Aston Villa’s remarkable turnaround under Unai Emery will bring European football to the club for the first time in more than a decade and the Spanish manager is relishing another shot at a continental trophy in the Conference League next season.
Villa defeated Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 on Sunday to seal seventh place in the Premier League, having hovered just above the relegation zone when Emery replaced Steven Gerrard in late October.
Key to that has been the side’s home form, winning their last seven games at Villa Park, and Emery has been delighted with the way the players have bought into his vision.
“I am very proud. These players have really followed me for the last six months, it has been demanding and we are committed,” he said.
“We beat a very good team (Brighton) and to achieve the European place is the best possible end. We will be in Europe, which for me is very important. It has given me a lot, it is fantastic, another way and another trophy at the end.”
Emery won three Europa League titles with Sevilla and added another at Villarreal so is the perfect man to lead Villa into Europe for the first time since 2010-11.
He was also a runner-up in the same competition with Arsenal in 2018-19, a first foray into English football that proved unsuccessful. Second time around, he has transformed Villa.
“Europe adds more matches and more difficult moments but I like that. It is very important for us,” he said.
“Historically this is a great team. We won the European Cup a long time ago (1982), but we can now try to improve and get an ambitious step ahead. This is the first step in that.”
Villa’s seventh place finish is their highest in the Premier League since they ended sixth in the 2009-10 campaign.