Unai Emery to Newcastle: Would Villarreal manager be a good fit at St James’ Park?


Unai Emery’s Arsenal beat Steve Bruce’s Newcastle three times during the Spaniard’s first spell in England

Unai Emery had the near-impossible task of replacing Arsene Wenger at Arsenal – and failed. Will he find replacing Steve Bruce at Newcastle easier if talks end in a firm job offer?

The 49-year-old Spaniard’s reputation in England is sullied by his time at Emirates Stadium but he has had success pretty much everywhere else he has been.

So what kind of manager are Newcastle potentially getting – and what could Magpies fans expect from him?

Was he that bad at Arsenal?

Unai Emery
Only Arsene Wenger (57.25%) won a higher percentage of league games as Arsenal manager since 1986 than Unai Emery

Emery’s time at Arsenal was undoubtedly affected by taking over directly after the 22-year reign of iconic manager Wenger.

But on paper – by Arsenal’s recent standards – his spell there was hardly a disaster.

In his only full season in charge they finished fifth in the Premier League – one point off the Champions League places – and reached the Europa League final, where they lost to Chelsea and therefore missed out on Champions League qualification. They also went on a 22-game unbeaten run between August and December (their best run since 2007).

In Wenger’s final two seasons they finished fifth and sixth and won an FA Cup.

Emery was sacked in November 2019 after 18 months in charge, with the club eighth in the table.

That is the position they ended up in that season – and the next under Mikel Arteta – and they are currently sixth.

There were legitimate reasons for Emery’s dismissal though – the club spent £130m that summer (including £72m on Nicolas Pepe) and they were on a seven-game run without a win (their worst sequence since 1992) when he was sacked.

Some of the criticisms of his time in north London were a difficultly in communicating his message to his players and supporters and an inability to fix the club’s defensive and mentality issues.

How much of these problems were part of a broader dysfunction at the club under the still unpopular Kroenke ownership is up for debate.

What has he done elsewhere in his career?

Unai Emery ranks eighth for the best win percentage of people to manage 300 La Liga games
Unai Emery ranks ninth for the best win percentage of people to manage 300 La Liga games

Emery has enjoyed a significant amount of success in his career – winning promotion or a major trophy with five of his nine clubs (including a record four Europa Leagues).

He has never finished in the bottom half of a table and has been out of work for less than a year in total since 2004.

However, both his two sackings (Spartak Moscow and Arsenal) have come in two of his three jobs outside Spain.

Emery won promotions with two Spanish teams and then led Almeria to their best ever finish in La Liga before four good seasons with Valencia.

The darkest spot in his career followed at Spartak when he lasted only 26 games in charge (and was sacked in the dressing room after a 5-1 derby defeat, according to Republic of Ireland winger Aiden McGeady).

But he was back in work weeks later with Sevilla and led them to a record three Europa Leagues in a row (as well as a then club-record 15-game unbeaten run).

Two seasons with Paris St-Germain produced a treble and two other cup wins – before his trophy-less spell with Arsenal.

In his first season – last term – at Villarreal he led them to their first major trophy – the Europa League.

He is a famous workaholic but is known to be tactically flexible, meaning he will likely work with what he has at Newcastle, rather than picking a team for one specific system.

His sides neither score, nor concede a lot of goals. Excluding his two seasons with PSG (83 and 108 goals), the 73 Arsenal netted in the 2018-19 Premier League was his highest-scoring league season. Also discounting PSG, his sides always concede over a goal a game (but never more than 1.5).

How has he done at Villarreal?

Unai Emery
Unai Emery has won four of the past eight Europa Leagues (and lost another final)

Considering he led Villarreal to the greatest day in their history – the Europa League final win over Manchester United – in only 16 months in charge, surprisingly his time there has been mixed.

Before his arrival the Yellow Submarine’s greatest achievements were finishing second in La Liga, winning the Intertoto Cup and several promotions.

They finished seventh in La Liga last season, which sounds quite good – but they have only finished lower than that on three occasions since 2003-04 (including a season in the second division).

Of the 14 people to manage Villarreal in La Liga, Emery’s win percentage (34.7%) is only ninth. If you factor out the bosses who did not last 20 games, Emery is eighth out of 10.

Villarreal have been one of the biggest spenders in La Liga since Emery arrived last season – and broke the club record with the £21m signing of Bournemouth’s Arnaut Danjuma this summer.

The feeling in Spain is that he should have been doing better with his squad – he has only won 17 of his 49 league games in charge and would leave them 13th, three points above the relegation zone.

There have even been suggestionsexternal-link Villarreal will be secretly happy to see Newcastle come in – and avoid them having to sack Emery and give him a pay-off.

How has he done in the transfer market?

Nicolas Pepe
Nicolas Pepe is Unai Emery’s second biggest signing… but Emery says he wanted to sign Wilfried Zaha instead

Newcastle are almost certain to be active in the January transfer market as they attempt, in the short term, to ensure they stay in the Premier League.

Emery’s recruitment record is very mixed.

Paris St-Germain, Arsenal and Villarreal have all made their record signings under the Spaniard.

Neymar’s world-record £200m move from Barcelona – and Kylian Mbappe’s initial loan move from Monaco – happened halfway through Emery’s two years in Paris.

How successful they have been is open to interpretation, with plenty of goals and domestic trophies but no Champions League trophy.

Pepe’s £72m move to Lille from Arsenal has been disappointing, but £21m Netherlands international Danjuma has started well at Villarreal.

Not too many of Emery’s biggest 10 signings (according to fees on Transfermarkt)external-link have gone notably well.

Julian Draxler has never lived up to expectations at PSG, while Goncalo Guedes, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Jese were all misses.

William Saliba has never played for Arsenal and Lucas Torreira is out on loan for a second consecutive season – although Kieran Tierney and Bernd Leno have been regulars when fit (until recently for Leno).

Does he have experience of a relegation battle?

Emery is in line to take over a Newcastle side six points adrift of safety and would find himself in a new situation, having had little experience of battling relegation.

But never being in a fight against the drop can mean you have done too well to be in that situation.

Almeria, in their first ever season in La Liga in 2007-08, might have been expected to go down but Emery led them to eighth place.

The following year after he left for Valencia, they were relegated and have never been back to the top flight.

Likewise, when he took over Sevilla in January 2013, exactly halfway through the season, they were 12th and only six points above the relegation zone.

They finished ninth and 14 points clear of safety.

If the worst should happen and Newcastle do go down, would Emery stay as Rafael Benitz did after the 2015-16 season?

If he did, he has relevant experience, having won promotion twice in his two and a half years as a manager outside the top flight – with Lorca Deportiva (leading them to the second tier in only the third season of their existence) and then Almeria.

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