Javier Clemente “We Are Going To Defend Our Colors For The Benefit Of Our Land”
Javier Clemente hasn’t been a football coach since October of 2016 when he was dismissed by Libya, but now he is returning to the sidelines. On Thursday the former Athletic Club coach was officially presented as the new manager of the Basque National Team. In his press conference Clemente said that leading Euskadi is an offer that he couldn’t say no to and that he is proud to be the new manager.
“As I was not coaching, it was an offer that I couldn’t reject, to direct the National Team is to help my people. I’m Basque, I feel Basque, and through football we can help Euskadi a lot. I hope that with football we can open a series of doors, some marketing, and that we can appreciate this. In addition to having fun playing football, we do it on the basis of helping the people here. We are going to defend our colors for the benefit of our land. I am proud that I have been named the Euskadi coach.”
Clemente’s first game in charge will come against Panama on 29 May. The match was recently announced and will see Euskadi travel outside of the Basque Country for the first time in years as the game will take place in Panama. For now Clemente will focus on preparing for the friendly.
“Now I will try to get to know Panama as well as possible. I will try to call the best players for Euskadi. There are also foreign clubs that don’t allow their players to be called, but for sure we will take the best of those who are able to play. We will make requests to seven or eight of those who play in other leagues.”
Traditionally Euskadi was led by a coaching duo from Athletic Club and Real Sociedad, but hiring Clemente changes that. As the manager he wants to establish a Basque identity in the football world and plans to call up all of the best players from around the world, not just the ones playing in La Liga. He also wants to reach out to others who, despite not being born in Euskal Herria, could play for the national team such as Aymeric Laporte and Marco Asensio.
“I would like our game to be different from that of other teams and mark a line of what is Basque Football. The players here have a competitive level to that of the World Cup. We would be in the top level of the great teams. What about the descendants of Basques who went to South America? For me they have a place in Basque football. The children or grandchildren of Basques who emigrated to the American countries can be called. I have three or four to propose. I will try to call the best players. Herrera, Kepa, Javi Martinez, Llorente, Azpilicueta, Laporte, Asensio? Yes, they are all options and will be discussed and analyzed.”
To end his press conference Clemente reflected on the magnitude of coaching Euskadi. He said that if he had retired from football without doing so it would have been a regret. He knows that he doesn’t speak Basque due to where he was raised, but he takes a lot of pride in being Basque. This will likely be his last coaching job and he believes that Euskadi could be one of the best National Teams in the world if they are granted recognition from FIFA and UEFA.
“When I retire from football I will be able to say that I have coached the Basque team. If I had left football without coaching Euskadi I would have said that something was missing. I would have regret. I’m also sorry that I don’t speak Basque, being from the left bank it wasn’t easy to learn. This is possibly my last team as a coach, although coaches are finished when nobody calls them. We will try to open doors, make sure that we are known and that we are loved. I can assure that this is a team that can play at the highest level worldwide. We would be in the top group of the great teams. The issue of becoming official is clear and is depends on UEFA and FIFA, as well as the RFEF. The RFEF isn’t very interested in having Catalan or Basque National Teams because they lose power within their own organization. The issue is more political. The day we are an independent country we can be an official team. We are prepared to be officially, but when are they going to let us?”
Basque Football Federation President Luis Mari Elustondo also spoke at the presentation. He revealed that the EFF are trying to schedule even more games during upcoming international breaks, but admitted that financial restrictions make it difficult. However, they are also looking to get the Women’s team into a friendly at some point.
“We re always looking for games. We have to look for the suitability of the teams and we also have a certain budget problem which prevents us from getting very positive results. We will continue looking for another FIFA window and also play with Women’s football. We had planned to schedule another game besides Panama, but it wasn’t possible. Our Selection opens up a little to the world. We present ourselves for our team, our identity. We are a modest entity in terms of financial availability. We have no problem with Clemente calling players like Javi Martinez. If he wants to call them he is free to do so, even others [such as Alvaro Odriozola]. The negotiations with the players are in the hands of the coach.”
The Basque Federation announced two months ago that they will apply for international recognition from FIFA and UEFA and Elustondo says it will be a long process. The EFF must first get permission from Spain and they have a meeting scheduled with the Spain Federation President, Luis Rubiales. It won’t be easy, but the Basque Federation will not give up their goal.
“We are not going to stop trying. This process is a path of slow travel and this Board of Directors isn’t going to stop. To get our recognition we have to go through the Spanish Federation and this is a journey that will take time. We have a pending meeting with the President of the Spanish Federation, Luis Rubiales. The subject is alive and active and I hope that the next meetings go well.”
When Euskadi travel to Panama for the friendly in late May there is a very good chance that the squad will feature plenty of Athletic Club players. In October’s 4-2 win over Venezuela players like Iñigo Martinez and Iñaki Williams featured, as did Ibai Gómez who was with Alavés at the time.