Aitor Elizegi Faces A Challenging First Transfer Window As Athletic Club President
It’s been nearly a week since Aitor Elizegi was voted in as the new President of Athletic Club. He’s been hard at work since day one and is already facing a big challenge just days after taking office. The January transfer window officially opens on Wednesday and Athletic will be looking for ways to improve a team that has been battling relegation all season.
The Sporting Committee of Ricard Hernani, Rafa Alkorta, Andoni Ayarza, and others have already met with manager Gaizka Garitano to discuss the needs of the first team. If everyone agrees on specific targets the club will try to make those signings a reality if at all possible.
Ibai Gómez is the most likely target. The winger is from Bilbao and has never hidden his undying love for Athletic, the club he has supported since he was a child. Elizegi said multiple times during his campaign that he would love to bring Gómez back to the San Mamés and that the fans “have missed Ibai”. If the 29-year-old wants to return Athletic will only need to reach an agreement with Alavés.
Despite having a release clause of €10 million, Alavés are willing to part with Gómez for much less. They would rather not lose the player in the summer for free and are said to be willing to accept a transfer fee of somewhere around €4 million. Gómez has been playing the best football of his career over the past two years which has attracted plenty of interest, but Athletic are hopeful that he will choose to return to the San Mamés.
Fernando Llorente is another target that Elizegi has discussed on multiple occasions. The President said that the striker “took the first step” when he openly admitted that he would like to return to Athletic and the President has been open to the idea of bringing back the Lezama graduate. Llorente looks set to leave Tottenham in January, but the real question is where will he actually go.
Fans are still torn over whether or not they want to see Llorente back at Athletic, but reaching a deal with Tottenham shouldn’t be too difficult. The English club have already made it clear that they won’t stand in the striker’s way of leaving as they are looking to get his wages off of the books which could significantly lower his transfer fee. In fact, the Basques are expected to contact Tottenham soon to get an initial idea of their asking price. At the moment Athletic are still weighing up whether or not they will actually pursue the signing and if they do it may not take much to secure the transfer.
Of course, many fans would love to see Ander Herrera return but that move is very unlikely. With a new manager at Manchester United the midfielder can play more regular minutes and may even be offered a contract renewal. If not, United could look to sell him in January before his contract expires in the summer and will likely want to send him to the highest bidder. Herrera’s future is still very much up in the air right now.
While looking at possible arrivals, it is also important to note potential departures. The squad is currently on the highest wage bill in club history and Elizegi could be looking to lighten the load. Players such as Gorka Guruzeta, Cristian Ganea, Iñigo Lekue, and Unai López may receive offers to leave on loan, but that remains to be seen. If new players are brought into the team it almost certainly means that others will have to leave.
Reports already suggest that Rayo Vallecano would love to bring back Unai López and would be willing to offer starlet Sergio Moreno, an Athletic target for almost a year now, as part of the deal. The midfielder has not had the prominence in the team that he expected this season and his future at the club is in doubt once again.
Looking ahead to the future players like Ander Iturraspe, Mikel Rico, Sabin Merino, and Xabi Etxeita are all on expiring contracts and could be allowed to leave the club without being offered renewals. Mikel Vesga is still under contract through 2021, but may also be a player that is eventually offloaded to get his wages off of the books.
There are also three other contract situations that Elizegi and the Sports Committee will need to address. Markel Susaeta and Aritz Aduriz are both on expiring deals, although their situations are fairly straight forward. Extending Susaeta’s contract should be as simple as having one meeting while Aduriz will be the one to decide whether or not he wants to play another year. If he does want to continue playing, he will simply sign another one year deal. Alex Remiro’s case is vastly different.
After a drawn out contract dispute regarding wages and other issues, former President Josu Urrutia announced that Remiro had informed the club that he would not negotiate a new contract and would be leaving in the summer. Aitor Elizegi has made it a point to remedy the situation and has already convinced the young goalkeeper to resume talks in hopes of reaching an agreement on a renewal. Whether or not he actually stays at Athletic is another story.
January will be a demanding and difficult month for President Elizegi and his Board of Directors. From trying to sign new player to working on contract extensions there is a lot of work to be done. It’s a delicate time at Athletic Club with the team fighting to get out of the relegation battle and a change of leadership taking place at Ibaigane. Fans are hopeful for what the future holds and it all starts this month.