Dave Woodhall writes about the appointment of Unai Emery, and has an apology to make.
Sometimes you have to put your hands up and admit you were wrong.
There I was a couple of weeks ago, starting to wonder what our owners were really up to. It seemed that Steven Gerrard was here for the duration, poor results, worse football and all. It seemed as though they were happy for this state of affairs to continue, for Christian Purslow’s mate to carry on and for the Villa to drift along, getting further away from the top clubs while talking airily about some mythical ‘project’ when all we seemed bothered about was staying in the Premier League.
Then bang, one bad performance (and it really was a shocker) at Fulham and Gerrard was gone. There didn’t seem many suitable candidate around – Pochettino and Tuchal were never really available – and it appeared that the best bet would be to try to get Brendan Rodgers or Thomas Frank. Sean Dyche was also, worryingly, mentioned.
Some form of relief came with that win on Sunday, which showed that the team aren’t as bad as was feared and the search didn’t have to be rushed. We didn’t need a manager best suited to avoiding relegation and we could perhaps wait until after the World Cup, when you never know who might become available. Just over 24 hours later we were welcoming one of the best and most successful coaches in Europe. Welcome, Unai Emery, to the best job you’ll ever have.
Nobody needs telling about what he’s done before. Four Europa Leagues, a French title and a couple of domestic cups tells its own story. He may have been sacked by Arsenal, but the hardest job in management is to replace a legend and you could just as easily argue that he not only improved on Arsene Wenger’s later performances, he also began to put into place the rebuilding that Mikel Arteta has continued.
I said at the time the doubts were creeping in that for all they’ve done for the Villa, the new regime hadn’t yet given us anything truly jaw-dropping. There hadn’t been the grand gesture that showed the Villa mean business. There has now. This is the sort of appointment that will cause eyes to be raised throughout Europe. If one of the (spurious) reasons for appointing Gerrard was that he could attract quality players, this idea has improved many-fold with the arrival of a manager who can not only bring in the best, he also knows how to work with them. I can’t think of the last time we made such a top-level appointment. Martin O’Neill, perhaps, or maybe Ron Atkinson. Both were big names, but arguably only domestically. Anyone in the world who has a keen interest in football knows Unai Emery.
All this begs the question as to why he’s chosen to leave a successful team in Villareal and move to the managerial graveyard that is Villa Park. After all, less than a year ago he turned down Newcastle because he wasn’t sure about their future plans, so phenomenally rich owners aren’t his only criteria. It seems that he must like what we’ve got already, for which in part we must thank Aaron Danks and wish him well in the future, but most of all he’s been told that the project is still alive and our ambitions match his.
What makes it even better is that we’re not a stepping stone, we’re not someone else’s Aston Villa. We’ll be getting attention as a club that means business, with a manager who sees Villa Park as the place where these ambitions will be fulfilled. Emery is swapping a club that got to last season’s Champions League semi-finals for one that hasn’t played in Europe for over a decade. That’s one hell of a selling job, and whoever was the architect of this achievement, whether it was Purslow, Nassef Sawiris, whoever, then thanks. It’s nice to be wrong.
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