Putting Athletic Club’s Rollercoaster Season Into Perspective
The wounds of Saturday’s loss are still fresh. Athletic needed just one point to book their place in Europe next season but surrendered a first-half goal, hit the crossbar in stoppage time, and fell 2-0 to Sevilla to end their dream. The Basques spent the last three weeks of the season in a position to secure a top 7 finish and not doing so can only be seen as a failure.
Considering the fact that Athletic had Europe in their hands, not qualifying is certainly a failure but it’s also easy to forget that the Lions never should have been in this position to begin with. The season started horribly with Athletic winning just once in their opening 14 games. They found themselves drowning in the relegation zone by December and that’s when a change was finally made.
Gaizka Garitano took over as the manager and was given just one goal – salvation. Athletic have never been relegated from the Primera and the fear of that happening was very real. The team immediately responded to the new manager who was able to get the best out of the players. After just a few weeks the Lions were out of the relegation zone and every weekend they continued to climb the table.
A few months after the coaching change Athletic started to move closer to the top of the table. It seemed impossible, but the goals had changed. Relegation was no longer the concern. Athletic were competing for Europe and would soon find themselves 7th and in another battle. The unthinkable had become a real possibility, but the Zurigorri were unable to protect the final European spot and finished the year in 8th place.
In the short-term, not qualifying for Europe is a failure because Athletic were in control. In the larger picture, just competing for Europe was a massive success. It truly was a tale of two seasons as Athletic earned the 4th-most points in the league after Garitano took over, but it wasn’t enough to achieve the ultimate goal. It’s difficult to put the season into a true perspective because there are so many ways of analyzing it all.
For a team that looked to be going down and forced to make a coaching change in December, it was an absolutely terrific season. However, Athletic also had several chances to secure 7th place and weren’t able to finish well. It was a historic comeback and a disappointing failure. Gaizka Garitano was the savior, but not quite the hero. Mixed feelings abound.
In a way, the last six months have been a trial for Garitano. The Mister was able to learn what worked, as well as the things that need to be improved, and will now have the entire summer to prepare for a full season at San Mamés. Garitano has the support of the Board as well as bigger expectations and demands. Athletic completed a historic comeback under the manager and the goals have already been set for next year.
Fans should be both proud and upset. It may not have ended the way everyone wanted, but now there will be even more pressure moving forward. Garitano has proven that his Athletic side can compete at a high level and challenging for Europe will be the only acceptable goal. The dust has settled after a rollercoaster year and big things are expected from Athletic Club next season.