Summarizing Aitor Elizegi’s Athletic Club Presidential Platform
The Presidential elections are just one week away as Socios will take to the polls on 27 December to cast their vote on the future of Athletic Club. Over the past few days candidates Aitor Elizegi and Alberto Uribe-Echevarría have shared their platforms, projects, and visions for the club with the public in several interviews as they seek to gain support. Aitor Elizegi has presented his platform in many different ways with an emphasis on improving Lezama, promoting the Grada de Animación, and generating more revenue by growing the Athletic Brand on a global level.
Philosophy – Aitor Elizegi has championed the idea of allowing Basques of the diaspora to play for the club while giving examples of Basques being born and growing up abroad saying “Who am I to say they aren’t Basque?”. Recently stated that he believes Basques should qualify from birth. Told reporters that he “Has no fear of asking Socios what changes they want to make to the philosophy”, but has every intention to protect the philosophy and not alter it unless asked to do so. Stated that “The Athletic philosophy is written by the Socios and Athleticzales, not by Aitor Elizegi.” Shared a goal to find other “Friends in Europe who share the same values of football”.
Lezama – Believes that major changes must take place at Lezama, while also stating that he believes “Many of the solutions are already at the club”. Stated that he is unhappy with the lack of quality that the academy is producing and plans to introduce a new 8 year plan for Lezama. Wants to talk with all of those currently working in Lezama and graduated players after being elected before making any changes, but says that he is “Worried about Basque youth football in Bizkaia”. Claims that he has talked to former players and coaches who have told him that there are major issues with the academy. Believes that the club has “Taken shortcuts” to allow players to join Lezama and will end this trend. Keeping with his idea of allowing Basques of the diaspora to play for the club, he has stated that he believes they should be allowed to join Lezama and be formed in the Basque Country. Sees “Weakness in Lezama” and plans to surround himself with a group that understands what is happening and should be happening at the academy.
Coaching – Fully supports Gaizka Garitano as the first team manager and believes that he can guide the club out of the relegation zone. Has not shown any signs of looking at other potential managers, saying that “We are in magnificent hands” when referring to the current coaching staff.
Transfers – Highlights that he should first talk with the coaches to understand what they need before proceeding with transfers. If a player is requested the Board would “Do everything possible” to make the signing happen. Has stated that he would love to see Ibai Gómez return to Athletic and that he is open to bringing back Fernando Llorente but only if the striker first contacts the club and asks to come back. Stated that “Any player who wants to be one of ours will be heard, but I do not know if this is the case for Alex Remiro”.
Grada de Animación – Elizegi’s biggest goal is to promote the Grada de Animación and create one that included “3,000-4,000 Bilbainos”. Has visited the Top at Anfield and believes that Athletic can have one of the best Grada de Animación’s in all of football. Has met with several Peñas who want an improve Animación and plans to introduce measures to put his dream into action early in his Presidency. Recently revealed plans to introduce a school for the Grada de Animación, although Elizegi did not give specific details. Will also create a committee and fund and help promote the Grada de Animación and visit Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool every summer to learn from their programs on the topic.
San Mamés – Expressed desire to take measures making it easier for young boys and girls to attend games so that “Every seat in the stadium will be filled”. Plans to eliminate entrance fees for younger fans who would be able to attend games for free. Desires to make the San Mamés one of the best stadiums in Europe with “An atmosphere like nowhere else”. Plans to do away with the VIP section and introduce the Ring of Honor where former players will be allowed to attend matches. Doesn’t believe that the San Mamés has the same feeling, support, and atmosphere of the old grounds and will take measures to fill the stadium and “Recover the memory of the old Cathedral”. Will also work to create a new Sports City but has yet to give specific plans. Says that the stadium will always be open to the Spain National Team for use.
Sporting Director – Stated that José María Amorrortu still has a contract until June and that he respects the current Sporting Director. However, Elizegi stated he will listen to the opinions of Amorrortu but will also consult others on topics as well. Has made it clear that “Amorrortu will not be at Lezama on 1 June, 2019”. He has since announced that former defender Rafa Alkorta will become the next Sporting Director if Elizegi wins the election. The goal will be to listen to current and former players and coaches to “Make changes that will make Lezama the best academy in Europe”. Lezama graduate Andoni Ayarza will serve as Technical Secretary and former trainer Manolo Delgado would operate as an external advisor to the Board of Directors.
