You only get one chance to make a first impression, and I have to say Unai Emery’s performance as he was named head coach of Arsenal yesterday made his a very favourable one for me.
We had the announcement in the morning, confirmation of the story that broke on Monday evening, that the 46 year old Spaniard was to become the club’s new ‘Head Coach’. The distinction between that and manager couldn’t be more clear. Under the current set-up Arsene Wenger may well be the last ‘manager’ Arsenal have, and Emery the first man to take us into this new continental model, as people call it.
Ivan Gazidis outlined the process through which the decision was made, telling us that the former Sevilla and PSG boss had been on the chief executive’s personal radar since he achieved three consecutive third place finishes in La Liga with Valencia. After some more formalities, the new man spoke.
Now, for many people addressing a crowd of story hungry media in their native tongue can be something of a challenge, so do it in one you don’t know very well is something else entirely. Not only is your vocabulary and expression limited, there’s something difficult, almost embarrassing, about speaking in a language you don’t really understand too well.
So on that basis alone, Emery addressing the media – and the countless more watching via the stream on the official website – in English was both impressive and brave. It could easily have been done via an interpreter, Champions League style, but it was a clear demonstration that he’s here to learn and settle into England and English football as quickly as possible.
While his words were halting at times, he made himself understood as he took on his new role and responsibilities.
My English is not very best right now. I want to make an effort to speak with you, to the supporters, to explain my ideas, to explain my ambitions, to explain that I am very excited about this opportunity. It’s a big club, a great city, a grand stadium and also has great players for this work
Thank you, Arsene Wenger, for your legacy. For all the coaches over the world, he’s a reference and I learned from him all the things in football.
The club released a very odd video yesterday which showed some, but not all of the managers down the years, and the omission of Wenger from it was strange on the day in question. We know this is a new era, and whether you include him in it or not makes no difference as his shadow will inevitably fall over the new man for a time simply because he’s been part of the Arsenal story for so long. So, I thought Emery’s words to pay tribute to him were apt and showed a touch of class.
He then answered questions, using an earpiece to understand what was being said to him as some of the journalists made the assumption they could speak to him in the more or less the same way as they did Wenger. He coped with a nonsensical question – in the circumstances – about Jack Wilshere’s future, and laid out what he expects and wants from his players when the work in earnest begins:
What we want to do is not fear any team neither here in the Premier League or in Europe and our objective is to be among the best and to beat the best.
I’m very demanding of myself, I’m passionate and I really want to transmit that to the people around me – that we can, and must, improve in the future. That is the kind of thing I want to transmit, that desire to be better and I think that will lead us to improve in the Premier League and in Europe.
He’s got a real job on his hands to achieve that, let’s make no mistake about it, but I also think he’s got the bones of a decent squad which I think he can improve by adding the kind of discipline, organisation and so on that it has been missing. So, it’s about getting more out of what we have, adding to the squad as well as possible, and then seeing how responsive the players are to his ideas and his coaching.
For me, this is a far more sensible appointment than that of Mikel Arteta. Emery has managed hundreds of games in a managerial career that goes back 12 or 13 seasons, and his compatriot has managed none. There was a romanticism about the idea of a former player coming back, but on any objective level it was, as I said before, a bit mental.
I think many of us had grown used to the idea and had got somewhat on board with it, not just because it was so reportedly close to happening, but because we wanted it to be good for the sake of the club we support. There was a willingness to back the decision if that was what they were going to do simply out of blind hope, but in the end I think common sense prevailed.
How we got here isn’t really the issue any more, there’s no need to look in any other direction but the future and I watched that press conference yesterday and felt excited and energised about what’s to come. We’ve brought in a smart man who has clear ideas about what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. There are going to be challenges and obstacles along the way, but that’s the normal way of things for any manager.
For some, Emery is not the stellar name people wanted – even if his trophy record is pretty impressive. He’s got a track record of winning things, and although his time at PSG is perceived to be a failure because of their dominance in Ligue 1 and their inability to make progress in the Champions League, I think we have to look at it in context. He was dealing with a club hierarchy that is far from normal and a dysfunctional dressing room filled with warring egos.
It’s not an excuse, but an explanation, and it feels to me like Arsenal is a much more suited to a man who had his most successful times at almost equivalent clubs in Spain. We are a club in need of improvement, you can’t bemoan how poor things have been for so long and then expect us to be the most attractive job in football.
We finished 6th, we’re in the Europa League, we have fundamental problems that need to be solved through coaching and the transfer market, and on that basis it seems to me that Emery and Arsenal and Arsenal and Emery are a good fit. He needs to make us better, and at just 46 and with some ups and downs in his career, there’s a chance that Arsenal can make him better too.
He comes in to work in a structure he’s used to from his previous clubs, and it’s one that the Arsenal board have put that in place well over the last 12 months or so. It was overdue, but we’ve given ourselves the best chance of dealing with the post-Wenger fall-out through the appointments we’ve made behind the scenes.
A Head of Recruitment, a vastly experienced Director of Football (Head of Football Relations), a contracts dude, a Head of High Performance, and so on, will enable Emery to carry out the key parts of his work without distraction. He’ll obviously have some input into who we bring in and who we let go, but the nuts and bolts of it are all there to offer him genuine support.
We wanted change, and this is what change looks like. It goes without saying that I want it to work and be successful, and there was a lot to like about what we saw and heard from our new head coach yesterday. His work begins in earnest from today, as he starts to learn about all the other aspects of the club, how it operates, and all the rest.
His interactions with the players themselves won’t happen until pre-season in early June, but there’s plenty he can do before then. His language skills will improve quickly I’m sure, and it’s impossible to sit here this morning and not feel elevated and fired-up about what’s to come.
Bienvenido Señor Emery, mucha suerte!