Unai Emery: Arsenal boss loves padel tennis – and never misses his hometown's medieval festival

The 46-year-old arrives as the new Arsenal head coach with the reputation as a football obsessive – he's been surrounded by the sport his whole life.

Unai comes from a long line of Emerys to grace the world of football.

His grandfather, great-uncle and dad all played professionally in Spain, while his son is on the books at Valencia.

But while he may be dedicated to the sport – thinking about it "24 hours a day" according to a former assistant – Emery is deeply religious, loves the quiet life and is fiercely loyal to his hometown.

Unai Emery Etxegoien was born in Hondarribia, Gipuzoka, a city that shares a long, bloody history – and a border – with France.

Emery, who was never spotted without a ball under his arm as a youth, is a proud Basque and never misses his hometown's biggest fiesta.

His cousin Inaki Artola joked: "It is something he keeps to every year.

TECH THAT Arsenal’s stars are in for a change… and they won’t get much past Unai Emery once he replaces Arsene Wenger at the Gunners

"I reckon that when he is praying on the touchline he must be saying 'please let the date fall on a day when I don't have training so that I can go to the festival."
The Hondarribia Alarde stars annually on September 8 in gratitude to soldiers who broke a siege on the town by French forces.

Thousands of people from across the region travel to the town to watch a parade through the streets, to mark the a siege by 25,000 French soldiers in 1638.

Only 300 survivors were left after the two month siege and despite the city virtually being destroyed, they did not surrender and the French forces withdrew.

The parade ends at around 9pm, where members of the procession, in military dress, converge on the town square to shoot volleys into the air.

Parties are said to go on for a couple of days after.

As well as his love for the festival, growing up next to the sea sparked Emery's love for walking.

He is said to be a frequent walker on the beach while he was a player at Real Sociedad and a manager at Valencia.

During his time with Paris Saint-Germain, Emery, who had a flat in the centre of Paris, was often seen walking along the Champs Elysees.

Deeply religious, Emery is often seen saying a short prayer and making the sign of the cross in the dugout.

Unai Emery honours


  • Europa League: 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16

Paris Saint-Germain

  • Ligue 1: 2017-18
  • Coupe de France: 2016-17, 2017-18
  • Coupe de la Ligue: 2016-17, 2017-18


  • La Liga manager of the month: March 2014, January 2015
  • European Coach of the Season: 2013-14
  • French Coach of the Season: 2017-18

He also makes a regular pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Hondarribia.

The shrine is hugely important in Basque Country.

Standing at the top of Mount Jaizkibel, the 16th-Century building is practically visible from almost the whole region.

Emery is also a family man, he was married to wife Luisa Fernandez in 1998 and has a son, Lander, who is 15.

Unai and Luisa, who is from the Costa del Sol resort of Benalmadena, met when Luisa was working in Spanish capital Madrid.

They both live in Valencia, where Lander was, until recently, a youth goalkeeper for the club.

While at PSG, Unai would travel to the city whenever he had the time to see his family.

Despite being a football "obsessive", Emery is also a lover of the racquet-sport padel and of chess.

At Sevilla and Valencia he would often play padel against his players as way to switch off from the game.

Padel is a cross between tennis and squash, typically played in doubles on a court about a third the size of a tennis court and enclosed with walls

Scoring is the same as tennis, with shots allowed to be played off the walls like in squash.

Emery has also claimed that chess has also helped his management.

Emery told World Soccer magazine in 2010: "I love the strategy, the sense of planning and out-thinking an opponent."

But football is where it really begins and ends for Unai – and it all comes from his family.

The new Gunners boss was actually the FOURTH of his clan to play in the Spanish top flight when he made his Real Sociedad debut in the mid-1990s.

His grandfather, father and uncle have all played professionally, while son Lander could yet star in the future.

Grandad Antonio was arguably the most successful of the Emery clan, playing a starring role for Real Union in the 1920s.

Nicknamed Pajarito (birdie) for his extreme agility, Antonio helped the team to the most successful period in their history.

