100 Days Of Aitor Elizegi
100 days ago Aitor Elizegi did the impossible. The humble chef from Bilbao had stepped forward as a Presidential candidate opposite Alberto Uribe-Echevarría and was given little chance of winning. He was the face of change, the face of the people, and championed several causes that slowly pulled support. When the votes were tallied on 27 December Elizegi had won the closest President race in Athletic Club history, a victory by only 85 votes. Now, after his first 100 days in office, he’s already accomplished quite a bit.
The first order of business wasn’t unexpected. Rafa Alkorta had already been presented as Elizegi’s Sporting Director and he quickly took over for José María Amorrortu. Former Athletic Vice President Juan Carlos Ercoreca then took over as the President of the club’s Foundation. Throughout his campaign Elizegi regularly stated that he would surround himself with people better than himself and he did so in impressive ways.
More organizational changes soon followed. In February Andoni Bombín was appointed as the new Head of Methodology at Lezama and Koldo Asua was replaced by Raúl Loroño. Jon Vázquez Eguskiza took the role as the new Director of the Athletic Foundation and Martín Urrejola was put in charge of overseeing the relations with partnered clubs. Lastly, widely respected reporter Nika Cuenca was hired as the club’s Director of Communications.
Elizegi had also spoken on several occasions about his desire to see Athletic better represented in Madrid, referencing the La Liga and Spanish Federations headquarters. He believes that a club the size of Athletic should be more involved in decision making and he’s already made great strides in this area. The President has met with league President Javier Tebas and RFEF President Luis Rubiales a few times. In fact, Elizegi was recently named as a member of Rubiales’s Board of Directors.
Former President Josu Urrutia was often criticized for being too closed-off and private. He didn’t have a good relationship with the media and kept many things in secret. Elizegi was outspoken about changing that during his campaign. So far, he has. The new President has been very transparent. He’s conducted countless interviews, invited media for special events, and has constantly met with fans and clubs whenever he travels with the team for matches. Elizegi has been a man of the people and the players have even called him “someone who is very close to everyone”. Others have said that Elizegi has overexposed himself.
One thing that Elizegi constantly references is his desire to protect the social health of the club. He’s taken steps to make the Board of Directors more easily approachable and has introduced methods for Socios to get in contact with him to discuss matters they care about. In March the club announced that once per week 50 Socios would be invited to San Mamés to have their voices heard. The President also expressed the desire to move the club offices from Ibaigane to San Mamés and the process is now underway. The move could officially take place at the end of the summer.
Speaking of San Mamés, Elizegi has also been transparent about who is invited to attend matches in the VIP Box. Before every game the list of guests is officially announced and there has been quite a lot of special people. The Mayor of Bilbao, President of the Basque Football Federation, the Spain Football Federation, the Bizkaian Football Federation, other Presidents from smaller Basque clubs in the area, Euskadi coach Javier Clemente, former legends, other governmental office holders, and even the parents of the late Iñigo Cabacas have all enjoyed a game alongside the Board of Directors.
Women’s Football was a major topic during Elizegi’s campaign and one that he championed with vigor. His goal was to continue growing the Women’s game while also giving even more support to help it grow and flourish. He promised that the Athletic Femenino would get to play matches at San Mamés and he’s already delivered on that promise.
At the end of January, the Women’s team hosted Atlético Madrid at San Mamés and set a record with 48,121 fans attending the match. The game captured the eyes of everyone across the globe and showed the potential of Women’s Football, as well as Athletic’s commitment to it. Since then Atlético Madrid and Juventus have both given their Women’s teams the chance to play at the main stadium and also saw historic attendance records. Interesting, it was recently announced that Athletic Femenino manager Joseba Agirre wouldn’t coach again next season, instead, he will take over as the Women’s Sporting Director.
From the standpoint of overseeing the first team, Elizegi has been very honest about his role. He’s stated that Rafa Alkorta has been entrusted to make the decisions, along with manager Gaizka Garitano, and that he will support them with whatever they need. That being said, he has constantly praised the pair in public and, behind the scenes, he’s made sure they have everything possible to be successful.
In January the club signed Ibai Gómez, someone Elizegi was outspoken about wanting to bring back to the club, and Kenan Kodro, who Garitano and Alkorta identified as a needed signing. Since then Unai Simón has also seen his contract improved and Aritz Aduriz has been given a renewal offer. The decision of whether or not to retire is up to the 38-year-old striker. More squad decisions will be made in the months to come as several players are out of contract in June and Elizegi has been vocal about wanting to sign Javi Martinez and potentially Fernando Llorente as well.
Possibly the greatest decision by Elizegi so far has been his backing of Gaizka Garitano. When the new President took office Garitano had only been the first team coach for a few weeks. Things were going better, but Athletic were still in a battle against relegation. Elizegi had constantly supported Garitano in the buildup to the election and continued to do so after taking office. Now the Lions find themselves just 4 points off of 4th place and Garitano has officially signed a renewal for next season. “For us, it’s a big day”, Elizegi said during Friday’s presentation. “We dreamed of this 100 days ago. Gaizka has been our bet since day one.”
Regardless of what fans may think of Aitor Elizegi, he has been regularly delivering on his promises. Still seen as a man of the people, he’s also proven to be a man of his word. The real changes won’t take place until after the season ends and there are several issues to be addressed. Among other things, Elizegi is still working to introduce the Grada de Animacíon and the team could travel outside of Europe for a summer tour. After his first 100 days in office, Elizegi has achieved a great deal and there is plenty more to come.