Athletic’s Presidential Election Has Become A Battle Over The Club’s Philosophy

Alberto Uribe Echevarria

Alberto Uribe-Echevarría calls for commitment to Athletic’s philosophy (EC)

The Athletic Club Presidential elections have been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. After seeing several potential candidates withdraw their names it all came down to two very different opponents. Alberto Uribe-Echevarría stepped forward as the continuist candidate from Josu Urrutia’s Board of Directors and has been the focal point of continued stability. Meanwhile Aitor Elizegi has become the face of change and promoter of the Grada de Animación.

As weeks passed both candidates shared the visions for the club and have recently began presenting their projects for the future. Neither platform was surprising. Uribe-Echevarría plans to build on the club’s financial strength and continue improving Lezama, while Elizegi has put together a major plan for the Grada de Animación, expressed his displeasure with the club’s economic situation, and claims that he believes Lezama has been failing over the last few years.

The economic debate has since shifted to an even more serious topic with both candidates speaking extensively about their thoughts on Athletic’s unique philosophy over the past 72 hours. For Uribe-Echevarría the idea is simple. “We must have unequivocal commitment to the philosophy”, he said in a recent interview. The former accountant believes that the club’s philosophy should not be touched under any circumstance, but Elizegi disagrees.

Athletic’s player policy is clear. Only players born or formed (trained at a youth academy) in the Basque Country are eligible to play for Athletic. For decades the idea of Basques of the diaspora has been brought up and Elizegi has stated on several occasions that he wants to alter the philosophy so that those of Basque decent, no matter where they are born or formed, will be allowed to play for the club. “Who am I to say that they are not Basque?”, he regularly asks when discussing the topic.

Aitor Elizegi

Aitor Elizegi has spoken openly about his willingness to change Athletic’s philosophy (AS)

During one interview Elizegi was asked if he would allow Marco Asensio to play for Athletic. Asensio’s father is Basque, but the Real Madrid forward was never born or formed in the Basque Country which means that he did not qualify to play for Athletic. Elizegi’s answer was straight forward. “If he feels Athletic, yes.” His response has been met with serious anger and confusion from fans who are now questioning why Elizegi wants to change the philosophy and just how far he is willing to go. Some have even started arguing that Elizegi doesn’t have a specific criteria for what would qualify a player to represent Athletic.

Many fans have even gone as far to say that it is difficult to value Elizegi’s wonderful proposal for the Grada de Animación when he has talked so openly about changing the philosophy. Taking things even further, Elizegi said in an interview late Thursday evening that under his Presidency “The San Mamés will always be open to the Spain National Team”, which was also met with anger from fans.

With the election just one week away the campaigns have turned from discussions about specific topics to an overall focus on Athletic’s philosophy. Will Aitor Elizegi’s open views about altering the philosophy be seen with enough acceptance for him to win the Presidency or will Socios choose to support Uribe-Echevarría who will remain fully committed to the status quo? Regardless of which candidate becomes the next President, this election will be decided by their views on Athletic Club’s philosophy.

One comment

  • Thanks for the posts summarising the candidates. Glad that both are considering the noisy zone, the stadium is generally far too quiet, is ‘safe standing’ an optional alteration? Spain seems to be solidly all-seater currently, I don’t know what the rules are for that? Much better to bounce and sing when you’re not (meant to be) sitting down.

    For a while I have felt that the philosophy could be extended in 2 ways:

    1) try to recruit more players of Basque origin, but then how far do you go back? My understanding is that Zabaleta and Higuaín, two examples who would have improved the team, had a strong connection to the Basque Country but they were fourth-generation diaspora, so wouldn’t be allowed to play for Spain (or Euskal Herria if that national team existed) so should they really be invited to play for Athetic, the club representing the region? We then get a bit too into profiling and checking for BAsque DNA etc, I don’t think that’s a great route to go down.

    2) Recruit from nearby regions, I believe this was the logic behind the ‘mini Lezamas’ which have since been stopped. I see this as a more appealing option, as a long as a reasonable limit was applied on age and geographical zone, e.g setting up these training centres on the borders of Burgos, Cantabria and La Rioja for 14-16 year olds living within 100km of Lezama (that would include Logrono, Miranda, Santander), then inviting the best to join the Cadete A team. There would only be one or two each year who were good enough, and by the time they were ready to play for Athletic they would have certainly done their time in the cantera. 100km is a ‘natural’ enough distance for a large football club to look for young players without being accused of simply bypassing their own rules by asking players from anywhere to play there and thus become eligible. On a practical level, trainees could play at these centres and be home the same night, so it seems quite fair to me for them to be associated with Athletic, they wouldn’t need to stay at special accommodation due to living miles from the club.

    I suppose it comes down to how you view the club’s unique identity: is it for Basques only, or is it for developing local players only? I would say the second aspect is more important, so it would be better to try to encourage local kids living near Bilbao (which is of course on the edge of Basque territory) to enter Lezama, rather than souring the globe for someone with a Basque granny but who has little idea about the club. I think Basque birthplace for the player itself is sufficient to get a few special players on board who haven’t grown up in the culture. Excluding guys from Cantabria but inviting others from Colombia seems mean and maybe xenophobic, when the club should (and generally does) represent a positive idea that those who have grown up near the club will be the ones who play for the club, something that bringing in Argentines with a Basque name would go against. That’s just my opinion of course. Some would maybe like to see neither of these changes, some the other and some both.

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