Unai Emery and Sevilla, in many ways, has been the perfect match. They’ve been together since January 2013, and came to be at a time when prosperity had gone awry for both parties. While Emery’s Eastern European adventure with Spartak Moscow had fallen before it began, Sevilla had blitzed through three managers in as many seasons; finishing ninth in the season before the 43-year-old arrived.

Together, they were fragile. But in time they would facilitate each other’s resurgence.

From 2013 to 2015, his team asserted themselves as the Europa League’s finest by a sizable margin. Although their first win was by no means routine, the struggle in doing so gave them something more profound. It meant that in the following season, Emery’s Sevilla would find true meaning in the defence of their trophy; a unified goal which would support their every move as a club, and dispel the theories of European obligations being a hindrance to that of the domestic kind.

The Europa League thus became something very special to the club – despite it’s reputation elsewhere. Sevilla’s success in the competition permeated into their other responsibilities, and bonded their part of the city in a way Emery could only have dreamed of. “We love this competition,” he echoed throughout the year. And it was no wonder. Where the current financial barriers of La Liga prevent them from aspiring beyond Champions League qualification, their escapade in Europe’s other competition gave romance to theirs and Emery’s journey.

But having emerged from their two-year high, and with paradigms changing within the club, Emery’s honeymoon has come to a rather abrupt halt. Sevilla’s new common goal has become ambiguous. And for the first time in the Basque’s spell, the legitimacy of his quest at the club isn’t so forthcoming.

At present day, we find a team lurching between competitions with no such substance in any. In La Liga, they sit in 12th position, closer to the relegation zone than Europe, and already trailing fourth-placed Atlético Madrid by eight points. Meanwhile, their Champions League dreams are heading for a blunt, anti-climactic end, barring back-to-back wins in their final two group games. Never before has Emery’s Sevilla felt so unfulfilling.

“Football is emotion,” Emery told the Guardian, back in May. “There’s an economic [imperative] but what fans really want is to enjoy their team. If you have money but don’t generate feeling, it’s worthless. You play the Champions League but get knocked out in the group, losing all your games, and [the fan says:] ‘Sure, you’ve made €20m, but that means nothing to me.’”

Now, Emery’s worst fears are coming true. His hopes of taking Sevilla to the next level in Europe’s premier competition, after two years of dominance in the Europa League, are the very reason that the 44-year-old decided to stay at the club in the summer. And it’s all disappearing before his eyes; like a runaway train mowing through all of the foundations they have been building since 2013.

Though it’s admirable in many ways that Emery decided to take on a contract extension that could make or break him, the dangers of doing so were evident from the start. He knew it himself. In the selling nature of the club, no Sevilla team in history has been able to sustain success (by their standards), beyond a stretch of two seasons. The reality of not only prolonging, but progressing a club, under such circumstances has come down on Emery’s project hard.

Sevilla spent more in the summer than they ever have before, too. In collating the most expensive squad in club history, intentions were set for something great. But at the same time, it spoke to desperation for them to achieve as such; as if blinded by hope and love-struck by what could be a now frontier. While searching for the accelerator, they appear to have hit reverse.

Unfortunately for Sevilla and Emery, his two full seasons in charge have left the club in an awkward space. In essence, he has become a victim of his own success. They are too good for their beloved Europa League and have outgrown it, but they aren’t good enough for the greater horizon that captured their imagination in the summer. And in pursuit of the latter, Sevilla have lost the driver behind what produced two of their most enjoyable seasons in recent memory.

Their constant rebuilding of squads – as accomplished as they have been in the last two years – has proven far from foolproof. Over the summer, they lost talismanic figures in Carlos Bacca, Aleix Vidal and Stephane Mbia. They were pillars of all that Emery’s team achieved last season, and in hindsight, crucial members of what was a perfect storm. By the way of their budget, ambitions and realistic reach, Sevilla had a team that was – until then – untouched by Europe’s bigger clubs, and perfectly suited for Emery’s ideas. Things are different now.

Of the double-digit number of signings the club made over the summer, only Yehven Konoplyanka has become a sure thing in Emery’s preferred XI. And even then, the move has had repercussions given that the Ukrainian’s presence has seen Vitolo, the man who played on the left wing throughout last season, ushered out to a less natural right wing berth.

“In Europe, we want to move forward. And if not, we will continue in the Europa League,” Emery said on Tuesday evening, following their comprehensive defeat at the hands of Manchester City. Except, defending a defence doesn’t sound quite so rousing for a man who stuck around to try and make Sevilla something more than that.

Together, Emery and Sevilla saved each other, but they have ventured too far down the corridor of possibility. And unfortunately, it seem as if stagnation is becoming an increasingly likely best-case scenario for this once-stirring match.

