Aston Villa know a win on the final day of the Premier League season will see them return to Europe for the first time in 13 years.
And according to the players it is all down to one man: Unai Emery.
The Spanish coach arrived in November with Villa embroiled in a relegation scrap as their hugely talented squad looked totally devoid of confidence and unity.
Fast-forward seven months and Unai Emery has Aston Villa in seventh place ahead of their final day game at home against Brighton this Sunday (watch live, 11:30am ET on Peacock).
Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk ahead of the final game of the season, Aston Villa and Brazil midfielder Douglas Luiz hailed the impact of Unai Emery and his staff.
Luiz was just named Aston Villa’s Supporters’ Player and Players’ Player of the Season and he pointed to Emery’s experience and ability as a man manager as to why Villa are on the brink of a remarkable return to Europe.
“I think all of the players believe in him and his job,” Luiz explained. “He’s done so good and we believe in his work. We train hard everyday and this is the difference because he has so much experience in the big clubs. We are so happy to have Unai… He has helped me so much because I need a coach who believes in me, my position. He did this and has given me everything I need to perform. I am so happy to have Unai on my side.”
Happiness was a clear theme from talking to Villa’s players about this incredible turnaround and like Luiz, Jamaican winger Leon Bailey has become an integral part of Emery’s new-look side since he arrived from Villarreal in November.
Bailey shared similar praise of Emery as he hailed the clarity the Spanish coach gives his players so they can then go out onto the pitch and express themselves.
“Everybody is enjoying it from the goalkeeper to the striker,” Bailey smiled. “The clarity is just there and once you are on the pitch and you have clarity, it means you don’t have to think too much. You already know what to do. It gives you a clear and free mind to deliver, show your ability and not overthink it and I think this is why the players have been able to take the next step. It has been really great playing under the gaffer. It can only get better from here.”
That last line from Bailey sums up how anyone who has watched Aston Villa recently feels: as long as Unai Emery is the manager, there is a lot more still to come from this talented, well-drilled and balanced squad.
European qualification or not, this Villa side is ready to compete for a top six finish next season.