Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Unai Emery, the donkey

Before being a coach, Unai Emery was a player that used to play in humble clubs of the lower divisions of the Spanish football. Formed in Real Sociedad's youth system, he was able to make his debut in Primera División in the club of his life, where he played 6 matches with the first team, his only minutes in the elite of the Spanish football. Since then, he completed his career in several clubs of the Spanish geography, in Segunda and Segunda B divisions. Being 32, in the 2003-2004 season, Emery joined Lorca Deportiva, a club of Segunda B without tradition in higher divisions, to finish his career. In November 2004, Emery suffered a knee injury which forced him to leave the football pitches for a long time. Given his age and the duration of this injury, Emery's career was practically finished. What he did not know is that this injury gave him the opportunity of his life, one of these chances that you usually enjoy once and you can not let it go. The bad results of the team made the club fire the coach of the team and the president of Lorca offered Emery the chance to be the coach of the team.

In this 2004-2005 season, Emery started as football player and ended up as coach, but it was a poisoned candy. Unai Emery was brave and accepted the challenge. Emery was able to turn the bad trend of the team into a run of good results and, surprisingly, reached the promotion play-offs... to win them to earn their position in the Segunda División in a historical promotion for Lorca after an epic final against Real Unión Irún. In the following season, 2005-2006, Lorca made their debut in this division and the results could not have been better. The humble Lorca ended up the first round  in the mid zone to rise as one of the best teams in the second part of the season. In the last weeks, the surprising Lorca was very near the promotion to Primera División, but in the last games of the season the team, which had not been designed for these goals, feels the pressure and a couple of bad results made impossible to complete an epic promotion. However, the season of Emery and his team was remarkable. Emery was chosen by Marca as the best coach of Segunda División and UD Almería offered him the chance to drive a team with real promotion possibilities.

Emery in Lorca

In UD Almería, Emery finds a project to grow and does not miss his chance. Emery builds a block based on a solid defense and a fast counter-attack. Even though they did not win the title of the division, won by Real Valladolid, Almería is the runner-up and their football is praised. Once again, Marca gives him the best coach of the division award for the second consecutive title. Emery has been the only coach to win this award twice. The club kept trusting in Unai Emery for the Primera División project. The debut was a dream, a 0-3 triumph in Deportivo's Riazor, the stage of epic football matches during the last 20 years. As Emery did with Lorca in the debut season in Segunda División, Almería becomes the surprise team of the season in Primera División. Despite having one of the lowest budgets of the division, Almería's football amazes everyone and achieves historical victories for the club, like the 1-4 against the hated Sevilla in their own stadium or the 2-0 victory on Real Madrid at home. At some point of the season, UD Almería even dreams with the European spots. Despite this goal was impossible to reach, Almería accomplishes with their mission: one more year in Primera División. As it happened two years before this moment, the good work of Emery with these humble tools does not get unnoticed and traditional clubs of Primera knock his door.

This is when Valencia appeared in his life. Juan Soler reached an agreement with Unai Emery after the club fired Ronald Koeman despite the victory in the Copa del Rey. But Unai Emery finds a club with a huge internal division, in constant earthquake state, blocked in the market with the important players requesting the departure of the club. At the end, Vicente Soriano takes the presidency and promises money and investments that never appeared. Unai Emery enjoyed a team with talented players, especially in the attacking zone, like David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata or Joaquín Sánchez among others. The season started in a brilliant way and the team leads the standings in the first weeks of the season, but the impulse of the giants Barcelona and Real Madrid and, especially, the internal situation of the club ended up affecting the team. With Soriano failing to accomplish with his promises, the uncertain future of the club is a heavy weight for the social mass and the team, which get distracted with external issues. Valencia and Emery finished the season in 6th place.

Silva, Villa and Mata
The arrival of the new president Manuel Llorente, in the 2009-2010 season, to the club gives the valencianismo a good dose of realism. The impossible promises disappear and Llorente highlights that it is time to accept the real state of the finances of the club. In this season, Valencia is still able to retain their main assets and no important player leaves. The team finally adapts to Emery's methods and the new calm state of the club allows the team to grow. Valencia completes a fantastic season to finish in 3rd position with 71 points. Even though Barcelona and Real Madrid are out of reach, it is important to highlight that the two giants beat the point record this season. Valencia's season is very good and those 71 points would have been enough to win a Liga in the past. Marca recognizes Emery's season, who was the runner-up of the best coach of the year award, only behind Pep Guardiola.

The value of the Valencia players grow and Manuel Llorente sees the moment to make money with them to save the club's economy. The main references of the last year leave the club, David Villa, David Silva and Raul Albiol leave the club in the summer of 2010. In this new humble policy, their replacements are very far from the departures in terms of prestige and quality. But Emery makes the team work again. Assuming the differences in budget and quality with Real Madrid and Barcelona, the team is labeled as the best team of "the other league" or "the league of the humans". Once again, the 71 points of the team show that they are in the figures of an important club and, if there is a negative point, it can only be the disappointing result against Schalke 04 in the UEFA Champions League, which left the team in the doors of the semifinals of the competition.

Defeat vs Schalke 04 in the Champions League

Nothing changed much this year. Mata was sold just as Silva, Villa and Albiol were in the previous summer. Real Madrid and Barcelona seem to play their own league, but once more Emery's Valencia grow as the best team of "the humans", with the permission of Levante UD, although it is easy to guess that the dream of the local rivals will finish soon.

But yesterday night, when the team was blocked, with an 1-1 against Bayer Leverkusen in the scoreboard and a feet out of the Champions League, some sectors of Mestalla attacked their coach with "burro" (donkey) chants after Emery decided to change Feghouli for Piatti looking for a goal in a desperate situation. Mestalla usually packed with loyal fans paid their frustration with their coach with those inappropriate chants, when the team needed support, some fans looked for someone to blame.

Football is unfair sometimes and, definitely, the football fans have a really short memory and a very simplistic way to analyze the situation. When Emery got the chance to drive Valencia, the club was totally broken, in a poor economic situation, with a huge social division and with the important players willing to leave. As the stars of the team (big stars, as their performances prove) were sold and replaced by young players with more or less potential and experience. In a cold analysis, Emery's work can only be labeled in one way: great. Emery has been able to build a solid Valencia from the ashes, a team that can not compete with Barcelona and Madrid in terms of money and quality, but also a team that has constantly been the 3rd best team of Spain with an important margin of their usual rivals for this position: Atlético Madrid, Villarreal or Sevilla, to name some of them. And Emery did it without the big expenses and more solid financial position of these clubs. The season has just started, but Emery's team keeps the same good line of the previous years. Valencia already enjoys 4 points on Sevilla, 5 on the Sheikh's Málaga, 8 on Atlético Madrid and 11 on Villarreal, their main and direct rivals in "the other league". In the Champions League, the team still holds realistic chances to advance to the knock-out stages in a tough group that has important teams like Chelsea FC or Bayer Leverkusen.

Soldado and the fans celebrate the goal vs Leverkusen

Mestalla should make an effort to stop for one second and analyze the situation, the tools of the club, the players and the financial situation and the outcome of Emery's work, in the past and the present. The coach is there to make decisions and the ticket-holders are free to express their opinion. Evidently, Emery "the donkey" is not perfect and his decisions may be more or less questionable, but the overall results make evident that his decisions are usually more right than wrong. Who is the donkey then? The coach or those who  insult the best coach Valencia had since Benítez?

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