Unai Emery: How the coach of Villarreal became the father of Europa League

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Unai Emery has become the father of the UEFA Europa League after leading Villarreal to defeat Manchester United in the final of the competition on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

From the start of the game, Villarreal were looking more ambitious especially after they scored the first goal through the boots of Gerard Moreno. However, Manchester United were able to get back into the game, thanks to Edison Cavani’s equalizer.

After those two goals, the two sides were not able to score any goal during the regular time. The game dragged into extra time and then to penalty shootouts.

After 11 penalties, Villarreal ended the game as the champions of the 2020-2021 UEFA Europa League, thanks to the club’s goalkeeper’s ability to stop David de Gea’s spot-kick. Villarreal won 11-10 on penalties.

Villarreal’s win over Manchester United in Gdansk, Poland, made the night a historic one for Unai Emery and Villarreal. The victory earned Emery his fourth Europa League title in five finals, making him the most successful manager in the tournament.

Before the final on Wednesday, the 49-year-old Spanish coach had overtaken Giovanni Trapattoni to become the coach with most games in the Europa League. After winning his fourth Europa League title, Unai Emery overtook Giovanni who has three Europa League titles before he retired from coaching.

On the other hand, the victory earned Villarreal their first major title in the club’s history and catapulted the club from the 7th spot on the league table to the 2021-2022 UEFA Champions League group stage.

If Unai Emery had not helped Villarreal to win the Europa League, the club would have ended up playing in the newly established UEFA conference league which is the third tier of club football in Europe.

Unai Emery and his love for Europa League

At the end of the 2019-2020 season, Villarreal decided to sack Javi Calleja who took the club to the 5th spot on the league table. They appointed Unai Emery due to his pedigree when it comes to winning the Europa League.

Emery won the title with Sevilla three successive times (2013 to 2016) and took Arsenal to the final of the competition in the 2018-2019 season but lost to Chelsea.

After he was sacked by Arsenal in 2019, he spent over 7 months without a job before he was appointed by Villarreal in July 2020, a club that has always failed to make it to the final of major competitions.

Hence, Emery and the club concentrated fully on the Europa League. It became obvious that the Spanish tactician was on the verge of making a name for himself and the club when he knocked out Arsenal in the semi-final of the competition.

When the club made it to the final to face Manchester United, the Premier League club that finished second on the league table this season were rated as favorites above Villarreal. Unfortunately for Manchester United, Villarreal stole the show.

Before now, Unai Emery has had to defend the importance of the Europa League even before the former coach of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Emery had recently recounted how Ferguson once asked him if he would not “like to win the Champions League?” And he told the retired coach: “Yes of course I would, but the Europa League is a place where many teams, fans, and players can find important recognition.”

On Wednesday night in Poland, the same Ferguson that tried to mock the Europa League years ago was on the stands to support Manchester United to win the title. Unfortunately for him, the same Unai Emery used Manchester United to win his record 4th Europa League title.

Recall that when Emery was the coach of Arsenal between 2018 and 2019, Tottenham Hotspur used to make a mockery of Arsenal for playing in the Europa League while Spurs were playing in the Champions League.

Then, Spurs fans used to sing: “Oh what a night, watching Tottenham on a Tuesday night. You play Thursday ‘cos you’re f*** s*. What a feeling, what a night,’ is that the Conference League is the new ugly duckling.”

Now, Tottenham Hotspur are struggling to qualify for the Europa League while Arsenal were not able to qualify for the competition at the end of the 2020-2021 season.

“[The Europa League is] a competition that has grown a lot and has a lot of value now”, Unai Emery told Spanish publication Marca before he went ahead to win his 4th Europa League title on Wednesday to become the most successful football manager in the competition.