Athletic Club Reborn Under Gaizka Garitano
“We are only focused on winning.” This statement has been repeated time and time again since Gaizka Garitano took over as the Athletic Club manager on 4 December. The team was in a state of disaster at the time, having only earned 11 points from 14 games, and were deep in a relegation battle. Garitano was given the keys and tasked with leading the Lions to safety.
Everyone was excited about the coaching change, while also recognizing that Garitano’s record in La Liga wasn’t great. Still, he had done an exceptional job with Bilbao Athletic and had the personality and temperament the club was looking for in someone to change the culture in the locker room. His impact was felt immediately.
Athletic won their first game under Garitano in a 4-0 thumping of Huesca in the second leg of the Copa dely Rey then beat Girona 1-0 which snapped a 13 game winless streak in league play. Draws against Alavés and Real Valladolid followed before Athletic picked up another 3 points when they beat Celta 2-1 in the club’s first road victory of the season. Garitano had the team playing much better, but the real test was looming.
After the win in Vigo, Athletic began to prepare for three straight games against Sevilla who have been one of the best teams in all of Spain. As expected, Garitano chose to rest several key players in the Copa del Rey first leg and the Zurigorri fell 3-1. It was Athletic’s first loss under Garitano although the team played well and given the lineup there wasn’t any panic going into Sunday’s league game at the San Mamés.
“No two games are alike”, Garitano said in his pregame press conference. “This one will be different, with a different result.” He couldn’t have been more correct as Athletic dominated the match and took all 3 points in a thrilling 2-0 win. It was arguably the best performance of the season and saw Athletic move into a tie for 12th in the table with 22 points, just 4 points off of 7th place.
Athletic have been reborn under the leadership of Gaizka Garitano. The team is once again playing the style of football that has always characterized Athletic – defensively solid, attacking through the wings, crossing into the box – and the results have followed. In 5 league games under Garitano the Lions have yet to be beaten, making him the first Athletic manager to do so in 32 years, and have already earned just as many points as Berizzo managed in 14 games.
This is the Athletic that fans recognize, the Athletic that plays to their strengths and fights for results in every single match. Fans are already starting to talk about the possibility of challenging for Europe, but Garitano has issued a warning. “We are still in a delicate situation”, he said after the win against Sevilla. “We’ve improved, but it’s still bad. We can’t relax, there won’t be any relaxation.”
While many fans seem to already be celebrating Garitano knows that Athletic haven’t achieved anything yet. It’s this mentality and demand that has helped the team improve and brought with it better football. The manager is right, nothing has accomplished and there is a lot of season left to play. Athletic still face difficult months ahead, but in just five games the Zurigorri have been reborn under Gaizka Garitano.