Aitor Elizegi Discusses His Vision For Athletic Club, Lezama, And His Grand Plan For The Grada De Animación
Athletic Club have officially presented Alberto Uribe-Echevarría and Aitor Elizegi as Presidential candidates for the elections on 27 December. With two weeks until the voting takes place both candidates will be ramping up their campaigns in hopes of winning over Socio support. Elizegi recently sat down for an interview with Igor Barcia and Juanma Mallo of El Correo and answered the following questions about his thoughts on the state of Athletic.
Explain to us what happened the week when you first said you would present yourself, then you withdrew, and finally presented yourself again.
“I was very excited, I repeated that phrase several times in the pediment of Miribilla. What is happening in 2018…There were several Socios of Athletic with the intention of presenting a solvent project, but it was a problem of doubts with the date, which was also mixed with the results. When the electoral period opens, doubts arrive. It happens to everyone, Aldazabal, Corres, Uribe-Echevarría…”
But do you assume that it created confusion for the Socios?
“Who is not excited to lead this project, to manage everything that comes with the club? Do you really think there is a doubt in that? I would do it tomorrow. The doubt is the Athletic of January, of April … If we are going to be able to defend this sport project, if Gaizka (Garitano) and Patxi (Ferreira) are going to put up with the pressure that they are enduring … It is not easy to live like this.”
Was the Sports Law, which requires a guarantee of 5% of the budget (€19.3 million), the big problem?
“The law affects many teams that have the Athletic model…The clubs that are in the hands of the members and continue to be in the 21st century, because it is the best model that exists. I think it is good to consult your partners every time a decision is made, as any Basque businessman does. Not in the day to day, but the fundamental decisions. Decisions such as 40,000 members are not on equal terms to opt for the presidency.”
What do you mean?
“Something very important. On 3 October, the Board’s accountant said that there was a provisional fund of €76 million and that ‘it will be used to balance budgets if they ever become negative. The idea is that the club can be managed with freedom, without having to focus all of the attention on managing budgets. It is an exercise of responsibility for the club.'”
“This person invited the members of the club to present themselves with all the calm of the world, understanding that this money box -as I understand it too- is available to any solvent group that comes forward. Nobody is discussing the system or the guarantees. But we understand that it is not very normal that 40,000 members have specific conditions, and 17 others have different conditions. What Uribe-Echevarría is talking about is to enable a space in which any partner can work in freedom without having to pay all their attention to balance budgets. If this is what my accountant says, to which I voted eight years ago, I have to believe him.”
And do you now think that things have changed in the electoral campaign?
“I hope that this man’s word remains.”
Uribe-Echevarría continues to say that the difference between you is the €300 million at the club.
“I saw what he said at the club’s official headquarters. I hope we have that freedom. I count on his word, and even more as the former accountant, because he spoke on behalf of the club. This nuance is very important because it was in the name of Athletic. I don’t have the budget of the former Board, their project, the sports city, and what happens if Garitano continues as a coach…”
Is the issue of endorsements also something that should change?
“The endorsements are normal. It’s part of the Sports Law, but the resources of the club, which was said by the accountant…What is normal is for the members to decide what happens with the resources, with the income from the sale of Kepa…”
Do you feel that you are at a disadvantage?
“Of course not. I have to convince the Socios that our project is solvent. I am convinced that our capacity for entrepreneurship, which we have demonstrated so many times, is indisputable.”
What do you have in mind for Athletic?
“I’m thinking of a lot of things. It took me four or five years to plan each project, so in four years I have to dedicate myself to Athletic. We will try to leave the club better and allow any of the Socios to try their project on equal terms because it will be enriching for all.”
If you win on the 27th you will be one week away from the winter transfer market. Are you already thinking about strengthening the team and the possible signings?
“The first thing is to talk to Ferreira, Garitano, Tiko … People from Lezama, people from around the club.”
Would Amorrortu continue as the Sporting Director until his retirement?
“I want to talk to all the people who are or have been near Lezama. Like the players who will be finishing their contracts, we will listen and make the best sports decisions. Surely many of the solutions are already at the club, some we saw against Girona. Who is interested in the salary cap when we have the example of Yeray? This is the story of Athletic. This squad is well-made and strong. Reinforcements? Let those who are at the club say so.”
Will Garitano be your coach?
“How can he not be my man if he has dreamed about that position more times than me? It’s clear, Garitano has dreamed of this bench. We will have to ask him if he is interested in this project for the next three and a half years.”
What project do you have in mind for Lezama?
– I see a lot of quality that is contrasted with coaches. I see a lot of quality in the base football of Euskal Herria. In the Benjamins, in the children.
Well, there is the Juvenil A team who are 15 points behind Real and the Cadets who are 11 points behind the leaders.
“I’m worried about Basque football. I could worry that Basque football did not have health, but there is a very complicated journey between being a brilliant youngster to reaching the Primera. We all miss having a team in the Segunda and more than 40 players have told us that we need that step available. They also tell us that in order for the Aitas to leave their children in Lezama, we need a quality residence, where they can leave their son three or four years in the hands of the club in exchange for a better return. That Lezama is what we want to accomplish. Efforts have already been made, but they are not enough.”
People from outside Bizkaia, who are included that can play for Athletic?
“Those who are Basques.”
A son of a Basque from Argentina?
