It was the same old story for Sevilla at the start of this season – they had to sell their best players. After they lost Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas to Manchester City the previous season, this time it was Liverpool who came in for Alberto Moreno and Spurs for Federico Fazio.
Ivan Rakitic also went to Barcelona and when coach Unai Emery set about rebuilding his team, Gaston Ramirez did not reply to his text messages because he had been given a big-money offer by Hull City.
“That’s where we are at, we can’t compete financially with Hull,” Emery said at Sevilla’s 40-year-old training ground complete with its row of temporary toilets, in the run-up to tonight’s Europa League final against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Things have turned out just fine, however. If they beat Myron Markevych’s teamwin tonight they will have won more this season than Real Madrid and will alsobecome the first club to lift the Uefa Cup/Europa League four times, passing Liverpool, who have won it three times. No wonder Emery and his sporting director, Monchi, are becoming wanted men.
Sevilla’s current team are built around former QPR midfielder Stéphane M’Bia, former Colombian bus conductor Carlos Bacca and one-time Arsenal winger Jose Antonio Reyes. Emery, who is wanted by Milan and was considered by Real Madrid before they settled on Rafa Benitez as a successor to Carlo Ancelotti, is well aware of the worth of his sporting director.
“Good scouting is what keeps a club like this alive and the coach just doesn’t have the time to do it,” he said. “While we’re competing, Monchi’s in France watching a player.”
The coach takes control of watching rival teams and has had some insider help before tonight’s game from former Tottenham manager Juande Ramos, who has coached both Sevilla and Dnipro, and who has given Emery a detailed report on the side he qualified for Europe before he quit last year.
Emery will edit short videos to show his players an hour before kick-off. He is unashamedly intensive – his full-on style has sometimes exasperated players.
Winger Joaquin said of his time playing for Emery: “We had so many videos I ran out of popcorn.”
And defender Jeremy Mathieu was famouslycaught out when Emery, believing the player was not watching any of the videos he was giving him, handed him a blank pen-drive one week. Sure enough, the player reported back the next day saying that he had seen the video and had found it very helpful.
“To win something and share it with the fans is the greatest feeling there is in football,” said Emery. “The Champions League is nice, and we want to play in it, but you meet the very top teams and they beat you. When you are in the Europa League, you know you can win it.”
Dnipro will feel the same way tonight. They are third in the Ukraine Premier League with a game left to play and defeated Ajax and Napoli to make it this far.
And as their right-back Artem Fedetskiy has pointed out in the build-up to the game: “We beat Ajax and Napoli so we can beat Seville.”
For the neutral, it is hard not to lean Sevilla’s way, partly because of Monchi’s ability to sign a couple of Brazilians in 2003, Dani Alves for €1.5m and Julio Baptista for €2.5m, and then sell them to Barcelona and Arsenal for €40m and €25m respectively. It is a trick he has repeated many times over. And then there is Emery’s overwhelmingpositivity.
“The Champions League generates more money and allows you to buy better players but what fans really want is to enjoy their team winning things,” he says. “If you have money but you don’t generate emotion, it’s worthless.”
English teams’ attitude to the Europa League baffles him.
“I had Everton down as one of the candidates this year but they were knocked out early. Manchester City and United came into it after being knocked out of the Champions League (a couple of seasons ago) and you think, ‘They’ll compete to win it’, but they didn’t,” he said.
If Emery or Monchi move to England they might have to get used to not taking the Europa League very seriously. For now, they can both enjoy it for what it is – a cup to be won. (© Independent News Service)
Dnipro v Sevilla, Europa League final, Live ITV4/TV3, 7.45
Independent News Service