Europa League: Unai Emery lauds Villarreal players after historic win
Villarreal coach Unai Emery praised his “impeccable” players for their dedication after claiming the club’s first major trophy by beating Manchester United in the Europa League final on Wednesday.
The Spanish side won a thrilling penalty shoot-out 11-10, after a 1-1 draw. Goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli scored his side’s 11th before stepping back in goal to make the decisive save, stopping United counterpart David De Gea’s spot-kick.
It was a record fourth Europa League triumph for Emery as a manager — he won thrice with Sevilla — but marked Villarreal’s first piece of major silverware. A city of 50,000 inhabitants now has a European trophy to savour.
“In the Europa League we have been absolutely impeccable. Since the very first moment. Some days we were coming at 6am to the stadium to prepare a game for the Sunday. All of this makes the journey (worthwhile),” Emery told a news conference.
Gerard Moreno stretched to reach Dani Parejo’s free-kick and steered the ball past De Gea to open the scoring in the 29th minute, only for United to level when Edinson Cavani poked the ball home after collecting Marcus Rashford’s deflected shot on 55 minutes.
“This is a dream come true, in these moments we can all remember how hard we’ve worked to go down in the club’s history books,” said goalscorer Moreno.
The shoot-out win also booked Villarreal’s place in next season’s Uefa Champions League, saving them from competing in the new Uefa Conference League which they had qualified for by finishing seventh in La Liga.
Emery joined Villarreal in July 2020, nine months after he was sacked by English side Arsenal.
The Spaniard knocked his former club out of this season’s competition at the semi-final stage before taking down another Premier League giant in United, but insisted he did not see the achievement as a personal triumph.
“I insist it is not a sports revenge at all. I try to enjoy every moment, winning and losing,” he said.
United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said his players had to remember the pain of the defeat for the future.
“They made it hard for us, we had the majority of possession but they defended well, we didn’t create enough big chances,” added Solskjaer, whose strategy of not substituting his tired forwards raised eyebrows.
United forward Rashford said the club had passed up a great opportunity. “In one word, it’s disappointing,” he said. “But there’s no chance this team will give up, we’ll come back next season with a bigger desire.”
United’s loss meant the club is without a trophy since 2017. “It’s not a successful season of course. Sometimes one kick defines a season as a good one and sometimes a kick defines it’s not,” Solskjaer said.
“Trophies matter and that’s what matters at this club so no it’s not a successful season. It’s the short answer.”
When the score was 1-1 it was obvious that United did not have the creativity — or the bench — to add another. Solskjaer will have to start planning on his signings for the next season.