“A Basque. He is a Basque from Argentina. Can I evaluate whether or not a family is Basque? Being Basque is a feeling. They look you in the eyes, they look me in the eyes. They tell you ‘In my family Euskadi is respected, Athletic is respected.'”
Do you believe that current players benefit from the philosophy in their contracts and wages?
“No, no, no. Current players are probably trying to explore the laws of the current football market. They need to explore. I am convinced that there are good people in the squad.”
There has been a talent leak. Laporte, Kepa…
“But this exists throughout Euskadi.”
What can be done about this?
“There has been a time when the territory could not retain talent. There are families who think their son will be better in Shanghai, but not me. In the case of football I have to convince the father, while he is a minor, to develop that part of his life with us. The second phase when he becomes a professional, I have to convince him to be Xabi Prieto, Iraola, Etxebe…Why can’t I convince him?”
Because you don’t win titles here.
“There are many teams in Europe that do not win titles with brilliant teams, with brilliant fans, with players leaving, and they reinvent themselves. There are many teams like Athletic and many that will play like Athletic in the future. It will be seen.”
So having a footballer sign a contract without a release clause like Muniain?
“That is the future. I wish the 24 players could play for Athletic without clauses. I agree with Josu Urrutia. Hopefully it will happen. I’m going to try, although I would like for there to be the same conditions for everyone.”
The names of Iraola and Valverde have come out. Have you talked to them yet?
“Through third parties we have spoken with many players. I agree with the phrase of Urrutia, it seems objective to me that ‘Society goes in one direction and Athletic in another.’ But I do not agree with keeping the distance.”
And how will you end it?
“It’s clear. You have to listen to Bilbao, to Bizkaia, to the women, to the athletes, to the kids, to the ikastolas, to the Basques…and then make a football team. I do not understand how we spend €120 million on a project that does not look to your society.”
Have you had any losses in your team?
“It is a joy. We would like to propose a Lezama project for eight years, with the Socios. I’m willing to try. I want to create a commission of statutes, the one for the Grada de Animación. I’m not interested in making statutes that cover our backs to those of us who are now in the club, I want the statutes to listen to what is happening in our environment, to speak the language and language of our youth.”
What would happen if before the 27th a merger was proposed?
“We always accept what is best for Athletic, but we will present our project.”
But has there been a possibility of a merger?
I doubt we will leave the Socios without voting. They deserve to vote and give their opinions. And we want to listen.
“That I think there’s going to be elections? The Socios want elections, that is indisputable. Can you image going 12 years without hearing the thoughts of the Socios?”
Where did your guarantees come from? The money?
“I’ve told you many times.
“When you see the 17 members of the Board even you will offer money. We are entrepreneurs and we have been working daily. This is how a company is set up…First with the confidence of those at home, then with that of friends. The third, with the confidence of the professionals. If the professionals in your area are not clear about your project, you must ask yourself what is happening. If you have three trusts don’t worry, the money is too much. So a kid from Santutxu opens 20 restaurants in 30 years, and 27 batzokis in four years. There are more than 13-14 projects. Some in Berlin, some in New York, another in Denia, another in Malaga. Right now I am helping a partner to direct a project in Coimbra of more than €2 million because he trusts me, because he knows that my word is important. And he knows that I am capable of doing anything for a friend. Every year more than 30 projects arrive at my house, and I am not exaggerating, to ask for advice. I always listen and always say the best because it’s my sector. Everything I can do for you, count on it. I only know about that, about restoration, and about Athletic.”
Why isn’t this happening on a sporting level?
“Because San Mamés is not the Cathedral, because on Mondays we play late, because not all parties are aligned with the city and territory’s agenda, because young people are not involved. There is a lot of sports, but there are more sports to do. I can not find a Bizkaian under 20 years old who does not like football, but I do find young people who are not sure if they should make an effort to go to the San Mamés on a Monday night. I would leave my children in a Grada de Animación that was fun, brave, and daring.”
Will the Grada de Animación change if you are President?
“There are a lot of people willing to participate. We are going to create the commission for the Grada de Animación on 28 December because it’s worth it. I’m passionate about the subject. They all have my invitation: Piratak, Cabacas, Herri Norte…I want to create a Grada de Animación where you can find 4,000 Bizkaians enjoying football. Bizkaia is full of people watching football. I love to watch football and find it even more fun to watch the Cadetes or the Juvenils.”
Do you usually watch youth football matches?
“Oh my God. I have been a delegate of Zamudio for seven years. I have followed my children from the youngest team. I put in hours there, ask those in Zamudio and in Mallona.”
And those who are passionate about Liverpool, you want to see a Grada de Animación like the one at Anfield?
“I think so. I want you to be able to find 4,000 of us encouraging the team and respecting our opponents.
If you win the elections would the Women’s team play at San Mamés?
“With me we would have crossed the estuary, even if I had been along on the bridge of the town hall. With me the Teresa Herrera trophy wouldn’t even have been picked up. I’m sorry. That smaller trophy wouldn’t be collected. Either the two are taken together, or the one is shared.”
Instead of the VIP boxes you want a Ring of Illustrations. What is that?
“A Ring of Honor.”
Who would be there?
“The people who want this club, which have been supporting for 50 or 60 years. The older fans.
And the veterans?
“Oh my God! I would like Dani to be there but I can’t decide that. The Socios and veterans would have to decide that. The number of people who have loved this club have to go to those boxes. If there are vacancies then I will go.”