Unai Emery can be Aston Villa’s Sir Alex Ferguson – instead of following him

Unai Emery head coach of Aston Villa in action during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and AFC Bournemouth at Villa Park on April 21, 2024 in Birmingham, England
Emery has done a superb job since taking over at Villa Park - Getty Images/Neville Williams

Unai Emery is on the brink of leading Aston Villa to the Champions League and will now be asked to build a legacy to become the club’s version of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Emery has triggered a one-year option to his current contract until 2027 as ambitious owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens (NSWE) move to keep the highly rated Basque coach at Villa Park.

Sawiris and Edens have driven the decision to discuss new terms with Emery, with further negotiations planned for the summer over a lucrative, long-term deal.

NSWE want to offer Emery the platform to lead the club towards an even brighter future, with regular excursions in the Champions League regarded as just the start.

The huge commitment to Emery is viewed as essential and deserved, after a remarkable transformation in 18 months.

With European heavyweights including Bayern Munich and Manchester United likely to be searching for new managers this summer, there have been initial fears that Emery could be lured away.

Unai Emery head coach of Aston Villa in action during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and AFC Bournemouth at Villa Park on April 21, 2024 in Birmingham, England
Emery has taken close to root-and-branch control of Villa's football operation since taking over - Getty Images/Neville Williams

Yet that rather overlooks the fact the 52-year-old has almost complete control at the former European Cup winners, from the boardroom to the data analysts in the stands.

Rival managers look on at Emery with envy, as it is now so rare for any club to afford such power to their managers.

The triangle of Emery, president of football operations Monchi and Damian Vidagany, the director of football operations, is a tight group with big ideas.

Emery’s powerbase evokes memories of Ferguson at Manchester United, who built a legacy of footballing brilliance that will probably never be repeated.

Villa are the favourites to win the Europa Conference League trophy this season, while finishing in the top four remains tantalisingly within their grasp.

The win over Bournemouth on Sunday extended their lead in fourth place over Tottenham to six points, with four games left to play.

They have achieved many impressive results, including the double over Emery’s former club Arsenal and victory over champions Manchester City.

Emery’s success this season deserves even more recognition as he has battled against a severe injury crisis.

He operates with a “no-excuses” culture but the number of injuries have rather gone under the radar.

England international Tyrone Mings and former record signing Emiliano Buendia have missed the entire season.

Boubacar Kamara, arguably their most underrated player, has been out since February and is not expected back until later this year.

Jacob Ramsey was regarded as a genuine contender for Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2024 squad last year, but has endured a campaign plagued by injuries.

At various points in the season, Emery has also been without Ezri Konsa, Diego Carlos, Pau Torres and Matty Cash.

Yet Emery has never complained and absent players are not used as a reason for underachievement. It is quite the opposite to Erik ten Hag at United, who has constantly bemoaned the lack of available players.

Summer targets

Next week Villa will prepare for their first European semi-final in 42 years when they face Olympiacos over two legs.

Beyond that, preparations for the summer are already under way.

Villa do have concerns over complying with Profitability and Sustainability Rules [PSR] and there may be some uncomfortable decisions needed ahead of the transfer window.

Indeed, it is understood that Villa have been one of the louder voices in Premier League board meetings in opposition to the current regulations that they feel stifle ambition.

Emery is targeting two centre-midfielders [one holding midfielder and the other a box-to-box], wingers and a centre-forward in the unlikely event of leading scorer Ollie Watkins leaving for a huge transfer fee.

Villa will travel to the United States for pre-season, and play friendlies against Columbus Crew and Club America. Talks have been held with both RB Leipzig and Club Brugge over another possible friendly.

Emery’s squad will also face Champions League semi-finalists Borussia Dortmund in early August and, potentially, Athletic Bilbao.

Yet the main topic of interest for Villa’s fans will be the new contract for Emery, which should be signed off before the start of the season.

Villa have been an emerging force since Emery’s arrival in November 2022, but this could just be the beginning of a glorious new era.