Making Sense Of The Athletic Club Manager Search
Time is running out for Kuko Ziganda. The Athletic Club manager’s first season in charge has been rooted in disappointment and it looks certain that the Basque giants will be making a change when the season finally comes to an end. Over the last few weeks there have been several names discussed and linked with a move to the San Mamés which has become quite confusing for the fans. Hopefully this article will help to clear things up a bit. There are a lot of rumors flying around so let’s break down what is really going on so far in the coaching search.
A few weeks ago rumors surfaced that Athletic Club were in talks with former Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel regarding the soon-to-be-vacancy. Since then fans have grown ecstatic over the possibility of signing such a high profile manager and many think it is simply good to be true. While it has been reported that Tuchel recently rejected an offer from Bayern Munich, it also seems as though he has offers from the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal in England.
One week ago Nika Cuenca reported that, contrary to what others were saying, Athletic had not even spoken to Tuchel and were not viewing him as a real candidate. This report hasn’t discouraged scores of fans from hoping for the German coach, but it just doesn’t look realistic. But in football things can change quickly. On Wednesday Cuenca reported that Athletic have become more serious about Tuchel and have actually made him an offer. He has gone from being a non-starter to potentially the top candidate.
Unai Emery seems like the perfect fit and logical choice for Athletic Club. Not only is he a proven winner and high profile manager, he is also Basque. Emery cemented his success by winning three consecutive Europa League titles with Sevilla before leaving to take over at PSG. Since joining the French giants he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations and all signs point to an exit this summer. Again, it all seems perfect for Athletic to swoop in and bring in Emery to right the ship. There is just one thing wrong with this scenario.
Emery hasn’t been linked with Athletic by any credible sources at all. Sure his name has popped up in articles pondering who the club should target and by fans who are clamoring for his hire, but there just aren’t any serious reports saying that Athletic are interested in the 46-year-old. This could be the case for several reasons. Maybe his history with Real Sociedad is a deterrent or perhaps he wants to go to another rich club like PSG and has already taken his name out of the running. Despite the fact that he looks to be the perfect candidate, there is nothing suggesting that Emery is among the options at this time.
When the former Barcelona skipper was first linked with Athletic Club the report seemed to come out of nowhere, but the story has stuck around and begun to pick up some steam. Like Tuchel, Enrique is currently out of the job which could be why his name came up in the first place along with being yet another high profile target. Although he is also being linked with moves to PSG and Chelsea, there at least seems to be some truth about Athletic’s interest, and that may be all it is.
Most Barcelona fans tend to view Enrique in a negative way which makes it easy to forget that he was successful at Celta Vigo. He was known for exciting football and his ability to develop youth which would fit in very well at Athletic. He also has plenty of experience in La Liga which can be invaluable. Still, taking into account that he is also being linked with much bigger clubs it just seems unlikely that he will end up the San Mamés. It would likely take Enrique specifically wanting the Athletic job to make him a serious contender. Still, there is much more truth in rumors linking him with the Basque giants than either Tuchel or Emery right now.
Jose Luis Mendilibar
Jose Luis Mendilibar is something of a confusing topic for Athletic fans. Despite growing up at the club he was never able to break into the first team. Similarly, he was a successful youth coach for the Lions but was not able to last long when he was handed the reigns to the first team back in 2005. He was sacked after just a few months due to poor results but some believe he simply wasn’t ready for the job…yet.
Fast forward to today and Mendilibar has been a big success at Eibar since he took over in 2015. He has kept the club consistently competitive in Spain’s top division and has been knocking on the door to European play. With the 57-year-old out of contract this summer both Athletic and Real Sociedad have been linked with interest, although it has been somewhat muted. Based on what sources have said, Mendilibar is definitely a candidate to replace Kuko Ziganda, but he doesn’t appear to be the top choice at this moment evidenced by the fact that his name is starting to show up less often.
When it comes to Eduardo Berizzo a lot of Athletic fans wonder what could have been. Last year, when it became clear that Ernesto Valverde was leaving, it was down to Berizzo and Ziganda to take over. In the end, President Urrutia wanted Ziganda and that is who got the job meanwhile Berizzo joined Sevilla. The rest, as they say, is history. Berizzo’s time at Sevilla also didn’t go as planned as the team dipped in form and the manager was diagnosed with cancer from which he has made a full recovery. He was relieved of his duties in late December and is still without a job.
The Argentine was a serious contender last year and he is again this time around. Berizzo’s brilliant football mind and ability to get the best out of players would be a welcome addition to Athletic if he did end up with the job and many fans are hoping that he will take over. It should also be mentioned that it would be relatively simple to reach an agreement with Berizzo because he isn’t coaching at the moment. The fact that it hasn’t happened could mean that the two sides are far apart on a deal or, more likely, Athletic hasn’t made a decision and are still weighing the options of other candidates.
Make no doubt about it, Asier Garitano is President Josu Urrutia’s top choice. The Basque manager took over Leganes back in 2013 and led them to promotion in his first season. Two years later the club earned promotion to La Liga for the first time in history and they have been a mainstay ever since. Garitano has been the biggest reason for this success and rightfully so. The 46-year-old is known for his ability to develop young talent and get the very best out of his players.
Since he made the climb to the top flight he has had to utilize a lot of players on loan or those discarded from other clubs, like Javi Eraso, and he has been able to create a culture of success and consistency. Garitano’s achievements and coaching prowess has now led clubs to wonder what he could do with a higher quality squad. Take into account the fact that he grew up at Lezama and played in nearly 100 games for Bilbao Athletic and it is no wonder why Urrutia favors the Leganes man so much. He is also out of contract in the summer which makes a possible move much easier. However, he recently stated that he was in negotiations with Leganés regarding a renewal which has slowed down the links.
Other names have been thrown around such as Girona’s Pablo Machin and club legend Joseba Etxeberria who has been an immense success overseeing Tenerife, but again they are not seriously being linked with the job right now. Urrutia and the board are already working on what to do this summer and that picture should become more clear as time passes.
There is still plenty of time for things to change between now and the summer. You just never know what is going to happen in football. That being said, Emery and even Enrique to an extent are flashy names but don’t really seem to be realistic or true candidates at this time. Again, this is all based on what has occurred so far. Right now Asier Garitano and Jose Luis Mendilibar are potential options but Tuchel and Berizzo are the most coveted candidates and the two names to keep a close eye on.