The Basques are a nation overshadowed by the Castilians and Catalans, but no less confident and ambitious. Athletic Club is their pride – it shouldn’t go up until after the last presidential election. Txoko, or the counterparts of socios and cules, chose a man with startups in mind and a clear plan: conquer all of Spain. And this one Ernesto Valverde hired. A recipe for success?
With rock’n’roll on the field, but also with “romance” as befits a club that is more than 100 years old. Conservatism with a great wave of modernity. This is what the new Athletic Club will look like. It is Jon Uriarte who will carry out the “deep transformation” of the Bilbao team. The club, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year, will undergo a technological, sporting and other revolution to put its former self-love behind and move forward. It sounds like any project of a candidate for president or president of a company. But in this case we are dealing with an intriguing man. The new era of “Los Leones” should be unlike any other.
Who is she?
Uriarte, 44, was the last to volunteer for the election. However, he went into the campaign with a bang, actually prepared, with a good plan. With a fresh look at various club affairs. Where did it come from anyway? For many years he worked as a financial analyst in London and after his return to the Basque Country he founded a company involved in the sale of tickets for events over the Internet. Six years ago, it was bought by the eBay platform for more than 150 million euros. For the amount obtained, Uriarte developed another company, consultancy in the real estate sector. The All Iron Group company is slowly starting to conquer the European markets and will soon bring him even more profits. Him and Athletic.
He waited until the end of the La Liga season with his candidacy and entered the game with the message of “freshness” and renewal, interestingly enough, without any previous relationship with the club. It became popular not only thanks to the project, but also thanks to a team of professionals, including in areas previously unknown to the general public. He won quite confidently (46 percent of the votes cast against 33 percent received by the biggest rival, Inaki Arechabaleta), which doesn’t mean the campaign went smoothly.
An absolute fan of all technological innovations, analytics and ubiquitous automation, Uriarte wanted to hire 31-year-old Carlos Avin as sports director. The profile of the Mexican defended itself. Working for Cercle Brugge and working with Monaco, the Head of Scouts is known for creating a huge database of players from all corners of the globe. Such a man is a treasure. The problem is, with an error. Immediately after the candidate’s introduction, Twitter users were reminded of Avina’s xenophobic, racist and sexist posts from 2012-13. The candidacy fell, but Uriarte’s misfortune did not hurt. He was given a mandate to carry out a revolution.
Closer to the fans
These radical changes include: taking advantage of the benefits of Big Data, variable salaries, professionalizing the entire structure of the Lezam academy, supporting talent seekers. He announced a plan to introduce something like Erasmus football, where young students will travel to European countries to play football, study and then pursue a career in Bilbao. He is committed to creating a network of “affiliated clubs” in Europe to which he will send the most promising players to develop their potential.
From the start of the tenure, the academy should be the apple of the eye of the new authorities. Currently only 2 percent. boys and girls, who train in the 50-year-old ‘talent factory’, are in the first teams. This is a worse than bad result. It is estimated that the qualification of one footballer costs 30,000 euros. Its maintenance should not be done at any cost. If they don’t do well enough, they have to generate income, at least make up for the education. Those who do not join the elite will certainly not stop learning. Athletic Club’s new policy is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to develop continuously. Complete professionalization.
“El Presi” also presented a certain social model in terms of the club, modeled after the British. It involves an even greater unity of fans around the team, and thus multiplying the attendance at San Mames, a stadium modern for Spanish conditions and with a large capacity (more than 50,000 seats). Objective? Getting you to a state where the average turnout will be over 85%. To get closer to the assumptions, the attractiveness of the first team must increase. Here should come a new “broom” with help. Not just any one.
On old waste
The election of the new chairman was de facto related to the future as the team’s coach. Club members relied more on Jon Uriarte’s calm Valverde than on Bielsie (recommended by Arechabaleta), who was regarded by many as eccentric and above all unpopular. Athletic will therefore have at the helm the coach who has led the first team the most times in history. Ernesto comes to himself again.
† I’m from here, training the team you come from makes winning and losing so much stronger – said the 58-year-old.
The Uriarte anointed coach led “Los Leones” from 2003-2005 and then 2013-2017 when he won his first title for a well-deserved club in 31 years. His players then won the draw against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup, beating the “Catalan Duma” 4-0 in the first game. It was then in the nuts of rivals and after two years he took over from Camp Nou. There he twice won the Spanish Championship, but the compromising setbacks in subsequent editions of the Champions League (with Roma and Liverpool) led to his dismissal. Paradoxically, he was parted ways when Barca topped the La Liga table. From the beginning of 2020, despite many offers, he was unemployed.
The new-old coach has to make important decisions in a team full of unnecessary elements. The first team currently has 35 players and after the season, knowing the authorities would change, no one worried about individual players’ contracts.
One of the challenges facing Athletic’s new management is the renewal of the leaders’ contracts. This includes, for example, one of the best players of the past campaign, Inigo Martinez. Only with him in the lineup will Valverde be able to try and take the “Lions” on an expedition to qualify for the Champions League. However, other transfers are also required. Valverde and Uriarte are reassuring fans: don’t worry, new ones are coming.
Club members chose a man who promised new methods of organizing the academy and generating revenue. The campaign paid much more attention to social media than to traditional media. The voting results indicate that Txoko relies on new development paths. Uriarte wants to lead Athletic out of his historic tranquility, his ‘hot tap water’ policy. Instead, he suggests fighting an elite group, jumping to the top shelf. Where the Basques have not yet been.