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Villa on the up Under Emery

Having made great strides under Unai Emery, Aston Villa are looking to push on and reduce the gap behind the esteemed juggernauts of the English top flight. Also high up on the agenda is to win the club's first major trophy for 26 years.

Emery is just half a year in the job though he ought to build upon the solid foundations laid in the bisected campaign of 2022/23. The Villains were among the best teams in the Premier League during the second portion of an unusual season.

When the Spaniard succeeded Steven Gerrard at the start of November, Villa were 3 points off the foot of the Premier League table, having taken just 12 points from their opening 13 outings.

Emery, 51, was appointed two weeks before the domestic season went on pause to accommodate the FIFA World Cup, and he took full advantage of the six-week break to implement the building blocks of his philosophy on winning football matches.

The change in management sparked a major upturn in fortunes as Emery propelled an underperforming group of players into gear with immediate improvements.

Since his arrival at Bodymoor Heath, Villa have earned 49 points from 25 games, averaging almost 2 points per game, which would equate to 74 points over a 38-game season.

Following Emery's first Premier League meeting as Villa boss, only four teams – Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool – picked up more points than his side.

Emery hails from the Basque town of Hondarribia, directly next to the French border. He has managed well-known clubs such as Arsenal and Paris St-Germain, but it was at Sevilla where he gained substantial plaudits for his achievements.

He had previously made his name known, within Spain, as Valencia manager. Emery mustered three successive third-place finishes during a period when LaLiga was dominated by Pep Guardiola's Barcelona and Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid.

Emery's next job in Spain came at Sevilla and it was there his stocks skyrocketed after steering the Andalusians to three consecutive Europa League titles from 2014 to 2016. He would earn a lucrative deal abroad as PSG lured him away from the comfort of his homeland.

Unai Emery, UEFA Europa League, 2014
Emery with his first Europa League title in 2014. (Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Emery spent a couple years in the French capital, fulfilling a two-year contract which ultimately wasn't renewed in 2018. He was replaced by Thomas Tuchel following the 2017/18 season in which Emery had guided the Parisians to a domestic treble.

He was then chosen as Arsenal's successor to long-serving manager Arsène Wenger. During his time in north London, Emery was met with substantial adversity and he was dismissed 18 months into a three-year deal at the Emirates Stadium.

Unai Emery at Arsenal, 2019
Things didn't go as planned for Emery at Arsenal. (Photo: Rob Newell - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Emery made a return to his native Spain, taking over the reigns at Villarreal in 2020. The following year he added to his already impressive medal collection with a fourth Europa League success, having guided El Submarino Amarillo (the Yellow Submarine) to its first-ever trophy.

Now in his second job with a Premier League team, Emery seeks to further enhance his reputation as one of the most innovative tacticians in world football.

He has bags of experience in Europe and will be eager to cease Aston Villa's trophy duck which stretches back almost three decades (not including the Championship in 2019). Villa are without major silverware since 1996 but promising showings under Emery suggest they have what it takes to bring that barren run to an end in the next 12 months.

The Villains are set to embark on a first European outing since 2010. Martin O'Neill led his charges to UEFA Cup/Europa League qualification in three consecutive seasons between 2007 and 2010.

The Midlands club could replicate West Ham United, recent victors of the Europa Conference League, and Emery will want to ensure he has all the tools necessary to go all the way in UEFA’s tertiary club competition.

Earlier this month Christian Purslow stepped down as CEO of the Birmingham-based club in a move which is said to hand Emery more control over footballing decisions, together with someone he has enjoyed great success in the past.

It was announced last week that Ramón Rodriguez Verdejo, aka Monchi, has agreed to join forces with ex-colleague Emery.

Post-playing, the former goalkeeper has spent more than two decades at Sevilla (across two separate spells) where he has revolutionized the identity of the club in southern Spain.

Upon joining Aston Villa as its president of sporting operations, Monchi told club media: “I am delighted and can’t wait to work with Unai Emery again, one of the best managers in football.

“After enjoying so many years with Sevilla FC and winning several European trophies with my life-long club, I look forward to building on the recent successes at Aston Villa and ensuring this colossal club continues to grow and improve.”

Monchi left his local club in 2017, at the time considered by many as the greatest sporting director in world football, to take up the same role at AS Roma.

Being away from his usual surroundings perhaps took Monchi out of his comfort zone too much for his liking and the move to Italy didn't quite live up to expectations. He subsequently returned to Sevilla after two years away.

He now leaves his post at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium once more. This time should be different, however, with his long-time associate waiting to welcome him to Birmingham with open arms.

Monchi at Sevilla
Monchi is Sevilla through and through. (Jose Breton/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Monchi, 54, remains highly regarded in the footballing fraternity. He worked closely with Emery throughout the latter's three-year spell as head coach in Seville (2013-16), during which time they co-masterminded three successive coups in the Europa League.

Since 2005, Sevilla have collected 11 pieces of silverware, of which seven came in the UEFA Cup/Europa League – at least four more than any other competitor in the tournament's history. All seven of those victories came under Monchi's jurisdiction.

He is credited for identifying young talents in Sergio Ramos, Dani Alves, Ivan Rakitić and Jesús Navas among a plethora of others to have been recruited and later sold for sizeable profits.

Despite a poor campaign domestically in 2022/23, Sevilla captured a record-extending fifth Europa League crown.

Emery has already added to his ranks with the signing of Youri Tielemans on a free transfer. The Belgium midfielder has made 150 appearances in the Premier League with Leicester City and he also brings with him significant experience in the Europa League with the Foxes.

Villa are actively looking to further bolster its first-team squad and, with Emery and now Monchi at the helm, it should come as no surprise if they were to dip into the Spanish market.

The manager has a good eye for talent in his homeland, while the new president of sporting operations boasts ample expertise as well as connections in his home country.

Pau Torres and Yeremy Pino are Spanish internationals who both rose to prominence during Emery's time in charge at Villarreal, where the pair currently ply their trade.

Emery fast-tracked Pino's path to the first-team and the winger made his senior debut for Spain in October 2021, aged 18 at the time.

Yeremy Pino, Villarreal
Pino with Villarreal. (Photo: Joan Valls/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Marco Asensio was heavily linked with a move to Villa Park however the attacker is set to join PSG following the end of his contract at Real Madrid.

Villa had expected to appoint Mateu Alemany to a high-ranking position however the Barcelona football director made a U-turn and opted to stay put in Catalonia.

(Cover Images: Aston Villa FC)

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