Unai Emery has the chance to write his name in Europa League history once more on Wednesday night, as Villarreal take on Manchester United in the final.
Victory in Gdansk would see him lift his fourth Europa League title, overtaking Giovanni Trapattoni as the most successful coach in the competition’s history.
With a daunting task awaiting, Emery explains to MARCA why he is relishing the challenge.
Q: Would you say that Villarreal signed you in order to reach the Europa League Final and then to win it?
A: At the start, we never spoke about objectives. They never said: ‘We want to win and we want you to come to do this’. The main objective that I set out to achieve with Villarreal was play European football regularly. To be in the Europa League regularly, as well as the Champions League. And then to break the barrier of reaching four European semi-finals and the barrier to reach the Copa del Rey semi-final. The people at the club believed that with my experience, I could help them take this step.
When you reached the Europa League Final, did you feel that a weight had been lifted off the club?
A: If I feel proud of something in this final, it is breaking that barrier, it is managing to bring that excitement to Villarreal, to take Villarreal past the semi-finals after experiencing so much frustration. Always placing a lot of value on what the club had achieved before, but breaking another barrier. Having said that, the objective of both myself and the club has to be: ‘We made it, but we cannot stay here, we must keep improving,’ and that is also very difficult, but those are the challenges.
Q: Would you say that you have enjoyed a perfect competition up to this point?
A: We did very well in the groups stages and the knockout rounds, in a very serious and mature way, respecting our opponents and the competition.
Q: From the outside, it has even seemed easy:
A: In some matches, we had the match tied up after the first 90 minutes and then a half of the return match and we said: ‘Are the other team bad?’ But they are not bad, they are very good, but we are playing in such a mature way that we are minimising their play and the effect of their individual players thanks to our work. We placed a lot of emphasis on doing that.
Q: And in the final? Will you look to score first and take risks?
A: In a final of 90 minutes, of 120 minutes or penalties, a lot of things can happen. There will be moments for Manchester United, there will be moments for Villarreal, let’s see who makes the most of them. How many moments will Manchester United or Villarreal have? Normally, United will have more and we have to work to ensure that they don’t have more. And ater, it is about being capable of taking advantage of your moments. Normally the favourite wins? Yes. That is reality, but we are going to try with our options, with confidence and a lot of security.
Q: You refer a lot to ‘breaking barriers’.
A: You have to go through those barriers breaking them, playing, creating a climate of confidence in your playing style, in your teammates so that they feel comfortable and that it the work of the coach and it is what we are trying to do. If we are going to play against Manchester United and we go out onto the pitch trembling, logically we will have few chances, but I believe that this team will never go out trembling.