Why Aston Villa must feel pride despite pain as Unai Emery's parting message speaks volumes

John McGinn left nothing out on the pitch on Thursday night
John McGinn left nothing out on the pitch on Thursday night -Credit:Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

Aston Villa’s hopes of lifting their first piece of silverware since 1996 were dashed on Thursday night as Olympiacos made full use of home advantage by adding to their aggregate lead over Unai Emery’s side.

Having won the first leg 4-2 at Villa Park, Olympiacos knew that all they had to do was keep a clean sheet to book their place in the Europa Conference League final on May 29. So when Ayoub El Kaabi scored in the 10th minute for Olympiacos, Villa had a mammoth task on their hands to stage a comeback.

To Villa’s credit, they played some good football in the first half, but the game drifted away from them after the break. El Kaabi bagged his fifth goal across the two legs - after scoring a hat-trick at Villa Park - to double Olympiacos’ lead on the night in the 81st minute.

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Here are the talking points from Villa’s defeat in Greece…


On a night of disappointment for the travelling Villa fans packed in the corner, nothing was going to put them down. Their support has been outstanding far and wide across the continent this season.

They’ve also been a credit to the club, representing Villa with pride and passion from the first Europa Conference League game in Edinburgh to clapping the Olympiacos players off the pitch in Piraeus.

How Emery carries himself is mirrored through the fans, with class. After speaking to the media at his press conference and just as he got up from his seat to leave, Emery said: “Congratulations again to Olympiacos.”

Damian Vidagany, the club’s head of football operations, then wished the Greek journalists good luck for their final down the road in Athens.



Emery was naturally disappointed to have lost an opportunity to reach another European final in his career and compete for a fifth UEFA title. But he is confident his players will take a lot from their experience in this competition.

"We got to be in Europe at the end of last season and this year we enjoyed it but to win is very difficult and we are in the process [of developing],” Emery told TNT Sports.

"They [Olympiacos] deserve to be in the final. We lost it in the first 90 minutes at home and we were not competitive. We started this first half well, they scored but we controlled the game but we were not clinical.

"This is an experience for us at Aston Villa after a long time [of not being in Europe] and again we are going to compete in Europe next year. Of course we are a little bit disappointed, a little bit frustrated but we have to move on quick. We started the first leg and maybe we were favourites but after the first leg we weren't.

"We have to try to finish the season and for it to be very amazing [if they qualify for the Champions League]."


Once Villa’s position in the top five of the Premier League was solidified before the club’s trip to Lille in the quarter-finals, fans were already looking forward to the adventures they’d be having in the next campaign.

Speaking to fans in France and then in Athens, they told me that no matter if Villa go all the way in the Europa Conference League or not, they’ve got more memorable nights to come at Villa Park and abroad thanks to Emery.

This was Villa’s first stab at a European competition for some time and what a ride it was. That night in Lille will live long in the memory.

Some players in Emery’s squad had never played in European football before. Yet the Villa boss has managed to juggle domestic and European commitments exceptionally well.

But after Morgan Rogers and Youri Tielemans dropped out injured in recent days, it felt like it was one injury too many for Villa.

Emery’s bench for Thursday night’s second leg had an average age of just 20.25, with Clement Lenglet the only outfield players above the age of 21. It’s remarkable that Villa have come this far and made such progress so soon.

The summer transfer window will give Emery and Monchi the opportunity to bolster the first-team ranks, with another European campaign to look forward to in the coming months.

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