day to day on getting his ideas across to his squad — “Unai is working more directly with his players than before.”

It seems to be working very well, and the Yellow Submarine are buoyant.

A handsome 3-1 victory at Getafe’s Coliseum Alfonso Perez before this international break made it four wins and two draws since that defeat at the Nou Camp. “You can already see Emery’s hand in this Villarreal,” said Getafe coach Jose Bordalas after his usually solid team were easily outplayed. Such form has put Villarreal up to second in the table, two points behind surprise leaders Real Sociedad.

Progress has also been smooth in the Europa League too, where Villarreal are top of their group with three wins from three, 12 goals scored, four against. The extra games in a competition he has been hugely successful in with other clubs have been useful for Emery to get his entire squad plugged into his ideas. Colombian striker Carlos Bacca has not started yet in La Liga but has three goals in his three Europa appearances. Jaume Costa, in theory the fourth-choice left-back, has played well in midfield in Europe.

“Unai has brought the whole squad together; each player who comes in adapts very well to his system,” Senna says. “That is very difficult for any coach, but he is very close to the players, very human. He is enjoying being able to use different players, try different systems, in different games against different opponents. It is all working well for him at the moment.”

Next up for Villarreal is a home game against Real Madrid this Saturday. Emery’s team have now won six games in a row at their stadium, a venue where Madrid have not taken the three points since February 2017. Given Real Madrid and Barcelona are both well below their levels of recent years, another victory would perhaps suggest that Emery’s team have what it takes to mount a proper title challenge. However, Senna is much more cautious and says that even though Real Madrid will be without players including Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard, Villarreal will need to be “perfect” to come out on top.

“We expect a very difficult game,” he says. “We have a very good squad at Villarreal, with very good players, but we are still not Barca or Madrid. They are in another league, with another budget — when a player is missing, another who is just as good comes in. We have to be very focused and try to play a perfect game to get another victory against Madrid.”

Such realism is a very Villarreal trait, and it is true that while Emery has beaten Real Madrid in La Liga with Almeria, Valencia and Sevilla, he has also suffered heavy defeats against them with each.

The thinking at the “Ceramica” through recent years has generally been focused on the medium term, and that has worked out pretty well. Future planning continued through this international break with contract extensions for four youth-teamers who have contributed to Emery’s side already this season, including exciting 18-year-old winger Yeremi Pino, who scored an impressive goal at Qarabag in the Europa League last month. Spain Under-21 centre-back Jorge Cuenca was signed from Barcelona last summer for just €2.5 million and is out on loan gaining experience with Almeria in the second division.

However the Emery appointment, and the signing of Parejo, suggest a shift in focus to look at what the team can win right now. Given the unpredictability of this strangest of seasons, anything seems possible.

Emery laughed when asked by Spanish media if Villarreal could “do a Leicester” and come from nowhere to take the title. Off the record, those around the club say the Copa del Rey or Europa League will be the targets this year, at the very least. Qualifying for Europe 14 times in the last 17 seasons, and reaching the odd semi-final, has been nice but not really enough.

“Villarreal is a healthy club that always pays its bills on time, has its own stadium; economically, it is a model club in La Liga,” says a source close to one of their new arrivals. “Now they have a good squad and a top coach. The objective now has to be to win trophies and sooner rather than later.”

Senna will not go that far, but does speak about the club’s ambitions when asked if Emery has been brought in to finally deliver the trophy they came so close to winning during his own time as a player.

“We hope so and we have ambition, that is clear, but we cannot think that we must win a trophy this season,” he says. “Our objective is just to have a very good season. At the moment we are doing well, winning games, high in the table. Now we need to keep this consistency going over the whole campaign, which is very difficult. We know we have to go step by step, with our feet on the ground. At the end of the season, we can see what we have been able to achieve.”

So Emery’s first months back at work in Spain have gone well, and he has everything around him to push on and deliver a lot more.

After his recent travails in France and England, the 49-year-old is also back in an atmosphere and structure where he can get the most out of himself.

It sounds simple, but all he needs to do now is guide Villarreal to somewhere they have never been before.


