Fuelled by video nasties and sleepless nights, Unai Emery is ready for the challenge of succeeding Arsene Wenger after being appointed as Arsenal’s first new boss for 22 years.
Arsenal have made a habit of appointing managers out of left-field — Bertie Mee was a former physiotherapist, former Arsenal star George Graham came from second-tier Millwall and Wenger was greeted with “Arsene Who?” headlines following his move from Japan’s Nagoya Grampus 8 in 1996.
Emery is seen by some as another surprise choice after the Gunners reportedly initially favoured Manchester City assistant coach Mikel Arteta.
But Emery, a 46-year-old Spaniard, arrives with grand credentials following his two-year stay with Paris Saint Germain and a Europa League-winning spell at Sevilla.
Emery left Paris at the end of this season having won the domestic treble.
Now he is tasked with raising standards at the Emirates Stadium and restoring Arsenal to the kind of glory they enjoyed in the early years of Wenger’s reign.
Emery already has one thing in common with Wenger after making clear his disdain for the Frenchman’s old rival Jose Mourinho.
When Manchester United boss Mourinho, then in charge of Real Madrid, devoted a press conference to criticising referee Carlos Clos Gomez in 2010, Emery gave an acerbic retort, snarling: “Mourinho’s stance is that of a cry baby”.
It was a jibe typical of the intense Emery, who was steeped in football from birth, with his father and grandfather both former players.
Emery had a modest playing career, largely spent in Spain’s lower leagues, but he was an instant hit in his managerial debut with third-tier Lorca.
He achieved promotion and then moved to Almeria, who he took up to La Liga for the first time before taking over at Valencia, where he guided the team into the Champions League with three consecutive top-three finishes.
Valencia’s vibrant style earned him the admiration and friendship of Pep Guardiola.
Emery moved to Sevilla where he won three consecutive Europa League trophies in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Emery has earned a reputation as one of Europe’s most studious coaches, working until the early hours of the morning crafting his game-plans.
– Perfectionist –
He spends up to 12 hours preparing video analysis for his players and former Valencia winger Joaquin once quipped: “There were so many videos I ran out of popcorn.
“He’s obsessed with football, it’s practically an illness. He’s one of the best managers I’ve had.”
Emery is a perfectionist who demands relentless effort on the training ground.
“Either we all work or let’s just burst the ball,” he said, giving voice to an approach that might shake Arsenal out of the complacency that marred the end of the Wenger era.
Significantly, Emery has flourished within a structure similar to the one now in place at Arsenal, who lean heavily on head of recruitment Sven Mislintat and head of football operations Raul Sanllehi, both recruited last November.
At Sevilla, Emery worked well with recruitment director Monchi and Arsenal are gambling the same structure pays dividends for them.
The main worry for Arsenal fans might be Emery’s ill-fated spell with Spartak Moscow in 2012 and his failure to fulfil his mandate at Paris Saint-Germain, where he was asked to win the Champions League after moving to the big-spending French giants in 2016.
Emery was let go by PSG with one year left on his contract and the roots of demise lay in two painful Champions League exits and a troubled relationship with star striker Neymar.
In 2017, a woeful 6-1 loss in Barcelona saw PSG surrender a 4-0 first leg lead in an incredible last-16 meltdown.
On the heels of that collapse, this season’s capitulation against Real Madrid in the last-16 ensured Emery’s time in Paris would be short-lived.
Wenger’s travails in recent years mean Emery will not have to worry about the Champions League in the coming season but Arsenal can rest assured their ultra-driven boss will be working all hours to get them back there.