Most of the talk about La Liga managers seems focused on Barcelona's Pep Guardiola and Real Madrid's José Mourinho, which is understandable considering these are two of the world's most accomplished managers working at two of the world's biggest clubs.
But there is a lot of managerial talent in Spain outside of the big two, namely at Valencia, where Unai Emery has been doing a sensational job over the past few seasons.
The underrated Valencia manager has done enough over the past few years to justify his inclusion among the best managers in football at the moment. Here is why.
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Unai Emery is arguably the finest tactician in La Liga.
He may not have the same resources at his disposal as José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, but he has often made life very difficult to Barcelona and Real Madrid through superior tactics–namely Barcelona.
Emery's Valencia side always made life very difficult for Barcelona, in fact, the Catalans have only one once in the last four matches at Mestalla. Valencia have even managed to outplay Barcelona in certain periods, which very few teams manage.
In the last match against Barcelona this week, Emery brilliantly set his team up to explore Barcelona's lack of recognized fullbacks and he was rewarded for that.
Emery is able to change his tactics according to the needs of any particular match, which has been a huge factor in Valencia's successful campaigns in the past few seasons.
You can never guess Valencia's lineup before a match. Many managers employ a rotation system, but Emery takes it to extreme levels.
Emery pretty much never uses the same lineup in two consecutive and is constantly rotating even his star players; not even the likes of Mata, Silva and Villa are above his rotation system. Emery has never fielded the same starting XI on two consecutive occasions in the past 75 matches!
It might seem an unconventional coaching method, but the truth is that it has been working great. Everyone is kept happy and fresh with Unai Emery's constant rotations. Besides, the quality never seems to drop and it keeps opponents guessing–they never know who will play and which formation Emery will adopt for any given match.
The success of his very unusual rotation system proves that Emery is a great manager.
Despite limited funding, Unai Emery has managed to build an excellent squad, with fantastic quality depth. His strategy of signing somewhat unknowns–yet top quality players, has been working very well.
The departures of David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata couldn't have been dealt with better. While other managers could have faltered, Emery managed to bring in the necessary players to make the squad stronger overall, despite the loss of their stars.
This season, the Valencia manager signed Diego Alves, Sergio Canales, Pablo Piatti, Adil Rami and Victor Ruiz, five players who have made the squad a lot stronger, despite Mata and Joaquin's exits.
Considering that Valencia is a club with some financial troubles–forced to sell their stars, the squad Emery has assembled is nothing short of remarkable. Valencia is now one of the top sides in Spain and Europe, and their squad is so balanced that possible injuries won't hinder the team's progress.
One of Emery's greatest qualities is that he tends to bring the best out of all his players.
Just look at Roberto Soldado, who turned into a world-class goalscorer at Valencia after many thought he was hopeless, or look at how Sergio Canales is getting his career back on track at Valencia. Mehmet Topal and Tino Costa are two other examples, of many, of two players whose potential has been maximized under Emery.
Finishing third in La Liga and reaching the knockout stages of the Champions league right after losing David Villa and David Silva, further shows that Emery is one of the best at making the most of the resources he has at his disposal.
Unai Emery has been overachieving his entire career, that is very much clear.
At Lorca, he took the club to the second division for the first time in their history. He then became Almeria's manager and he got the club promoted to the first division for the first time in their history, finishing eighth in La Liga in his first season in the top flight–an absolutely remarkable feat for such a modest club.
Emery then moved to Valencia in the summer of 2008; Valencia had had a terrible season in 2007/2008 (finishing 10th and flirting with relegation for a while) and they were a club in great financial disarray, so there were no big expectations.
But like at Almeria, Emery defied the odds and took Valencia to an unexpected sixth place finish, making the team play some very nice football. He then managed to make his squad even stronger in the following years and finished third in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 while having good showings in Europe.
Valencia were expected to keep struggling in 2009, but Emery took them to sixth place. They were expected to slump after they sold Silva and Villa, but Emery took them to a comfortable third place finish. His body of work, at both Almeria and Valencia, is sensational, he has defied the odds in every occasion.
At 39, Unai Emery is still a very young manager, but his overall body of work so far clearly makes him one of the best in the world at what he does.
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