Express & Star

Matt Maher: Midlands blessed with a trio of the very best

Should Unai Emery succeed in guiding Villa into the Champions League this season, it would be very difficult not to select him as the West Midlands manager of the year.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Gary O'Neil

Only twice previously has the region had a representative in Europe’s premier club competition. Both times it was Villa, the season after they won the Division One title and then the following year after they won the European Cup itself.

Since then the tournament has expanded, rebranded and in Premier League terms increasingly become something of a closed shop, open only to members of the division’s so-called Big Six.

Emery would be the first West Midlands boss to crack the hegemony, triumphing where the likes of Martin O’Neill and Nuno Espirito Santo before him fell short.

He would do it having overcome a fair share of adversity too, thanks to a steady succession of injuries which began with losing Emi Buendia and Tyrone Mings on the eve of the season and continued his week with the loss of midfielder Boubacar Kamara for the remainder of the campaign.

Emery has already demonstrated an ability to adapt in order to keep Villa’s season on the rails, though it feels fair to say resources have never been so stretched as they are now. Momentum having stalled, these next few weeks present probably his biggest challenge since first walking through the doors of Villa Park 15 months ago, tasked with rousing a team which sat just above the relegation zone.

Emery, of course, is not the region’s only success story this term, as Albion and Wolves supporters would be quick to attest. Add Gary O’Neil and Carlos Corberan to the mix and you have three examples of seriously impressive coaching jobs, each slightly different but with all having overcome obstacles of varying degrees to keep their respective teams on track.

O’Neil appeared a man walking into a storm when he arrived at Wolves just a few days before the start of the season to inherit a squad in flux, which had been branded not good enough by predecessor Julen Lopetegui.