Arsenal have appointed a winner. That is something that is clear the moment you meet Unai Emery. He constantly thinks about winning and the trophies he has won during his coaching career speak for him. Even at Paris Saint-Germain, where they expected more in the Champions League than he was able to deliver, he proved he knew how to win.
Emery has one great quality: he is an extraordinary motivator. His specialty is preparing for matches, speaking at great length to his players. I remember when I was at Sevilla we had long squad meetings where he would first show various tactical videos and then motivational films. He wanted to really get us going, to light a fire inside us. More than once we stayed literally for hours in a room watching motivational videos, so when we got to the game we were really hungry for success.
What’s more, Emery’s backroom staff was of the highest quality. His coaches are brilliantly prepared, studying for every big game. Unai and his staff are on top of every little detail. They don’t leave anything to chance, they absolutely live for football.
From a tactical perspective, he is perhaps better suited to Italian football than the Spanish game. On the training pitch he works hard on defensive phases and how to counter particular opponents. Obviously, he doesn’t have exactly the same tactical priorities that we have in Italy but he works particularly hard on this aspect of the game, more than many other Spanish coaches.
As a person, Emery is extremely serious when his team is on the pitch. He wants total commitment and total concentration. On the other hand he is a Basque, and people from the Basque country are not typical Spaniards. He appreciates a joke and he’ll have a laugh when it’s the right time to do so. He blossomed in the red-hot environment of Sevilla.
One of his great strengths is his relationship with the players. Unai talks with you a lot as an individual and he and his staff can really make a team come together on the pitch. One time, when there was an international break, our captain, José Antonio Reyes, organized a paddle tennis tournament. It’s a game they play a lot in Spain. At the last minute Emery arrived with his staff to play with us. It was a special moment and it is in times like this that the bond between the players and the coach becomes stronger.
There was one thing that happened at Sevilla which I have never experienced elsewhere in my entire career, and that is having one single table for the team, the coach and the entire staff when we ate together. Usually the coach and his assistants eat at a separate table and players would never sit with them. In many years of football I’ve never seen anything like this.
I had a bad injury that seriously affected my season at Sevilla but Emery was always available to me and listened to me, and there was one particular moment when we played in the Europa League final [against Liverpool] that made me really emotional. He arranged to have a motivational video shown in the dressing room before the game, which looked back over the entire season at Sevilla.
Among the clips he had chosen was one of my injury, and one of me working on my recuperation. It was a way of making me feel part of the team, and it showed me that Emery knows how to look after everyone. I was truly touched by this gesture.
It is not an accident that he is loved by the fans. At Sevilla he had a truly wonderful rapport with the supporters. Now at Arsenal he faces a great challenge. English football is unique and Emery will have to quickly understand this new reality, but the experience he has already had abroad will help him. I am sure he has all the skills necessary to succeed in the Premier League: tactical awareness, motivational ability, extraordinary staff and a winning mentality. Arsenal have made a good choice.
*Marco Andreolli, now at Cagliari, played under Unai Emery while on loan at Sevilla in 2015-16.
The Guardian Sport