BT Sport spoke with Aston Villa boss Unai Emery to discuss his key principles and ‘non-negotiables’ as a manager and how he transmits those principles to his players.

As part of a series delving deeper into each Premier League manager’s values, Emery speaks about what it means to separate the player from the person, how he selects his captain and the lessons he's learned from NBA legend Kobe Bryant.


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Emery has been a huge hit at Villa since arriving in late October to replace Steven Gerrard, turning relegation candidates into European hopefuls.

The Spaniard has an impressive CV having worked at Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla, with his four Europa League successes making him the most successful manager in the competition's history.

Here, the 51-year-old talks through the fundamental values that he's acquired during his 19-year coaching career.

Unai Emery during his spell with Sevilla
Unai Emery: "You have to treat the player and the person differently"

What are your key values, things that are non-negotiable?

Respect, responsibility, motivation and ambition to improve. 

Respect is respect for inside the club - teammates, supporters, coaches and also the respect you must have for your opponent.

Responsibility is about responding to why the club signed you. It's about being an example to the supporters and the responsibility to work every day at your job and do your best. You have a responsibility to follow the team's objectives.

Motivation is the motivation to follow as a team. Football is not individual like tennis or golf. Football is 25 players all together like one. You have to have the motivation to compete and to win together. 

Ambition is the ambition to get better. When you have players without this, it is difficult. We were watching The Last Dance with Michael Jordan and we saw Kobe Bryant's speech.

Kobe Bryant said you can always practise more. You can practise at 10 in the morning, but you could get there at 8 and practise before the others at 10. And if you wake up at 5, you can practise even more at 6! That is the ambition to improve.

Unai Emery
The Aston Villa boss has turned the club into candidates for a European place

Did you have those values as a player?

When I was a player, I lacked some of it. I was aware when I finished my playing career that I wanted players who were different to how I was. I wanted players who are hungry to play and hungry to win. 

I was a good professional, but not quite enough. I was a player who didn't have a coach who demanded of me more and more. I had to do it myself, but sometimes I didn't do it as I wasn't concerned in that moment.

As a coach I notice the things I lacked in my career as a player and I want to add them. It's a process, every day. I tell the players sometimes: "I am learning from you." One example is last week I spoke with Ashley Young and I told him that I was learning from him, I was taking a lot of information from him.

Would you sign any players who do not share your values?

Only Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, I would sign if they didn't have my values!

You sign a player, but you also sign a person too, and a person comes with values. Some you can't understand because maybe they come from a family without possibilities to study, or maybe the player is coming from the street and they are not a mature person with values. So then you have to add those values; as a coach you have to teach them a little bit.

I understand this and I am doing it. Because you don't always sign intelligent, responsible players who are respectful with everybody. Sometimes you have to teach the players to be demanding. To work together, those are my values and you have to be like that.

Unai Emery issues instructions to Leon Bailey at Leicester
The Spaniard has a series of key principles as a coach

Do you have ways of enforcing discipline with your players?

I don’t like to speak about "discipline". I like discipline in playing - be organised, be disciplined – but not discipline like they have in the military. I like self-discipline, discipline on the pitch, and of course discipline outside, but not military-type discipline. I try to convince players to act normally with respect. That is the word I use instead of discipline.

Have you adapted your approach to different clubs you've worked at?

No, I'm always the same. The first thing is my personal approach with the players. I try to understand the person because we have to live together and be respectful to each other as people and then as a professional.

Now I am trying to discipline myself when I speak to someone as a player, then to the same player as a person. It's different. 

Life, work and the job are sometimes not all together. And I have to decide which moment it is right to speak to the player and which moment it is right to speak to the person. If you tell a player they are not capable of playing in your squad, that is a strong message! But as a person, you must talk to them in another way. That's the difference.

Unai Emery celebrates with the Europa League trophy during his time at Villarreal
No coach has won the Europa League more than Emery's four successes in the competition

“The captain does not mean the same in Spain as it does in England”
- Unai Emery

How important is a player's character?

What is "character"? It’s difficult to define. I use the word "personality" instead with the players. To play like you are and to have a behaviour like you are as a person.

We have 25 players and coaches, and the club have to create a strong personality together. We are a team, but we are adding and we are connecting individually with the players. We have to have a personality individually, but also as a team. And of course, some players can have a bigger personality than another, but they must share as a team.

How do you select your captain?

"Captain" does not mean the same in Spain as it does in England. England is more respectful of the captain for the history of the team, for values... but for me, selecting the captain is less important than some people think.

Why? Because for me, the captain can be everybody. Of course you have to give someone the responsibility to speak to the referee, but I want everybody to feel like a captain and try to do the things one captain can do. We have to select one to wear the armband, but it's a mentality for me for every player.