Unai Emery has revealed a discussion he had with legendary Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson ahead of the Europa League final.
The Spaniard will be in the Villarreal dugout when his side take on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men in Gdansk on Wednesday.
While Emery’s side go into the clash as underdogs, Solskjaer will be all too aware he is up against the master of the competition.
Emery has won the Europa League a record three times – each in back-to-back seasons with Sevilla – as well as reaching the final with Arsenal.
Among his conquests in the last stage are United’s rivals Liverpool, and now Emery is eyeing another English scalp.
However, for all his dominance over UEFA’s secondary club competition, Emery has not been able to translate his success in the Champions League – something he revealed two-time winner Ferguson was keen to point out to him.
“Basically, eight teams can win the Champions League, although there’s an exception every so often,” Emery told ESPN .
“The rest of us compete happily in the Europa League and it makes our fans happy to compete for a title, share those moments, that enthusiasm.
“Alex Ferguson, who was playing in the Champions League with Manchester United every year, said ‘but Unai, you’ll want to win the Champions League, right?’ And I said: ‘yes, if I have the chance to. But if I can’t, I want to go into the Europa League and strengthen it.'”
Emery has certainly done that, and while every club, manager and player is clamouring to stay in the Champions League year on year, he is more than content to settle for its lesser alternative.
“It’s a competition that I feel comfortable and grateful to be in it,” he added. “And since then, paradoxically, United have spent a few years in the Europa League and they want to win it.
“That’s happening more; that’s what makes this competition great. We want to compete for it and we feel proud to do that.”
Of course, for Villarreal there is also the huge carrot dangling in front of them that victory would see them qualify for the Champions League next season – a luxury United have already achieved through their final standing in the Premier League.
But Emery has insisted he is not feeling any pressure from his previous links with Arsenal to come out on top over another English side.
“I feel a duty and obligation towards Villarreal,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday. “I want to defend this project and everyone that has worked throughout the years to build a big football project in a village.
“I have nothing to avenge. I’m very proud to have reached this final with Villarreal.”
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