Women’s Football – Is proud to see Athletic be a pioneer in the women’s game and wants to continue growing women’s football in the Basque Country. Stated that he wants to improve youth development for young girls and make it easier for them to attend games where they can experience games and feel better connected to Athletic Femenino.
Economics – Is very unhappy with the economics of the club, claiming that the former Board of Directors were only able to create a surplus by competing in Europe regularly and selling players, not by actually generating revenue. Desires for the club to be able to bring in more income, highlighting the similarities to others such as Schalke and Everton, and will take measure to increase the global branding of Athletic. Expressed his anger at not being able to use the €300 million surplus because he is not a continuist candidate but says that Socios should feel better with him as President because he will be personally responsible for the accounts of the club “unlike my opponent who can freely use €300 million without consequence”. Also questioned where the €300 million surplus has come from and doesn’t believe that Uribe-Echevarría has been honest about the state of the club’s affairs.
Generating Revenue – Pushes the goal of globalizing the Athletic Brand through marketing, merchandising, and branding. Believes that the club has assets that can be used to bring in more revenue, such as naming rights for the San Mamés, and thinks that Athletic should be able to generate as much income as other clubs of similar size. Stated that the previous Board were never able to generate more than €8 million per year in revenue and wants to raise that so that Athletic will be responsible for its own revenue. By taking a global approach to branding Elizegi desires to find ways outside the club to bring in revenue such as international partnerships. The biggest goal is to generate revenue outside of television income and Elizegi hopes to generate 30% of the budget through branding.
Protecting Players – Expressed displeasure with seeing the current Management Committee renew the contracts of Oscar de Marcos and Mikel Balenziaga without allowing the next President to do so. Stated that he sees not including release clauses in contracts as a good thing, but that “We should be able to trust the word of the players”. Is cautious of having some players sign contracts without clauses while the majority still do have clauses. Desires to create more loyalty within Lezama so that players will not want to leave the club once they become professionals. Plans to make player wages directly correspond to how much revenue they bring in for the club.
Media – Wants to “innovate digital business” and create ways that “The club, San Mamés, and Lezama will all be linked to the Athletic fans through the digital world”. Desires to create a “Digital Membership Card” that would work universally for all Socios. Wants to utilize “New technologies” but did not state specific models or ideas.
Socios – Will introduce measures to make it easier to become a Socio, especially at a young age, and states that he will work as a representative of the Socios, not as an overseer of the club. Plans to create committees for each area of the club that will work directly with Socios to understand the desires of the fans. Desires open and constant contact with the Socios. Intends to create a representative role that will help Socios who hope or plan to travel for away games. Plans to introduce ways for younger fans to attend games for free so that “Every seat is full at the San Mamés”. Revealed that the next elections will take place in the summer of 2022.
Sporting Law – Has made changing the Sporting Law a major topic of the project. Believes that the current bylaws are outdated for a club in the 21st century and will seek to modernize the standards. Wants to do away with the mandate that requires outside candidates, those not coming from the previous Board of Directors, have to start their Presidency from scratch without being able to use any surpluses that the club has accrued. Doesn’t believe it is fair for one candidate to be able to spend the full €300 million while Elizegi will only have access to the €76 million provisional fund. Says that Uribe-Echevarría has lied about the club’s economic state which has mislead Socios.
Social – Plans to create unity between the club, fans, and journalist because all are “Part of the Athleticzale family”. Will allow journalists to travel home from away games on the same plane as the team. Desires to have players be more visible with interviews and events to be closer to the fans. Disagrees with Josu Urrutia’s statement that “Football is moving in one direction and Athletic is moving in another” and believes that Athletic can move in the same direction as football while staying true to the club’s values. Has announced that former club Vice President Juan Carlos Ercoreca will serve as President of the Athletic Foundation with former player and Lezama coach Gontzal Suances serving as Ercoreca’s Sports Advisor.
Main Goals of the Project – Promoting a Grade de Animación of up to 4,000 fans, Protecting the philosophy while also allowing Basques of the diaspora to be able to play for the club, improving Lezama by making changes after talking with former players and youth coaches, bringing back the atmosphere of the old San Mamés, generating revenue through global branding of Athletic, modernizing the Sporting Law, being a representative of the Socios, creating committees who will work directly with Socios to share desires with the Board, finding ways to get young fans more involved included free admission to games at the San Mamés