Athletic await the return of Bielsa or Valverde
Marcelino left a month ago. Athletic have been without a coach since then
On 24 May it was announced that Marcelino García Toral is stepping down as head coach of Athletic from Bilbao. The Spaniard led the pride of Basque football for a year and a half, in 75 games under his watch Athletic achieved 29 wins, 25 draws and 21 defeats.
The highest point under Marcelino, Athletic reached already in the third match of this coach, when he won the Spanish Super Cup 2021, beating Real Madrid and Barcelona on the way to the trophy. Alas, Marcelino failed to build on the success of his early days at Athletic, making him a team with a cup character but not the luckiest, as evidenced by two defeats to Barcelona and Real Sociedad in the final of the Copa del Rey.
In La Liga, the Basques finished tenth and eighth without a European title. Marcelino left not only because of the results, although more was indeed expected of him, but also in light of the forthcoming elections for the president of Athletic. A vote will take place as early as today to determine the name of the new president and at the same time head coach of Athletic. The intrigue tickles the nerves of the fans, although they already know for sure that regardless of the outcome of the election, the team will be led by a strong and familiar coach.
Marcelo Bielsa is Inaki Arechabaleta’s main trump card
Marcelo Bielsa was unveiled on Monday as a potential new Athletic coach, with the Argentine taking over if Iñaki Arcebaleta wins the presidential election. Bielsa had already worked with Athletic from 2011 to 2013, with Marcelo leading the Basques to the Spanish Cup and Europa League finals in the 2011/12 season, but losing both times in crucial matches to Barcelona and Atletico Madrid by the same score of 0-3.
Bielsa’s last job was with Leeds United, where he stayed for three and a half years, the longest period of uninterrupted work in one place for the Argentine. He left the English club at the end of February due to poor results but is ready to take up a new challenge on the eve of his 67th birthday. Bielsa is not a passive card in Arechabaleta’s deck; El Loco gave an impressive presentation on Monday, during which he analysed the current state of Athletic in great detail and proposed his sporting strategy for the team.
Bielsa has convinced the waverers. But their votes may not be enough
Arechabaleta made a strong move when he convinced Bielsa to join his bid to become president of Athletic. According to the presidential candidate, Bielsa spoke well of Marcelino and only agreed to explore the offer after the incumbent coach decided to leave his post. Marcelo did not come to Bilbao, did not shake hands with anyone on camera, smiling radiantly, and did not make high-profile statements to the press.
Instead, he dug through a lot of statistics, watched hundreds of hours of football, made slices, charted and splashed out a sea of figures on those interested in the fate of Athletic, and in parallel slowly and tediously outlined his vision of current affairs and outlined a plan for further changes. Just think about it: Bielsa watched all 45 Atletico games last season, 38 second-team games, several third-team games and Atletico U19.
He also studied the possibilities of every La Liga rival except Girona, whose promotion came too late. Marcelo spoke without hesitation about each player’s stats and opportunities for growth, game structures, team mentality, his working methods and how to achieve his goals. The 70-minute lecture made it clear that Bielsa was already involved in the team and his verdict sounded very optimistic:
I like this team and these players. They play well and I am sure Marcelino could make them even better if he stays in Bilbao. I hope I can do that as well. This set of players suits me even more than the team I coached in 2011-2013.
Almost ten years ago, Munyain was asked if Marcelo Bielsa was really as “crazy” as they say about him. The young and naive Iker gave an unabashed answer: “No, he’s even crazier than you think.” But he was loved in Bilbao, with fans singing a final song asking Marcelo to stay. Then he left, but now he could return.
In opposition Ernesto Valverde, who is poised to be nominated by two presidential candidates
Most interestingly, before Marcelo Bielsa’s presentation, Iñaki Arechabaleta was an outsider in the presidential race. He collected just 2,987 supporters’ signatures for the nomination, compared to 6,041 signatures for Jon Uriarte and 4,054 for Ricardo Barcala. The ratio is a reflection of the approximate level of voter support, but Bielsa’s impressive performance could play a crucial role, while Uriarte and Barcala will be taking votes away from each other because of similar bids on several counts.
For example, both have announced that Ernesto Valverde, who has already risen to the coaching helm of Athletic twice (2003-2005 and 2013-2017), will become head coach should they win. In 2017, Valverde was promoted to Barça, with whom he won two league titles and the Copa del Rey Cup. True, there is a perception in Spain that Ernesto left the Camp Nou broken, so he has been out of work for two and a half years. Although he is almost 10 years younger than Bielsa, the old man from Argentina looks more energetic and hungry for the football that is his raison d’être.
On the other hand, Valverde is almost the most successful coach of Athletic in the 21st century, he won the Spanish Supercup with the Basques and led them to the Champions League. Ernesto was reluctant to get involved in the campaign until the last minute, but eventually agreed when he was approached by the two favourites. This allowed him to side with the club rather than a particular president. Like Bielsa, Valverde has addressed compliments to Marcelino, expressing regret that he did not stay at Athletic. Ernesto is also loved in Bilbao, he is a guy of his own: he has played for the Lions and twice led the team, spending more than ten years at San Mames in total. Who should he choose?