About the author – Jamie Kemp

Jamie is a freelance sportswriter, who writes on English and Spanish varieties of football in the main. He is also the creator of the popular blog El Rondo; a spot where you can find regular musings on the world of La Liga.

twitter: @jamiekemp


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As the glitz and glamour of the Barclays Premier League transfer window edges into it’s final week, excitement is at fever pitch as cash-laden clubs scour Europe for the next big money deal. Whilst Jim White is feverishly running around the Sky Sports News studio from one touch screen to another, the mood over in Spain is all the more calm. At the same time the English clubs have been jetting off on tours to the Middle East and Australia, Spanish clubs have been tying up deals to replace those who have set off for pastures new. One aspect of the game that La Liga can gain plaudits for is the extraordinary knack of finding players who can sell on for huge profit, or revitalising careers by using them in a unique way that their previous club hadn’t thought of. These next five signings should demonstrate those two points and more over the coming season.

Aleix Vidal: Sevilla FC – FC Barcelona

Vidal’s move from Sevilla to Barcelona is certainly a sense of deja-vu –

the narrative of Barcelona buying converted full-backs from Sevilla has been written twice before with Adriano and more famously Dani Alves. Vidal’s move has been overshadowed by the fact that the current Champions bought him under a transfer ban, which means that he cannot feature in a competitive match until January. Due to this many have failed to spot what Vidal can actually bring to the table. An absolute workhorse down the right hand side, he can often be spotted blistering past the winger on an overlap where his magnificent crossing ability can be put to use. His new coach Luis Enrique is a fitness fanatic, and Vidal’s massive stamina will fit with Barcelona’s high-pressure ethos. Vidal is a humble player, whose rise from Almeria to Barcelona has been nothing short of magnificent and his flexibility gives Enrique the opportunity to mould him into the player he wants. Surely bought to cover the right-back slot when Alves hands the baton over, and is more than capable of doing so as his Spain call up over the summer suggests.

Roberto Soldado: Tottenham Hotspur – Villarreal CF

A familiar name for La Liga watchers returns as the ex-Valencia top-scorer joins provincial rivals Villarreal on a long term deal. Roberto Soldado certainly has the pedigree needed to send El Submarino to the next level after a season which secured European football at El Madrigal once again. After two disappointing years with Tottenham Hotspur, Soldado will be keen to exercise the memories of his time in London in which he became nothing more than the butt of jokes as he failed to settle. Primarily used as a lone-striker, his return to Spain will see him link up with Leo Baptistao or fellow new boy Cedric Bukambu as part of a two. Villarreal scored 48 goals last year, 23 behind Sevilla who finished 16 points clear of them. They will hope that the return of Soldado will go someway to closing that gap, and his impressive debut goal in the 1-1 draw with Real Betis suggests that Soldado is ready to fire on all cylinders.

Michael Krohn-Dehli: Celta de Vigo to Sevilla FC

The Danish central midfielder arrives on a free transfer from Celta Vigo and may prove to be a superb acquisition over the course of the season. Although he was the key creative hub for Celta last season, his role within the team was often overshadowed by wingers Nolito and Orellana. However, his contributions were invaluable as the Galician’s recorded an 8th place finish – their highest since their return to the top flight in 2011 – as he provided 5 assists and created a total of 69 goal scoring opportunities for the team. At 32 years old and behind some serious quality at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Krohn-Dehli may find it hard to make his mark full-time, but will make an impact over the course of the season as his attacking guile allows him to find space in opposition defences. His vision is second to none, and will provide a key option should Unai Emery need more attacking presence next to Ever Banega.

Samu Castillejo: Malaga CF – Villarreal CF

One of two Samu’s who left Malaga to join the yellow submarine of Villarreal this summer, which also demonstrates how well the Valencian outfit have bought after the departures of Giovani Dos Santos and Ike Uche. Castillejo burst onto the scene 18 months ago in a Malaga side that was full to the brim of home-grown talent. Since then, his development has been rapid and he has gained plaudits equally as quickly. At 20 years old, Samu is one of the most exciting talents at under-21 level, playing primarily as a winger he possesses fantastic pace with footwork to match. His ability to create chances from wide positions will certainly be an upgrade on an area that was lacking last year. Whilst work is needed on his final ball and decision making, this acquisition is certainly a strong one which will certainly have economical benefits in the future as big clubs across Europe already start to hover.

Raul Albentosa: Derby County – Malaga CF

The lanky central defender will be best remembered for his outstanding performances for the smallest club in La Liga last season. The former Eibar central defender joins Malaga on loan from Derby County for the season with the view of reviving his career after a slight lull in the British Midlands. Albentosa is certainly an upgrade on the outgoing Sergio Sanchez, and Malaga will be pleased to have secured his signature. The primary stages of his La Liga career were certainly positive with a series of assured performances for a club that many wrote off before they played their first game. It was clear to see that after the loss of Albentosa, Eibar struggled defensively – his return to La Liga will certainly add to an exciting Malaga squad.

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.



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