"You snooze, you lose" is the 49-year-old's outlook as the UEFA Europa League winners look to keep their momentum going.
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Master of the UEFA Europa League, with four wins in five final appearances with Sevilla and now Villarreal, Unai Emery refuses to rest on his laurels as the Yellow Submarine take on Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup in Belfast.
The 49-year-old fell foul of Chelsea with Arsenal in the 2019 UEFA Europa League final, and is determined to do better as his Villarreal team face the European champions in Belfast on 11 August. Emery talks UEFA.com through his most glorious days and the passion for victory that keeps him sharp.
On his ambitions for the UEFA Super Cup game against Chelsea
You know how the saying goes: "You snooze, you lose." So you need to keep creating. I don't stop to think because there are many managers who have done several things and as soon as they're living off what they have already done, they're not living in the present nor in the future any more. And what I want is to live in the present and in the future.
I've been involved in two [previous UEFA Super Cups]. I've never won it; I've won domestic Super Cups before with PSG but never a European one. We're going to start the season by finishing off the last one and once again being at the epicentre of the football world. The Super Cup will show what we are capable of against a top team like Chelsea. [Thomas] Tuchel is a well-known, prestigious and successful coach: he's won titles in Germany, he's won titles with PSG.
Do the European champions usually win?
UEFA Champions League winners Bayern lifted the trophy in 2020, but this pattern is certainly not always the case. Indeed the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League holders have won 20 of the 45 editions.
On his favourite of his four UEFA Europa League final wins
The one with Villarreal [last season], perhaps because it is the most recent one and because we broke down some barriers with it.
When I got to Sevilla, they had already won [a European trophy, the UEFA Cup in 2006 and 2007], so there were always people who said that Sevilla were giving me the chance to win. The fact we won [the UEFA Europa League] three times in a row put me in a very good position, because it made me the only manager and made Sevilla the only club to have won three titles. But with Villarreal I broke a barrier that they had never broken before, and with the added difficulty of it being a competition that gets harder day by day.
On his first final win with Sevilla: on penalties against Benfica in 2014
I still remember my first experience of penalties; I also remember [goalkeeper] Beto's performance in that crucial moment, the performances of all the penalty takers – for example, Coke who was a real find – because they had the confidence to score their penalties in addition to the specialists.
Winning a trophy was the first personal barrier I broke. Your first one is like your baptism. You are baptised as a manager who has won a European trophy and who then has some level of knowledge. I'll always remember how I jumped onto the field to run towards the supporters. I have that picture in my mind and that's what I felt. The act of running to the fans reflects how you want to share that moment and thank them for being there.
On the 2015 final win against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk
We felt we were the favourites. [Dnipro] had beaten [Rafa] Benítez’s Napoli, who were also the favourites, and we couldn't allow a repeat of that.
When you play in one final and you win it, the second one feels easy. With the second one, since we had beaten very strong teams like Borussia Mönchengladbach, who had come from the Champions League, everyone expected a lot of us. We were the favourites. And thanks to all this, we were very focused going into the final.
On the 2016 final win against Liverpool
That's the kind of final where you feel more recognised, more successful, because the winner would go straight into the Champions League. That Liverpool team didn't get to the Champions League via the Premier League, so they needed the Europa League. They were the favourites, the team whose fans – as my brother told me at half-time when we were losing 1-0 – were saying that we were a poor team, that we were worse than Villarreal whom they had met in the semis.
Maybe that was the key statement and the difference between the first and the second half, as I told the players at half-time: "Take the field as if you were at the [Ramón] Sánchez-Pizjuán [Stadium], because that's when you give your best and you feel great with your fans. You need to get loose." And once we did that, we caught Liverpool by surprise.
On losing with Arsenal in the 2019 decider
That final was against Chelsea and both teams could feel they had a 50% chance. We'd been similar during the league season. We had a great first half but weren't able to get ahead. On the night [Eden] Hazard made the difference. He came alive in the second half, he scored, and we lost 4-1 – but we lost fair and square.
On Villarreal's ambitions for 2021/22
Ultimately, our ambitions have to be infinite. Then in reality, the [UEFA Champions League] group phase will determine our path – the opponents we'll face. There will be opponents who are better than us, so we'll have to respond and be competitive enough to play them. Then if we're able to make it to the round of 16, it'll be the first step towards achieving our aims. From there, it'll be down to us, to how we face the opponents we need to play against and to our ability to surprise them.
We're not favourites to win the Champions League. We have to go on a nice journey and see where it takes us.