Unai Emery kindles Aston Villa dreams of fresh European glory 42 years after Rotterdam heroics

Ollie Watkins

It is now 42 years since Aston Villa’s magical journey to the European Cup final, and dreams of repeating nights of such magnitude have never felt closer than under Unai Emery.

Villa’s victory over Bayern Munich in 1982 is referenced all around their stadium, with the quotes from Brian Moore’s commentary for Peter Withe’s winning goal emblazoned across the North Stand.

Emery is now preparing for the club’s first major European semi-final since the year of that famous night in Rotterdam, and another stirring evening awaits.

Under their serial trophy winner, Villa are growing increasingly optimistic that the painfully long wait for silverware could soon be over.

Aston Villa manager Tony Barton (centre) celebrates with the European Cup, with captain Dennis Mortimer (left) and winning goalscorer Peter Withe (right) in 1982
Aston Villa's match-winner Peter Withe (right) celebrates with manager Tony Barton (centre) and captain Dennis Mortimer (left) after winning the European Cup in 1982 - PA/Peter Robinson
Nigel Spink and Des Bremner
Heroes of Rotterdam, Nigel Spink and Des Bremner, take the European Cup around Villa Park on the 40th anniversary of their triumph in 2022 - Reuters/Andrew Boyers

They face Olympiacos in the first leg of their semi-final at Villa Park on Thursday night, having won all of their six European home matches this season.

A four-time Europa League winner, Emery has transformed this famous club and his team remain the favourites to win this competition.

With a sixth European final in his sights, Emery has told his players to relish the occasion in what is arguably their biggest game for decades.

Villa are also the only English team remaining in European competition this season.

Emery said: “Even when I arrived my first objective was to get into Europe and we achieved it and now we are enjoying it and testing the difficulties of Europe even in the Conference League.

“Now as the only English team in Europe it’s difficult because our league is the toughest in the world, we have to be focused and 100 per cent in preparation.

“We want to be successful in the league and Europe and that’s a challenge. The semi-final is for us a very exciting moment.

“The past is important for my experiences, my achievements, but not for my future. We can create this future again. We can build something.”

Villarreal's Spanish coach Unai Emery celebrates with the trophy after winning the Europa League final against Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium

Emery triggered a contract extension last week to extend the feel-good factor at Villa Park, with talks over a fresh long-term deal scheduled for the summer.

He has guided Villa to the verge of next season’s Champions League and wants European excursions to be a regular occurrence.

Villa face the 47-time Greek champions without their inspirational goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, who is suspended after his two bookings in the quarter-final second leg against Lille last month.

Martínez would have missed Thursday’s first leg regardless of his ban, after coming off in the win over Chelsea last weekend with a thigh problem.

The Argentina World Cup winner could return for the second leg in Piraeus next week, but his absence means a rare appearance for Robin Olsen in goal.

No fears over stand-in goalkeeper

Olsen, a Sweden international, is in line to make only his sixth start this season and impressed as a substitute with a fine save to deny Cole Palmer last weekend.

Emery insists he has no fears over Olsen ahead of such a huge night.

“Robin has been very competitive every day in training, when he played he helped the team and the team believes in him and trusts in his performances,” he said.

“On Saturday, he played 45 minutes against Chelsea and he saved us. He’s a humble man and hopefully he can help us and he can feel comfortable as well playing.”

Evangelos Marinakis, the Olympiacos owner who also controls Nottingham Forest, is expected to be in attendance at Villa Park.

The Greek giants started the season in the Europa League before dropping into this competition in February.

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