The center of Birmingham is crossed by canals from where the manufactures that left the factories of the 'city of a thousand trades' were distributed in the eighteenth century, the second most populous capital of England to which Unai Emery arrived six months ago to wake up a sleeping giant. From his glass attic he can see them and, in the few walks that the competition allows him to take, he can still go unnoticed, even without the cap with which he usually protects himself from the looks and photos to which he gladly accesses, but which make his point of shyness emerge. The one that overshadows his energy when there's a ball in between. The Basque coach is happy with his return to the Premier League in a project "that I have never had in hand".

Aston Villa, seven-time Premier League and European Cup winners in 1982, flirted with relegation for another season and its president and owner, Egyptian Nassef Sawiri, Africa's second richest businessman, did not hesitate to call him. "I was offered to be the manager responsible for everything. Since I left Arsenal I had made an effort to be prepared if the opportunity came, "he says from his office in the sports city of Boodymoor Heath, comfortable and flirtatious, but also wants to expand with a residence for the concentrations of the first team. All that also depends on him now.

Winning the Europa League with Villarreal and reaching the Champions League semifinals made him aware that his name would be heard again in all the big leagues. "It wasn't a normal time, but I exposed him to Fernando Roig Jr. that it was an opportunity and, from understanding, he opened the door for me. If I hadn't, even if Aston Villa had paid my clause, I wouldn't have accepted," he admits.

Unai Emery, in the Sports City of Aston Villa.ANTONIO HEREDIA

Her time in the yellow team defines her as professional and personally "very happy", that's why she said no a year before to Newcastle's offer. "I thought it was not the time because I could still achieve more with Villarreal. Reaching the semifinals of the Champions League proved me right," he says. But the second chance could not be missed. His new boss, Nassef Sawiris, is in love with football, but he offloads all the decisions on the Basque. "I like to have meetings, go for lunch or dinner from time to time, as I've done with all the presidents I've had. It's easy because he's in London and he comes to almost every game. I asked Nassef for that responsibility, because with 51 years and my experience, I feel able to demand it and assume it. Of course, I told him that I would make him participate in all the decisions so that he understood why I do things, "explains Unai with great confidence.

"Why did I love you?"

"I ask all presidents that. Logically there are the successes, but someone has also told me that because of my energy or my style of play. Nassef was attracted by the successes in Europe, but above all by the ability to overcome knockout rounds and to build competitive teams as seen against transatlantic like Liverpool, United, Bayern or Juve. That's what he said. He wants Aston Villa to be that competitive, to fight for the top four in the Premier League and compete for European titles."

Praetorian Guard without Alemany

What it is not going to do is to do it from inferiority. In a Premier League with extraordinary "financial muscle", Aston Villa are willing to raise the bar on spending to fight for everything. "The idea is to build a team that matches those we're going to compete with." For that Unai Emery needs to surround himself with the best, a praetorian guard like the one Guardiola built at City. "The president, in a further show of confidence, lets me compose the group of people around me. A coach has to make many decisions every day and have a lot of professional judgment, experience and knowledge, but he needs people around to help perfect that decision," he explains.

Unai, in Birmingham.ANTONIO HEREDIA

The icing on the cake was going to be Mateu Alemany. "We want a strong structure and we value who it could be. Who was experienced, competitive and a fit for me and the owners. With Mateu I have talked a lot about football and I have a personal relationship that made me feel comfortable." However, the Mallorcan reversed his announcement of leaving Barça, something does not disrupt either the plans or the ambition of the project led by the Basque. With senior executive Damià Vidagany, his coaching staff and two strong men in Alberto Benito and Pablo Rodríguez in the technical secretariat who come from Betis and Villarreal, Emery forms that circle of protection that he admires from City. "When we talk about Guardiola we talk about a prolonged success over time and football updates that start from a genius like him. The structure it has makes it possible to focus on work and rely on everything around it. That is a good model and we talked about creating it with Mateu Alemany. I want to be very rigorous, that the decisions are the best and assume them because they are mine or the professional people around me."

Good numbers and the faith of the players

At the moment, he has Villa Park surrendered at his feet. In six months he has transformed the team that flirted with relegation into one that will be in Europe through the Conference League with record numbers: 10 games without losing, 20 scoring at least one goal and a defense that has made Dibu Martínez shine again. His work has earned him the nomination for best coach of the season in the Premier League.

"I remember a phrase by Juanma Lillo, whom I admire, who said that to learn sometimes you have to unlearn. That happens to players. Sometimes you have to tell them to do things differently because they will do better. And when they get it right, they appreciate it. Anyway, I've had players who were happy and two months later they weren't. It happened to me at Arsenal. That's why I'd rather not be flattered if I'm later criticized. I don't like to hear it because I know it may be a flaw in the future," he says.

Flattery is inevitable. Full-back Alex Moreno cannot run away from them. A whatsapp revolutionized his life in January. "Unai wrote to me to talk to me." From that moment, a transfer that left Betis 13.5 million, the move and the debut "without time to warm up" against Leeds at Villa Park, "and I saved a goal. It was a good start," says the winger, who was in the sights of Luis de la Fuente until a hamstring tear sent him to the operating room.

The Spanish side Álex Moreno.A. HEREDIA

"It wasn't easy to leave Betis, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime. The Premier League is the best league in the world and the project is very motivating." In his time at Barça youth, Llagostera, Mallorca, Rayo, Elche and Betis, he had faced Emery many times, but the first advice was given by Joaquín. "You're going to swell from watching videos," he told me. And yes, that analysis with the staff to see how to improve the movements in attack and defense helps you grow." "His system, with a lot of prominence of the ball, favors me a lot when attacking," he says. "Everything he asks us and corrects us in training then you see that it is very useful in the game," admits the footballer, who retired injured against Liverpool and may have said goodbye to the season.

He also admits the influence of Basque coach captain John McGinn. The Scotland international did not have to explain who Emery was. The 13-year-old was the UEFA Cup final at Hampden Park and saw Sevilla win against Espanyol. Since then, he has been aware of what the Sevillistas were doing, "I can even hum the anthem," he jokes. He knows Emery's exploits and now captivates him as a coach. "He gives us incredible information to make us better. Even though I'm 28 years old, every day it's like I'm going to school. I learn and it makes me feel like I have no limits. It's part of his plan that I hope will take us to Europe and the top 10 of the Premier League."

Accustomed to English technicians, they have adapted to concentrations, long talks, their involvement in training, "running like one more", and their style. "He wants us to spend more time with possession and that's what he insists on. My advantage is that I already do it with Scotland." With his national team he plays more forward. At Villa, where Emery says. "He asked me and I told him where he wanted less on the bench. Now I'm really enjoying it."

Captain John McGinn.A. HEREDIA

Emery insists that there is still a way to go, that he has no magic wand. "All changes have their immediate effects, which can last two weeks, six months or a year, but success is being able to evolve and improve in four years. If you come back in four years, then we can talk about successes."

Premier vs League

Is there now less patience with the projects in the Premier League?

"It's that football is changing. The Premier League has an economic capacity that makes the demands greater. The times of Fergusson or Wenger were different in which projects were kept in periods of non-success because it was trusted that they would arrive. This is modern football: success or success. They can forgive you one, but not the second," he warns.

In that economic fight, is the League lagging behind? "I owe him a lot, but the Premier League has the financial muscle and what football means in England. As a child I was told that for Athletic fans going to football was like going to mass. I didn't even know who the rival was, but they were going to the Cathedral, the same thing happens here." In Birmingham you make a pilgrimage to Villa Park to see its 'villains'.

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