Inside Unai Emery’s flying start at Aston Villa: Ferocious attention to detail, one-on-one video briefings and not a single full day off for the players… the Spaniard’s impact has been undeniable and he has the clout to match the club’s ambitions
- Unai Emery was appointed Aston Villa manager after Steven Gerrard’s sacking
- Spaniard was viewed by the club as the best realistic candidate they could hire
- Has instilled a ferocious attention to detail during initial weeks of his reign
- Regular video sessions for the Villa players to demonstrate what they need to do
- Between November 2 and 13 the players did not enjoy a single full day off
Barely a few days into his tenure as Aston Villa head coach, Unai Emery had already set about giving his players examples of his ferocious attention to detail.
The Spaniard had taken over a team in desperate need of a clear structure and that had looked lost during the grim final weeks of Steven Gerrard’s regime. Under Emery, there has been an immediate improvement in results, with back-to-back league wins against Manchester United and Brighton, either side of a 4-2 defeat by United at Old Trafford in the Carabao Cup.
This ‘new manager bounce’ is relatively typical. When Gerrard replaced Dean Smith a year ago, Villa won four of his opening six matches and everything in the garden appeared rosy. Just because Emery has claimed six points from two games, there is no guarantee that Villa will fly up the table in the second half of the campaign.
Unai Emery has already stamped his authority on the Aston Villa squad within just a few weeks
Emery was unveiled as manager earlier this month, and oversaw their 3-1 win over Man United
Whatever Villa’s form, though, every player will be clear on what is expected, and how hard they will need to work. Between November 2, Emery’s first day in the job, and November 13, when Villa won 2-1 at Brighton before the World Cup break, the squad did not have a full day off.
One of Emery’s first moves was to summon players one by one to his office at the club’s Bodymoor Heath training ground and once there, the player was given a detailed briefing – via clips on an iPad – of how he was required to perform. The message was clear: Here is what I what I need you do, and if you do it, I can help you. Don’t worry too much about anything else.
One of Emery’s favourite tools is video analysis and when they return to training after a short break, Villa’s players can anticipate plenty more time in front of the screen. The level of information and detail has raised eyebrows among the squad, who have nevertheless been impressed by just how much Emery knew about their individual strengths and weaknesses during their first meetings.
Emery is known to be hands on and has ensured each of his players understands their task under him
The appointment of Pako Ayestaran, who was part of Rafael Benitez’s coaching team when he won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005, looks a hugely smart move, given his successful combination with Emery at Valencia and his knowledge of the English game.
From day one, Emery has been in the thick of the action at Bodymoor, marching from pitch to pitch with clipboard in hand. While the 51-year-old has an air of authority and likes to keep a professional distance from his squad, Sportsmail understands his coaching staff have made a particular effort to make players feel at ease – which was not always the case under the previous regime. That means high-fives, hugs and wisecracks are the order of the day from the coaches as players arrive for their work.
The Gerrard experiment started well but ultimately did not work, and co-owner Nassef Sawiris wanted to ensure his successor had proven European pedigree.
Emery has shown himself to have an air of authority – both on the touchline and on the training ground, where he has marched pitch to pitch with a clipboard
Emery has won 11 major trophies and has a track record of overachieving with Valencia and Sevilla – clubs of similar size to Villa – as well as Villarreal. Since Sawiris and fellow billionaire Wes Edens took control four years ago, they have dreamed of taking Villa back into European competition and have spent nearly £500million on transfers to try to achieve it.
They believe Emery to be the best candidate they could realistically have hired and are prepared to grant him greater control than any of his predecessors – Steve Bruce, Dean Smith and Gerrard – enjoyed under the NSWE regime.
Though Emery is used to working with a sporting director and will operate in tandem with Johan Lange, his recommendations in the transfer market will carry significant weight.
The Spaniard’s first taste of life at Villa was a 3-1 win over Manchester United at the beginning of the month
Emery currently has the buy-in of all the players as they seek to impress but how long his video sessions are able to maintain their intrigue and mystique remains to be seen
He will be backed in January, too, and it would be no surprise to see Emery return to former club Villarreal during the mid-season transfer window, where attacker Nicolas Jackson is highly regarded by his old boss. He is thought to be believe Villa’s greatest need is up front and out wide.
Despite his excellent track record, Emery’s appointment does not guarantee success. At the moment, he has the buy-in of all the players as they try to impress him. But when his plans become clearer, how easy will it be to keep those who do not play regularly on board? Will the long days, limited free time and detailed video sessions continue to hold players’ attention? Will the constant in-game coaching be an inspiration for some but an irritation for others?
One thing is for certain, though: Sawiris and Edens finally have a coach with the clout to match their ambitions. His initial impact could hardly have been better and Emery’s Villa will surely be one of the teams to watch in the second half of the season.
Emery has won the Europa League trophy four times, most recently with Villareal in 2021 – Villa sought to appoint a manager with European pedigree
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