Alberto Uribe-Echevarría Discusses Lezama, Finances, And 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. Uribe-Echevarría recently sat down for an interview with Ángel Pereda and Robert Basic of El Correo and answered the following questions about his thoughts on the state of Athletic.
How were you after Monday’s game?
“It was an awesome experience. I had not been to my town for seven and a half years. I was with my son, my daughter and some friends. When Aduriz scored the goal I felt like an Athletic player. Everyone embracing each other felt like you were in a cloud. The game and the atmosphere were great. A match to remember.”
How are you convincing the Socios to vote for you on 27 December?
“The Socios and partners of Athletic have objective advantages if we are elected. We have the illusion, the enthusiasm, the rhythm, the ideas, we know what needs to be improved, what needs to be changed, what has to be stopped. We have the projects and the accumulated experience that is very important at this point.”
Are you the PNV candidate?
“Ask them. I do not play these games. More than talking about groups, we have to talk about specific people. There will be people within each sensibility who prefer that we are the chosen ones, and other people who will think it is Elizegi.”
You have put a lot of emphasis on saying that you don’t consider yourself a continuist and that you are not Urrutia. Why do you run from this label if the club is coming from a great time in which everything, sports and economics, has gone great these last eight years?
“I’m not stupid. The term continuist is spoken of as more of the same, which has not changed anything. We, from the past, have many good things: rigor, transparency, putting the Socios ahead of yourself, but each leadership is different. That’s why I want to make it clear that I’m not the same as anyone else. I am not Josu Urrutia neither for the good nor for the bad. I’m me. I have my own way of living, my own way of leading. I’ve been leading elite teams for 35 years. I know how it is done, I know how to set an example. I want to reclaim my space.”
What would you say has been the greatest success of the outgoing Board of Directors?
“We have been rigorous with the accounts, and transparent. Our accounts, and it was not the usual practice, go without qualifications. We have broken down information to the Socios that had never been shared. We did what we said we were going to do. We have also made mistakes.”
Was one of those mistakes closing the Oyón School and leaving children without the possibility of fulfilling the dream of one day playing for Athletic?
“Oyón’s school was not ours. It was an agreement with another club and it hasn’t been closed. What was done was to warn those people of what could not be, that we couldn’t create a school in Oyón and the people believe that it could fit into the philosophy of Athletic when it wasn’t like that. It couldn’t be a trap or a betrayal of the philosophy. The Oyón school is still running through it’s mother club.”
To which only six or seven boys attend…
“In the end the philosophy is what it is. Anything that is a betrayal of the philosophy should be avoided.”
What is your diagnosis of the serious sporting crisis?
“We had a coaching group with a defined style. The players bought it, they embraced it. They were not happy with the dismissal of Berizzo. With Garitano and Ferreira we will go ahead and soon we will be up.”
This question was asked to you in an interview last week. If the best Athletic players leave, where will we go? Players leaving is a fact and it is evident that will continue to leave.
“You are anticipating things that may not happen.”
So far it has been like this.
“Preventing that from happening is everyone’s task. The club values them and pays them adequately.”
Do you think that if a great player comes from Lezama, one who can be an international, will stay at Athletic?
“We have to turn that vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle. The that ‘great player’ doesn’t leave then the team will be more competitive. If the team is competitive then it will reach higher sporting levels, with European aspirations. Then that player will want to be here and not leave.”
The last one to leave did so when that ‘virtuous cycle’ was being fulfilled.
“We must pursue an exiting sporting project that puts Athletic at the top.”
The winter transfer market will open in two weeks. Llorente has said he would like to come back. Does he have a chance to return?
“If the circumstances are right. I don’t close any doors, but you have to give the Sporting Director what he wants.”
There is a lot of talk that, without changing the philosophy, Athletic could consider opening its doors to those of the Basque diaspora and even in some debates the possibility of creating schools in other countries to train players. What do you think?
“Discussions about philosophy arise when the team is not doing well. We have a clear philosophy. If new ideas arise they would have to come from the social masses and be approved by the Socios.”
The economic situation seems to be the reason why some aspiring Presidents decided to take a step back. You, however, say that it is “extraordinary.”
“It’s excellent. We took a club with negative equity and on the 27th the Management Committee will leave it with a net worth of 200 million, plus a provision of €76 million. It is the best economic and financial situation in history, and the box is full. That heritage has been generated because we have had some very good seasons, because we have managed to make the ‘boom’ of television revenues not go entirely to staff costs. Between sporting success and prudent management of salaries, despite the fact that some think otherwise, we are in an extraordinary situation. And that is available to everyone. What happens is that a new candidate has a problem. If he spends it and loses money, he has to pay it out of his pocket. But we could lose 300 million and nothing would happen. We would not have to sell players, we could reinforce the team and not think about whether we will need an endorsement.”
You’ve spoken before about “objective advantages” of your candidacy if you win the election. What do you mean?
