When Arsene Wenger took over at Arsenal way back in 1996, it was a case of ‘Arsene who?’ for most fans.
Much has been written about successor Unai Emery after his exploits with Sevilla and more recently PSG but where has he come from? What was his playing career like? And how has his managerial history led to him becoming Gunners gaffer?
It’s 2/1 with bet365 in their Premier League betting on a top-four finish in 2018/19 that Emery can bring Champions League football back to the Emirates Stadium. Here’s a potted history of him.
Emery was born on November 3, 1971 in Hondarribia – a town in the Spanish Basque Country on the western shore of Bidasoa river where it empties into the Bay of Biscay.
Football was a pursuit for many of his male relatives – Emery’s father and grandfather were goalkeepers, but his uncle was a midfielder and it was on the left-hand side where he played.
Although Emery came through the ranks at Real Sociedad, he never really made the grade in the first team at the Anoeta despite spending a decade in the youth setup, B team and senior squad (1986-96).
Emery left San Sebastian after five La Liga appearances, though he notably scored in an 8-1 home romp over Albacete, and spent most of the rest of his playing career in the second tier of Spanish football.
After four years with Toledo (1996-2000), Emery joined Racing Ferrol (2000-02), then had a season at Leganes and finally Lorca Deportiva where he picked up a career-ending knee injury.
The Lorca president must’ve seen something in Emery as he offered him the manager’s job, who repaid this leap of faith by getting the Murcian club into the Segunda Division for the first time in their history.
Emery joined Almeria after 18 months with Lorca and took them into the Spanish top-flight. Thanks to the goals of Alvaro Negredo, he secured an eighth-place La Liga finish in 2007/08.
That led to interest in Emery’s services from Valencia and his first big job in management. Although Los Che were sixth in his first season at the Mestalla, they finished as best of the rest behind El Clasico pair Real Madrid and Barcelona for the three subsequent campaigns thanks to prolific strikers David Villa and then Roberto Soldado.
Although Emery didn’t win anything at Valencia, they haven’t lived up to his top-three La Liga finishes since. He moved abroad for the first time in his coaching career in the summer of 2012 when agreeing to take charge of Russian Premier League club Sparrtak Moscow.
A 5-1 derby defeat at home to Dynamo Moscow in November 2012 ended Emery’s fruitless spell in Russia, yet his reputation remained intact at home and, less than two months later, he took over at Sevilla.
What followed in Andalusia is probably a big factor in why Arsenal came calling. Working with sporting director Monchi, famed for his moneyball approach to player recruitment, Emery steered Sevilla to a hat-trick of Europa League titles.
To put that in context, not even the Ajax and Bayern Munich sides of the early and mid-1970s who won three European Cups in a row were all under the same manager. Zinedine Zidane matched Emery’s achievement by guiding Real Madrid to a trifecta of Champions League crowns over the past three seasons.
Emery then moved to PSG in France, who have been the dominant force in Ligue 1 of recent years, yet lost out on the title in his first season to a resurgent Monaco.
The principality club’s triumph was short-lived, however, as they couldn’t hold on to key players and Emery added a Ligue 1 this past season to domestic French cups on his roll of honour during his two years in Paris.
Tensions with world record transfer buy Neymar mean Emery may have some issues with managing superstars, so the Gunners project may prove a better fit. Only time will tell.