Enjoying an 'annus mirabilis' which includes a UEFA Europa League triumph and Sevilla FC's best-ever Liga start, coach Unai Emery is hoping for more before 2014 ends.
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The year 2014 has been eventful to say the least for Unai Emery and Sevilla FC. After a torrid early run where they claimed just one win from their first eight games in January and February, the Basque coach was a man under fire. But a victorious UEFA Europa League campaign and a finest-ever start to a Liga season – Sevilla are joint top – mean the former UD Almería and Valencia CF boss has helped the Andalusian club enjoy one of the best 12 months in their history.
"We are delighted with how we have started," Emery told UEFA.com. "The main quality I am trying to get into the side is their ability to compete. They are giving their best, pushing in the right direction, and along with the daily work that we undertake this enables us to deliver performances and obtain these kind of results."
The Hispalenses' scintillating opening to 2014/15 merely continues the form displayed ever since ending a six-match winless streak by beating Rayo Vallecano de Madrid back on 23 February. Since that 1-0 success, Sevilla have accrued 54 points from 24 games in Spain's top flight – more than any other side. "Given the players we lost the previous summer, maybe February was the moment where the team began to find themselves, feel strong and united," said Emery, appointed in January 2013 after a spell at FC Spartak Moskva, when assessing 2014.
"It's true that over a certain span of matches we would be leaders and that is a result of our hard work, something we have been able to maintain despite the close-season departures of key players like Ivan Rakitić [to FC Barcelona], Federico Fazio [Tottenham Hotspur FC] and Alberto Moreno [Liverpool FC]. Despite losing them, the essence of our day-to-day work and the identity of the club are the same; that is a source of great pride."
With defending the UEFA Europa League title a major priority – plus the added incentive of a UEFA Champions League spot for this season's winners – the 42-year-old is honest in evaluating his team's continental triumph. "To tell the truth, we never thought about winning the Europa League. We just concentrated on enjoying ourselves in the competition. We competed well against sides that were superior to us. Even in the final against Benfica they had moments when they were on top, but we knew how to suffer when we weren't at our best and consequently we were able to take advantage and win the trophy."
Glory in Turin – Sevilla's third victory in the competition, UEFA Cup included – brought Emery a new two-year deal and he is clearly in no rush to leave the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. "For me the most important thing is to be at a club where I am wanted. I am very happy here – Sevilla know how I work and respect what I do. That is important and I am not thinking ahead. I am content at Sevilla and the feeling is mutual." Having notched 22 points, with seven wins, one draw and a single defeat from nine Liga matches this term, it is not difficult to see why Emery is a happy man, although he is unsure if his charges can extend this performance level over 38 games.
"I have never thought about challenging for the title, and logically I still think that," he said of his side's potential to lift what would be Sevilla's second championship. "It will always be a pipe dream because you have Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid who are so consistent and perhaps lose only three or four games a season. They are strong teams with the world's best players and it will be difficult to keep up with them. To be joint leaders with Barça at this stage deserves an awful lot of credit."