“The objective advantage is that by the Sports Law of 1990 the responsibility of the Board is the same because it must always cover losses with its own assets. But a new Board would have to respond to the losses that could originate these next four years, despite the fact that there is a provision of 76 million, which we certainly placed with Athletic and not with us. When you enter Athletic you set the counter to zero and you take a picture of the club’s assets when you arrive and another when you leave. If when you leave the photo of the accounts is inferior to when you entered, you pay the difference with your own money. We have an advantage. The law assigns us that heritage. And we can put it at the disposal of the club without fear of entering a situation of losses in which we have to choose if we will cover those losses with our money or liquidate assets of the club, players and others to make up the deficit. We have a difference and that is that the 300 million we have generated are available to the club. If another Board comes, they will not have it and a situation may arise in which you have losses and you must sell or you can not buy player.”
So, Aitor Elizegi is a daredevil?
Ask him. He has to know that this is the case. We are going to manage the club thinking about Athletic; only about Athletic. Any other candidacy has to choose. If you think of Athletic, you can kill yourself. We do not have that conflict of interest.”
Do you think that the Athletic players, at least some of them, take advantage of the philosophy to raise their own wages?
“The negotiation of a contract is much more sophisticated than some think. We are in a global market and players defend their interests. With the distribution of television, any team with which you had an economic superiority before, and which translated into the superiority of the staff, is now armed with a competitive team. The compensation of the players is another issue that is only talked about when Athletic is not doing well.”
Do you not think that Athletic pays their players more?
“At least in the current situation, money is not the problem for Athletic. What’s more, it’s not the problem for almost any club. If we want to retain our players and have them be committed to the project we have to pay them well.”
Why in the era of communication does the club practice solitary confinement? The players talk less and less, the training are held in private, the President and the coach do not give interviews, the Board of Directors is invisible, and the presence of Athletic in power circles is practically non-existent…Do you plan to change any of this?
“All those things you just said I don’t buy them. I don’t agree with that.”
For example, players have not spoken for almost two weeks. Do you not think it would have been good for them to have a chance to speak before the Girona game?
“I don’t know. You are speaking about a conjectural situation. I’m sure there’s a reason and that the players agree with the situation. As for the training behind closed doors, it’s a common occurrence for every team.”
Yes, but Athletic is difference an closeness cannot be lost.
“Yes, yes, but then we also want to compete. Bielsa did not want to hold training session with the public.”
And that was corrected.
“It was corrected, but it is a professional necessity for part of training sessions to be in private. And the statement that the club is not in the circles of power is not true. Athletic is present where things are handled and has total consideration. It is also due to people who have been in these forums for many years. Javier Aldazabal or myself have almost always gone to the assemblies of the League. We are the envy of many clubs. In the Federation, the club is also perfectly represented and in the ECA (European Association of Clubs) we are members and also members of the important commissions. When we go there, I do not say that people settle in, but silence is made.”
What have been the bases of the sports project of Lezama in these seven and a half years? I ask because nobody from the club has come out to explain it.
“More than models, people and projects must be evaluated by the results. Commenting on Lezama is very easy, but the data is unique. Lezama, in terms of producing players for the first team, is at the best time in its history.”
Better than when Athletic was the champion with Urkiaga, Liceranzu, Goikoetxea, Urtubi, Sarabia, Argote…?
“The data says so. In the first team squad, 85% of the players come from Lezama. In 2011 it was 56%. In Bilbao Athletic there are 19 Biscayans, one from Alava, three from Gipuzkoa. In the Primera there are players from Lezama, which gives results, but also not just any type of player. Of those that Lezama has produced in the last seven years, half are internationals.”
But in the last nine years, the only midfielder or forward who has settled as a starter has been Williams.
“Iñigo Córdoba. Is he a defender?
But he’s not settled.
“He is very young. Lezama is a garden. You plant tomatoes and you want them to come out perfect. If bad days come, they burn. There are cycles and, even if they have not settled in yet, there are others like Villalibre and Guruzeta.”
How do you explain that the Juvenil A team is 16 behind the leader, Real Sociedad, and 14 points away from second, Danok Bat. The Cadet A team are fifth and 11 points from the leader, Eibar? They are supposed to be two of the best teams of the academy.
“They are competing with players older than them. They are one and sometimes two years younger than their opponents. In the other teams things are balances. There are cycles.”
You’ve said that you are going to open a debate on the Grada de Animación. Is it necessary after what was seen on Monday against Girona?
“I enjoyed it very much. It is one of the matches that I will always remember. That is the San Mamés we need. The team has to transmit, the stands have to transmit, and that’s where that wonderful environment is generated. The Animación stands are one more instrument for that to occur. We can not expect that with only one section of the stands and the rest of the San Mamés quiet that the team feels protected. We need the symbiosis to occur. Is the Grada de Animación important? Yes. When we were in the previous Board we talked to the those in the stands. We did things, they privately acknowledge us, and we have an open discussion to get the San Mamés to where we all want.”