It’s 9:30 a.m., and I’m about to interview what is sure to be a beaming Unai Emery.
It’s May 2015, and the then 44-year-old Spanish manager had just led Sevilla to a second successive Europa League triumph after beating Ukrainian side FC Dnipro in Warsaw.
At the Sevilla training ground, the ambitious manager, about to leave for a well-deserved summer vacation, spoke generously and confidently about his ability to improve the club, what he would demand and what he would demand of the players.
Having previously managed Almeria, Valencia and Spartak Moscow, Emery had no desire to coach another team, and the twinkle in his eyes showed a man who believed an even brighter future awaited Sevilla. He was happy to be the right person at the right time in Andalusia.
Despite his success, it would have been hard to imagine at the time that, seven years later, he would find himself within sight of a UEFA Champions League final under the jealous gaze of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and his former club.
Looking back, it was inevitable that he would become one of Europe’s most in-demand coaches.
A year after our interview, he was celebrating an unprecedented hat-trick of Europa League wins, having beaten Liverpool 3-1 at Basel.
In 2016, he joined Paris Saint-Germain, the latest manager tasked with winning the coveted Champions League.
Not only did that dream fail to materialize, but Emery presided over one of the most notorious meltdowns in European football history in his first season. After beating Barcelona 4-0 at home in the Champions League Round of 16, the France side suffered a collapse at Camp Nou, losing 6-1 in the most embarrassing of eliminations.
From then on, he was loaned out in time to Paris, and despite winning Ligue 1 in 2017-18, he packed his bags this summer for Arsenal, where he had the unenviable task of replacing the club legend. Arsène Wenger.
It lasted just over a year, although it did lead the club to a final in their beloved Europa League, where they lost 4-1 to Chelsea.
Which brings us to Villarreal. Once again, the comforts of home brought out the best in Emery. Like the European competitions.
In his first season at the Estadio de la Cerámica, Emery led his new club to fourth place in La Liga and a Europa League triumph, of course, against Manchester United.
Belatedly, Emery was getting the praise he deserved by banishing the negativity and ridicule he drew to Arsenal.
Today, Emery’s stock has never been higher.
After guiding Villarreal to second place in a Champions League group that included United, Atalanta and Young Boys, Emery pulled off one of the finest feats of his career by beating Juventus 4-1 on aggregate in the round of 16. final, after an astonishing 3-0 win in Turin.
Things then turned for the better, beating Bayern Munich 2-1 over two legs, after a final equalizer in the second leg at the Allianz Arena.
It was arguably Emery’s finest hour and a half of football.
Now Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are once again in the way, this time to a dream Champions League final.
Emery’s legendary status at the club nicknamed the Yellow Submarine is assured.
Villarreal is a small town with a population of just over 50,000, and few would have expected a march to the Champions League semi-finals, let alone.
Emery’s Villarreal and Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid now carry Spain’s hopes against Liverpool and Manchester City in England when the penultimate round of the world’s biggest club competition kicks off next week.
As Villarreal head to the cauldron at Anfield, Emery will no doubt remain calm, as is his style.
He is known for his pragmatism and flexible tactics, depending on his opponent, as Bayern and star striker Robert Lewandowski discovered the hard way when they encountered Villarreal full-back action during of this remarkable return match in Bavaria.
With a mixture of ambition, realism and humility, Emery prevailed.
The bitter memory of the defeat to Barcelona 2017 will probably never leave Emery, but after yet another season where his former club PSG – now with Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar – failed to lift the ultimate prize of Europe, he turned out to be one of the best in Europe. enduring football survivors.