For a prolonged period at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday, Unai Emery and his Sevilla players were on the brink of achieving footballing immortality in the Andalusian city at least. Just four days on from beating Liverpool to clinch a third straight Europa League crown, they had Barcelona a man down and under real pressure in the Copa del Rey final.
The fairytale finale to what in many ways has been a bizarre but ultimately successful season in Seville looked on. For 64 minutes they pressed and probed against 10 Barcelona players but despite a few close shaves, they couldn’t find the breakthrough and from the moment Ever Banega was dismissed in second half stoppage time, there was an air of inevitability about what would happen next.
Thirty minutes of extra-time between a re-vitalised Barcelona side, now without a man disadvantage and a Sevilla team, that was beginning to look increasingly jaded following their exertions in Basel, was only likely to yield one result. Goals from Jordi Alba and Neymar sealed a domestic double for the Catalans and Sevilla were left to reflect on what might have been.
The full-time whistle brought tears to the faces of several Sevilla players, though more out of emotional exhaustion after two cup finals and a rollercoaster four days, than utter dejection you sensed. Once the dust settled and they returned to Seville, the magnitude of their achievements in Switzerland last week would finally have set in.
By beating Liverpool in what was billed as the toughest of their five Europa League (previously UEFA Cup) finals, Sevilla had become the first team in 40 years to win the same European competition three years in a row and only the second ever to win the same competition five times in the space of a decade.
Unai Emery has been at the helm for the three most recent wins and his achievements stack up even higher when you consider that Sevilla have actually made a substantial net transfer profit during his time at the club. Since he took over in January 2013 he has seen to name but a few the likes of Jesús Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Ivan Rakitić, Alberto Moreno and Carlos Bacca leave the club for sizeable transfer fees.
With the help of Sporting Director Monchi, who is also developing a huge reputation for himself, Emery has rebuilt this Sevilla team skilfully every season by both improving his current players whilst making excellent use of the transfer market to secure the best bargain buys around.
Sevilla haven’t perhaps got the recognition their European heroics deserved until this season. The Europa League field this time around included Napoli and Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Manchester United yet again it was Sevilla who emerged with the trophy. Beating Jurgen Klopp’s Reds in the final was perhaps the watershed moment when observers of European football finally clocked that Emery is a special talent and his team’s success over the past few years has been no freak achievement.
Rumours are sure to circulate this summer about Emery moving abroad and he has only this week been strongly linked to the Everton job. However for now at least the Emery-Monchi marriage seems a strong and happy one. Emery issued a quick repost to suggestions he could swap the South of Spain for Merseyside, insisting ‘I’m very good at Sevilla’ while Monchi suggested to Calciomercato.com that Emery ‘renewed with Sevilla, even before the Europa League Final’ though there has been no official confirmation of that but the 44 year old does still have one year to run on his current deal in any case.
What can’t be doubted is that Emery is now at the very top of the list of names threatening to break into the elite group of managers who seem to rotate around Europe’s big clubs. Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte and Carlo Ancelotti all start new jobs this summer and the chances of another huge job coming up over the summer months appear very slim so for now at least Emery is likely to stay put.
Milan have also been a linked with a move for Emery but can’t offer any form of European football let alone Champions League football, which will again come to Seville in the Autumn. A successful run in that competition is certainly the next step for Sevilla’s evolution but it won’t be easy given they are again likely to lose several key players this summer.
Kevin Gameiro filled the goal void left by the departing Bacca last summer, netting 29 goals this term but he has been linked with a move to Roma and even Real Madrid in the past few days. Emery has already confirmed that chief playmaker Ever Banega will leave the club most likely to join Inter while talented holding midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak is another that is likely to interest clubs with considerably deeper pockets than Sevilla.
If all three were to depart the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan over the next few months, Emery would be faced with his toughest challenge yet of rebuilding this side for another long campaign. Although publicly at least he is as diplomatic and loyal as they come, there will surely come a point when the Spaniard’s willingness to continue attempting to perform miracles at Sevilla begins to wear thin.
Until now no job has come up that has come close to tempting him to leave but his side’s third Europa League success last week has surely pushed him to the point where he will at the very least be considered as a possible candidate for any top job that comes up in Europe over the next 12 months.
The chance to move to a club with greater resources and one that isn’t reliant on winning the Europa League every season to make the continent’s premier club competition, may ultimately prove too tough to resist.