Arsenal head coach Unai Emery has worked with some of the biggest names in world football, from Neymar to Kylian Mbappe at Paris-Saint Germain and Juan Mata to Alvaro Negredo during his time as a manager in Spain.
Emery is a former European Coach of the Year and led PSG to a treble-winning season in 2017-18. He is notorious for giving little away to the media and is considered to be a very private person, yet there remains much intrigue behind the man who was appointed as Arsene Wenger's successor over the summer.
'El Maestro', a new authorised biography written by journalist Romain Molina, traces Emery's journey from his Basque roots to north London, based on interviews with people who know and have worked alongside the former Sevilla coach.
One of those who know him better than most is Juan Mata. The Manchester United midfielder worked under Emery when he was manager at Valencia and has revealed in the book how psychology proved to be an integral part of the training regime during his tenure.
The importance of psychology
“The managers I’ve known all had their own specific way of working. Apart from the set pieces, I think what’s special about Unai is the way he communicates. In his talks, he used to write, three, four or five things on the board: those were the points he was going to bring up. Sometimes it was five phrases or metaphors he was going to explain. I’ve never seen that with my other managers.
“They usually revolved around phrases about positivity, camaraderie, the values he wanted to create in his team. To do that, he did something no one else did, that is, he communicated by means of the points he had written down. His talks could go on and on because he didn’t notice the time and carried on talking, but what he said was always intense, and he would ask you questions. That turned it into a kind of seminar that brought in the whole group.
“One particular memory stands out for me. He was talking about the criticism we’d received after we’d lost a match. This was pretty harsh, and so he talked about our relationship with the press and how we should react to the criticisms: ‘I don’t read what they write about us when things are going badly. I don’t let myself be influenced by what they might say, and only read the press when things are going well’.
“He liked positive thinking and the fact that it gives you more energy. He was also the first manager who talked to us about the incredibly complicated relationship there can be with criticism: the pressure, the repercussions and how to manage them. If you’re a professional footballer, you’re open to negative comments with every game, but he showed us that we were above all that, that the journalists could say what they liked, we had to concentrate on our job, which was to make progress. [...] I think that the emotional factor, particularly in football, is a very important phenomenon.
“I think that being confident gives you more freedom, it liberates you, helps you have the courage to do things on the football pitch. You have to feel free enough to do what your body is telling you to do. Sometimes though, the pressure of winning and the fear of defeat limit your performance. I used to talk about that with Unai and Carcedo because I needed to. Their positive attitude, even at the most difficult moments, meant that the players felt more relaxed on the pitch. And that’s what I found personally.”
Unai Emery El Maestro tells the story of Emery and includes interviews with the players, coaches and those closest to the Arsenal head coach.