He spent most of his career in the top flight, winning the Copa Del Rey in 1924 and 1927.

Antonio's brother Roman played in the same team, although in a lesser role.

The goalkeeper gene then followed on a generation to Juan, who was seen as a football revolutionary.

Small for a goalkeeper even then, Juan stood at just 5ft 6in – but was noted for his propensity to rush out and stop attackers.

He was also blessed with extreme agility and athleticism, forging a career for a string of second tier clubs, including Deportivo La Coruna and Sporting Gijon.

Unai was born in the 1970s and from a young age was football-mad.

He was a fixture at Real Sociedad matches as a youth and is even said to have 'always' been with a ball under his arm.

There are also stories of a teenage Emery ordering other players around, foreshadowing his later emergence as a top-level coach.

After a youth career with Sociedad, Unai bucked the trend of his ancestors to make his debut on the left side of midfield, rather than in goal.

He played just five matches in the Spanish top flight, playing for a string of Segunda Division clubs – Toledo, Racing Ferrol and Leganes – between 1996 and 2003.

Unai's final club was Lorca Deportiva in the third tier, but his career was cut short by injury at age 32.

He was immediately handed the vacant managers job and immediately started his rise to the very top, helping Lorca to promotion to the second tier for only the second time in their history.

Four seasons at Valencia and another three in Sevilla brought more success – including three Europa League titles with the latter.

A five-month spell at Spartak Moscow was the only blot on his copybook before arriving at Paris Saint-Germain.

Arsenal and Unai Emery specials for 2018/19 season

Arsenal/Emery To NOT Win A Trophy – 1/2

Arsenal/Emery To Win A Trophy – 6/4

Arsenal/Emery Top 4 Finish – 5/2

Arsenal/Emery To Win The Premier League – 25/1

Arsenal/Emery Relegated From Premier League – 250/1

Full list of candidates – HERE


His two seasons at PSG have brought five trophies – but only winning one Ligue 1 title and two embarrassing exits in the Champions League are not good enough for a club with their ambitions.

Arsenal are getting a manage dedicated to the game.

Former Valencia winger Joaquin told the Guardian: "He's obsessed with football – it’s practically an illness.

"I worked with him for three years … I couldn’t handle a fourth."

Former assistant Mikel Jauregi added: "He is very competitive, very passionate. He think about football 24 hours a day."

His days are filled with preparation and study for matches.

At PSG the 46-year-old would arrive at the training ground at 8.30am, an hour before the players were due to arrive.

He'd take the time to prepare for the session, then once it was done, would meet with his team of assistants to review what had taken place and what he would like to achieve next time.

His day at the training ground may have been finished at 5pm – but Emery would often work into the night going over everything.

Video is a particular favourite.

Hours and hours of footage was taken, of his team and opponents, with the boss going through 12 hours of film ahead of a match.

The demand on his players was such that £198million Neymar went above Emery's head to complain to the PSG board about the demands Emery was making of his players.

While at Valencia, Emery suspected one of his players of not watching the footage – so he caught him out by giving the star a blank flash-drive and asking him if he'd watched it.

Despite his obsession, Emery wants to create a relaxed atmosphere among his teams.

There are no formal dress codes and the only rule is that mobile phones are switched off in the dressing room before training and matches.

His door is always said to be open.

However, that policy backfired a bit in Paris, where the famously cliquey PSG squad was often at war and player power dominated.

When Neymar and Edinson Cavani publicly argued over set-piece duty in September, Emery said the players would "sort it out themselves" – failing to exert any authority.

He struggled to play the players in positions and formations he wanted, with players regularly undermining him to the board.

When he wanted to remove Thiago Silva as captain, the squad's huge – and dominant – Brazilian contingent blocked the move.

Even the wives of Angel Di Maria and Silva took aim at him after the players were dropped for the Champions League defeat to Real Madrid.

At Arsenal he shouldn't run into those kind of problems.

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