Unai Emery has revealed he once had a conversation with Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson in which he defended the integrity of the Europa League.
Emery’s Villarreal side take on United in the Europa League final in Gdansk tonight (Wednesday, 8pm kick off), with the former Sevilla boss looking to win the competition for an astonishing fourth time.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have been billed as favourites but Emery’s reputation in the competition means the Spanish team are feeling confident.
Emery told ESPN why he believes the Europa League deserves respect, and why Villarreal have no inferiority complex going into the game against United. He also explained why he once told Ferguson — who has travelled with the United squad to Gdansk this week — why he loves the competition.
He said: “In [a] meeting in Nyon, Switzerland, where the elite coaches meet, I once launched a defence of the Europa League because it was a competition that has brought happiness to many teams who couldn’t win the Champions League.
“Basically, eight teams can win the Champions League, although there’s an exception every so often. 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.’
“It’s a competition that I feel comfortable and grateful to be in it. 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.”
Emery then explained why Villarreal’s standing in Europe — and their comfortable victory against Arsenal over two legs in the semi-finals — mean they go into tonight’s final without any sort of inferiority complex at all.
There is no complex,” he added. “Villarreal are recognised now, consolidated. Those complexes get left along the way.
“It’s not a complex; if it’s anything, it’s a challenge to take one step further.
“I was lucky enough to play Liverpool in the final with Sevilla and beat them. That’s [the size of] clubs Villarreal have competed with. There’s a path that is established now, a credibility that this club has earned. So, there’s no complex.
“You face Arsenal or Manchester United and this team has answers, it can perform. It can take them on in the final. And that’s our objective.”