The writing has been on the wall for a very long time. In his first season as manager of Athletic Club, Kuko Ziganda has led the team to one of the worst campaigns in recent memory. The Lions, who had qualified for European competition in four straight years, have fallen well short of that mark and the poor results necessitate change. The fans have been calling for a new manager since Christmas and all signs points to Eduardo Berizzo taking over in the summer. On Thursday President Josu Urrutia confirmed that Ziganda will not be continuing as the manager.
Urrutia appeared alongside Ziganda in a press conference Thursday in the Lezama press room. The two have always had a great relationship and it is no surprise that the President wanted to be there to support his friend who has not been able to live up to expectations. Urrutia did announce that Ziganda and the club have mutually agreed to part ways when the current season ends, finally resolving the speculation that has surrounded the team for the last six months.
“The reason for this press conference is to announce that Kuko Ziganda will not be continuing with us next season. We had conversations on Monday and the decision was made. The interests of the Club have to come first and the decision did not take Ziganda by surprise. I want to praise and thank Kuko for the seven years he has spent here coaching in Lezama and for how he has represented the club. He spent seven years coaching and seven years as a player here. The situation is a sad one, but the club comes above all. Once we made this decision we needed to announce it.”
“We must value Kuko because he has done a great job as a coach, even if this season did not go as expected. We cannot only take into account this season, but we have to remember everything that was accomplished over the seven years that Kuko has been here. In principle his coaching staff will leave as well, but there are some exceptions. We wish Kuko the very best moving forward and we will see if he has a second chance in the future. I think he wants to continue coaching. For us Kuko, Marcelo Bielsa, and Valverde all had the same profile. Although they were different, we always saw a common denominator. The choice is made according to the personal and professional profile. We already have a profile for the next coach, but not a name yet.”
Although the fans may be glad to see a change of manager, the exit is definitely not what Kuko Ziganda had planned. The 51-year-old spent the previous five years coaching Bilbao Athletic and was in training to become the first team manager, which is what happened over the summer when Ernesto Valverde left to take over at Barcelona. It had always been Ziganda’s dream to coach Athletic and he wanted to oversee the club for a very long time. He had the following to say about the decision to step down from his post and was thankful for his team coming to support him.
“With grief I understand the decision. As Josu said, when we made this decision in an official way we knew that we needed to announce it. It is a hard and sad time for me because of what this meant to me on a personal level. Even though there are friendships, the club comes above all. In my grief I understand the decision. We take pride in being different. Next year’s coach needs strong support. I lost that support because of the results, performances, and not playing with the illusion I had always dreamed. I have had a great opportunity in an extraordinary position, but I have not been able to achieve my goals.”
“Having the players and my staff here to support me means a lot. It is a gift in a very difficult moment. My worst moment was being eliminated in the Copa del Rey, but the best moment was how we got out of the Europa League group stage. We could have played better and I could have done things better. The worst part is that I haven’t been able to get the best out of these players. Hopefully we can all learn from this season. I hope to. I have received many messages that mean a lot to me. I have felt supported by the club from beginning to end. This club is different and the identity is clear which is the greatest merit. We are all Athletic and I always will be. I leave with pride and a lot of gratitude to a special club.”
With Ziganda’s exit now confirmed, all attention will turn to his replacement. When asked about the rumors that Eduardo Berizzo would be named as the next manager, Urrutia expectedly remained tight-lipped. The Argentine has reportedly been in advanced negotiations with the Basque giants for a few weeks now and hasn’t agreed to sign a contract yet due to the fact that he didn’t want to disrespect Ziganda. Now that his future has been settled, Athletic will be working very hard to secure Berizzo who, unless something changes, will become the new manager this summer.