Monday, July 25, 2011

Keeping an eye on Athletic

Every Summer football fans satisfy the lack of real football with the signings, rumors or friendly games, waiting for the beginning of the official season. In La Liga, aside the usual suspects Real Madrid and Barcelona, Abdullah Ben Nasser Al Thani's Málaga has been the club that has been catching the attention of the fans with important signings which are supposed to take the Andalusian club to a new level. In my case, the main attraction is located in the North, in La Catedral Sán Mamés, Athletic's home.

Early this month, the Athletic Club's socios (members) were called to vote their new president and they chose Josu Urrutia, who was able to collect more than 22,000 votes, a 54% of the total. Josu Urrutia's task was not easy, since García Macua has been a good president when it comes to pure sport results, but the offer of renewal in every level of the club and the Marcelo Bielsa factor made the difference.

Even though it would be too simplistic to focus in just one aspect, the main topic of the campaign was the coach. The Athletic fans had to choose between the already known and successful Joaquín Caparrós and the exciting offer of Marcelo Bielsa, who refused to listen offers from big clubs like Inter Milan to join Urrutia in his adventure. In my opinion, there is only one way to interpret the results: ambition.

Despite achievements like the European participations or the Copa del Rey final, the connection between Caparrós and the stands of San Mamés was not in its best moment. Some questionable tactical decisions found a negative reaction in San Mamés, where the fans are more exigent in recent times. The Athletic fans may be the most intelligent supporters in La Liga and they do not forget that Caparrós has done an excellent job, taking the team from the relegation zone, where they used to be when he joined the team in 2007, to the European spots. But, at the same time, they had reasonable doubts about his capacity to take Athletic to a new level.

And this is the key, in my opinion. The fans believe that Marcelo Bielsa may be the man that takes them to a new level. At the same time, it is important to recall that Bielsa's recent experience is not in club football (actually the last club he managed was Espanyol in 1998, leaving them after a few weeks to join the Argentinian NT). But his reputation was high after the good results of Chile during his term and, maybe, for being one of the mentors of the fashion coach, Josep Guardiola. Marcelo Bielsa represents the ambition of a historical club that wants to live historical moments again.

How realisitic is this? Personally, on paper, this is the best Athletic I can remember in the last 2 decades. Athletic has produced (or signed from other Basque clubs) a good generation of players and there is at least one of them in every line. The icon is Fernando Llorente, who was already linked with several giants of the European football, a striker who keeps growing and is the main reference of the team nowadays. But, for me, the most influential and important player of the squad is Javi Martínez, a player that gathers every single aspect of a player that may set an era: tactical intelligence, talent and power.

Probably, this is not new for anyone, since both were World Champions with Spain in the last World Cup. But it is important to name other players, like Iraola, a full back in the top of his career; San José, a central back that is supposed to be one of the best in his position in not a far future; Ander Herrera, recently signed from Zaragoza, a super-talented midfielder that will be the perfect partner for Javi Martinez and David Lopez; or the rising star, the dinamic and skilled Iker Muniain.

With these tools, I personally believe that Bielsa has in his hands a team that should be able to fight to enter in the Champions League spots. Checking the squads that are supposed to be their rivals, I do not see a much higher level (if they are actually superior) in Valencia or Villarreal and, they have absolutely nothing to envy to Atlético Madrid, Sevilla or Málaga, to name some potential rivals. Now there is something that must change: faith. These players and these fans must be exigent and aim big goals. With this team, it is not enough to give the 100% at home and to show a poor image in away games. With this team, success is not just a dream, but a realistic demand. I think this is what the fans said with their votes. Athletic is my personal bet this year and I will keep an eye on them. The remaining factor to know is if these players are convinced of their fantastic potential. Faith.


  1. good points all over. i'll be keeping an eye on athletic

  2. Good post, but it was also the style/negative attitude that Caparrós sometimes used that frustrated the fans as much as (or even more than) the results. For instance holding onto a draw against 10 men Málaga in the last home game annoyed many of the fans.