Has Trust Issues With Processes
I like Emery. Think we should try again one day.
I liked him a lot tbh, but I think it was the right call.

Shame he didn't have puff pieces and Carragher to help him out during that run of bad games.

All the posters here who are quick to write off our younger players should really pay attention to the Saka bit and note the importance of persistence and patience.


Well-Known Member
Emery didn't work out because of his English language skills imo. How are you supposed to influence your team or to give them a hairdryer treatment when you can't express yourself?

Feel bad for the guy but if his English was like Arteta or Wenger he would have gotten more time I feel.


Well-Known Member
I liked him a lot tbh, but I think it was the right call.

Shame he didn't have puff pieces and Carragher to help him out during that run of bad games.

All the posters here who are quick to write off our younger players should really pay attention to the Saka bit and note the importance of persistence and patience.
Used to like him from afar, especially at Valencia.

However, up close at arsenal, he came across as insecure and had some complex IMO. TBF, that may have had to do with wanting to prove himself (to the fans, media, etc.)

Has some of the same things I don't like about Arteta - wanting to control every move on the pitch. Also his football was dire, maybe better that what Arteta was dishing a few games ago though


Flair Accuser
Conducted himself with class, I lost faith, but I don't doubt he is a competent manager.

Maybe it would have worked out better, if he wasn't hampered communicationwise.
Exactly this. If it weren't for communication issues and a little during the final spell of the first season, he'd still be here. Almost gave us a European trophy in ages and got us back in the CL through the league.

People doubting his credentials are ****s.


A-M's Resident Jobber
A very good manager, who mainly struggled due to the board making poor signings and the communications barrier...his track record in Spain is tremendous.

Found him very likeable too, glad he is doing well again.

Tir Na Nog

Changes Opinion Every 5 Minutes

**** me. :lol:

It was Emery alone who decided he didn't want Ramsey only the then realise halfway through the season that Ramsey was an important player to the squad. Ramsey essentially saved us in terms of giving us a fighting chance of top 4 and helping us in the EL.


Posting While Meditating

**** me. :lol:

It was Emery alone who decided he didn't want Ramsey only the then realise halfway through the season that Ramsey was an important player to the squad. Ramsey essentially saved us in terms of giving us a fighting chance of top 4 and helping us in the EL.
But didn’t we already know this though?
I’ll say it again, Ramsey wasn’t perfect but he gave absolutely everything for the club. Sounds like the bare minimum but it really isn’t.
Don’t know why there are so many articles/interviews about Emery after hes left though. He was only here for 18 months. We had half the amount for Wenger who was here for over 20 years

Tir Na Nog

Changes Opinion Every 5 Minutes
But didn’t we already know this though?
I’ll say it again, Ramsey wasn’t perfect but he gave absolutely everything for the club. Sounds like the bare minimum but it really isn’t.
Don’t know why there are so many articles/interviews about Emery after hes left though. He was only here for 18 months. We had half the amount for Wenger who was here for over 20 years

There's been a lot of speculation, originally everyone assumed that Ramsey decided to leave. Other speculation that Ramsey wanted 400k. Also another rumour was that it was Raul, etc who decided it behind Emery's back and Emery only dropped him because it was already decided he wasn't part of the future.

Ramsey was our POTS in 17/18 even tho it was a poor season. He saved when he went through a poor late December/January period under Emery. He was exceptional at times, a big game player and had achieved so much and done so much for the club while never really getting the credit he deserved. He was one of the least of our problems which Emery inherited yet he decided to drop him completely and in turn decide Ramseys future for him and we've struggled to replace him since. Ceballos is well short of what Ramsey gave and it was obvious for a while we lacked goals from midfield. Hopefully now with ESR in form, Ødegaard coming in, Partey, etc these issues might be addressed and we can stop longing for Ramsey but certainly in the immediate aftermath of his departure we failed to replace him in any way and we suffered greatly for it. Everything well on Auba from an attacking point of view. No 3rd man runs from midfield everything was so static and predictable. It's only now that we're seeing with ESR's movement and the way Partey plays the box-to-box role that we're seeing our midfield evolve a bit.