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Unai Emery’s ‘no excuses’ culture fired Aston Villa to Champions League – and it’s just the start

Unai Emery – Unai Emery's 'no excuses' culture has fired Aston Villa to the Champions League – and is just the start
Aston Villa will be the sixth club Unai Emery has taken into the Champions League - PA/Barrington Coombs

From the Championship to the Champions League in the space of five years, Aston Villa’s upward trajectory has been remarkable but the date of October 24, 2022 was the turning point.

Unai Emery Etxegoien’s arrival gave this famous old club the turbo-boost and initiated a resurgence that unquestionably elevates his status as a manager to elite level.

Villa will compete in Europe’s top competition for the first time since 1983 and there is little doubt that Emery will not stop here.

The pursuit of perfection is never-ending and Emery will feel that the Champions League is just the beginning of a new era.

On the day of his unveiling, sitting in the ornate hall of Villa Park’s Directors Club, he spoke ambitiously of his desire to first win a trophy and then take the club into Europe.

While silverware has eluded them this season, after defeat in last week’s Europa Conference League semi-final against Olympiacos, this achievement will feel like lifting a trophy.

Villa will be guaranteed at least £50 million by qualification, and the lure of this competition will assist in persuading new signings to join the journey.

Spending will still be restricted by the Premier League’s Profitability and Sustainability Rules that are regarded by senior club officials as limiting ambition.

Yet the increase in revenue and sponsorship will enable growth and continue the sustainable development of the club under owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens.

NSWE cannot have envisaged that Emery would have quite the impact that he has produced.

Nassef Sawiris (left) and Wes Edens (R) – Unai Emery's 'no excuses' culture has fired Aston Villa to the Champions League – and is just the start
It is thought that Villa's co-owners, Nassef Sawiris (left) and Wes Edens, will plan further talks this summer on Emery's contract

Discussions will start in the summer over a lucrative long-term contract, which will make him one of the most highly-paid coaches in the world.

What a ride it has been already under the man they call ‘Mister’.

A meticulous football obsessive, Villa have averaged just under two points a game since Emery’s appointment.

Every player has improved individually, taking their games to the next level with a combination of fine coaching and analysis.

Ollie Watkins, Leon Bailey, Ezri Konsa and even captain John McGinn are just a few of the stars to have progressed rapidly under his guidance.

With an extreme attention to the small details, Emery never stops preparing for the next challenge.

Pau Torres, the defender, said earlier this season: “Tactically we know exactly where the opposition players are going to be on the field when we go into that game.”

Long meetings are the norm, where every aspect of the game is discussed in depth. Pre-season was regarded as a major marker for the season, where Emery outlined his philosophy to the players in greater detail. Despite the joy of securing a top-four finish, Emery will also reflect on whether the season could have been even better.

An alarming injury list has decimated his squad and, in the final energy-sapping weeks, it proved insurmountable. For their crunch semi-final second leg in Piraeus last Thursday, they were without Tyrone Mings, Emiliano Buendia, Youri Tielemans, Boubacar Kamara, Jacob Ramsey, Morgan Rogers, Nicolo Zaniolo and Alex Moreno.

While other managers use injuries as a reason for underachievement [Manchester United’s Erik ten Hag springs to mind], Emery operates with a “no excuses” culture.

Torres, the £31 million signing from Villarreal, has also missed large chunks of the season with injury. Like Kamara, Torres is one of Villa’s most valuable players who often goes under the radar.

Pau Torres – Unai Emery's 'no excuses' culture has fired Aston Villa to the Champions League – and is just the start
Since joining the club, Pau Torres has become an indispensable asset in Villa's backline - Getty Images/Neville Williams

There will inevitably be a feeling of whether those injuries delayed the top-four finish, or prevented them from winning a European trophy in Athens later this month.

Villa will look to strengthen this summer, and Emery is set to target midfielders and wingers.

The message from Emery to prospective new signings will always be the same: that he means business and is utterly devoted to taking the club forward.

To sound a cautious note, next season will not be easy. Though the Thursday-Sunday demands will be removed, many of Villa’s players will never have operated at such a level before.

Newcastle have struggled to cope with juggling European football and sustaining a domestic challenge this season.

Next season will represent a new hurdle for Emery to overcome. The level of opposition will also be high. However, there is no question that he will be perfectly prepared. A winner of four European trophies, he has been here before.

Indeed, Villa will be the sixth club Emery has taken into the Champions League. As we have all discovered under the brilliant Basque coach, anything is possible.

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