“It would be good to have some criticism.” That was the only stipulation Unai Emery, Arsenal’s new head coach, placed upon the writer of this authorised biography, French football journalist Romain Molina, from the outset. While Molina does a fine job of revealing Emery’s back story, tactical development and man-management style, it is that rather humble request from the subject that probably best epitomises the man chosen to succeed Arsène Wenger.
Through a series of interviews with former team-mates, fellow coaches, family, friends and some of those players Emery has helped nurture – including David Villa, Edinson Cavani and Juan Mata – Molina provides depth and detail for fans who are as unfamiliar with the Spaniard as they were with “Arsène Who?” on his appointment.
The similarities between Emery and his predecessor are stark. Both come from small towns, had relatively nondescript playing careers and have a studious approach to player development and encyclopaedic knowledge of potential signings – Emery is also a big fan of giving players books for homework after they’ve finished training.
A student of psychology, group management and leadership, Emery is also a big fan of self-help books and the co-author of Mentalidad Ganadora: El Metodo Emery (Winning Mentality: the Emery Method). But it’s through Molina’s interviews – particularly with Mata, Emery himself and his assistant at Arsenal Juan Carlos Carcedo – where the author taps into Emery’s character and the key differences from Wenger.
The passionate enthusiasm witnessed on the touchline is reflected in the dressing room too; Cavani calls Emery “the most passionate coach” he’s ever worked with. The new Arsenal boss isn’t reluctant to challenge ego or experience and drop big-name players – for Mesut Özil and Alexandre Lacazette see Neymar and Javier Pastore at Paris Saint-Germain.
Since first taking over at Lorca Deportivo, through his successes at Almeria, Sevilla and PSG, he’s perfected an ability to identify weaknesses and blood effective replacements (Mattéo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira at Arsenal being the latest examples). He can also effect tactical change mid-game, while his ill-fated time in Moscow taught him the limitations of what he can or can’t control at a club. All of these were purported failings of Wenger in his later years in north London.
The criticism Emery requested from the author isn’t missing either. That disastrous six-month stint in charge at Spartak Moscow, his own tendency to drag out team-talks to the point of boredom for some players and his failure to win the Champions League at PSG – including the surrender of a four-goal first-leg lead over Barcelona in 2017 – are also covered in forensic detail.
Molina wrote the book while Emery was still in Paris and it was repackaged and bolstered by an interview with its subject just after he took over at the Emirates. The result is a rich and insightful portrait of Emery – already updated once and very likely to be so again.