Aitor Elizegi Discusses Athletic Club’s Finances, Possible Transfers, And The Importance Of European Qualification
Aitor Elizegi has been the President of Athletic Club since 27 December, but his hands have been tied. Taking over in the middle of the season has kept Elizegi from truly being able to introduce his plans and vision. Some minor changes have been made, but now that the campaign is over the new Board will really begin their work. The President recently sat down with Robert Basic of El Correo where he explained that not qualifying for Europe will have a negative impact on the club’s finances.
“No one is above the institution. No passing president should delay or slow down the relationships the club needs to do its job; that is, its ability to relate to other Spanish, Basque and European football institutions. As for the economic situation, there is a lot to do when you are in the red by not being able to compete in Europe. If the club doesn’t qualify for Europe then the club is in the red with the current approach.”
The current squad has been built to compete in Europe and the wages reflect that truth. It’s nearly impossible to not have a deficit when the team hasn’t qualified for Europe in two years, but Elizegi made it clear that selling players for profit will never be acceptable, especially with the Board’s three-year financial plan.
“It’s impossible that there isn’t a deficit being outside Europe. Let’s make things clear. We inherit a budget approved by all of us, by all Socios, in which there is a deficit without European competition. Without Europe, with a squad of this level, it’s difficult for there not to be a deficit, but we are willing to fight and make the profits that are going to reverse the situation. It would never be necessary to sell players in the strategic three-year plan that we have on the table. We don’t need to sell a player, but have rationalized investments.”
Elizegi has been forced to follow the budget of the previous Board but that will change in July. He recognized that altering the financial plan is difficult after just six months, but the Board is working to generate new sources of revenue that will hopefully increase the club’s income even without European competition.
“I believe that the current salary is drawn up to face three competitions. Outside of the three competitions there is an economic gap, a difference that the club members have accepted. We have accepted this form of budgeting and we must be consistent. We will defend this budget until June 30, we will close it and take it to the League and to the next assembly. It is difficult to change the salary structure created during the last 12 years in just six months. We have been absorbing image and competition rights. It’s a good project. In its day it worked well, but in the last two seasons Europe hasn’t been in the equation. I don’t intend to criticize the decision. It’s been decided by everyone to create a squad with the salary to play in Europe.”
Holding the election in the middle of the season certainly wasn’t a good idea. Elizegi remarked that it prevented the new President from truly being in control and revealed that the next election, in 2022, will be held in June. It’s a new era of football for Athletic and the club wants to be as competitive as possible.
“There can’t be a transfer of knowledge, management, and direction in the middle of the season. This is why the date of the next elections will be in June 2022, if the Socios allow it. I want to thank the past presidents for their effort. The last 20 years have been crucial. It wasn’t easy to go through the first part of the club’s centenary, but most clubs competed on equal terms with us. There is a before and after the Bosman Law. Now we see the League worried about the new Champions projects that the great European teams want.”
The President was asked about the situation with Alex Remiro who rejected a contract renewal and has now left the club. Elizegi explained that the Lezama product made a mistake by demanding such high wages before proving himself in La Lia. The new Board tried to rectify the relationship but the damage was done and Remiro would not change his mind.
“I understand that Alex made a very serious mistake. What was it? Did he not enjoy being the number 1 in the Athletic goal? I believe that he should have first defended the Athletic goal and then made demands. Someone recommended him to do it another way. We talked to Alex to know what thoughts he had. He had decided there was a distance between him and Athletic. We weren’t able to change the situation. I don’t think his decision was wise. That doesn’t mean that he was a player who wasn’t 100% in training with his teammates. His professional relationship with the club has been exquisite. There was a sinkhole that we couldn’t save.”
This summer six first team players are leaving the squad. The same number will be brought up from Bilbao Athletic with hopes of earning a place in the team. Elizegi also revealed that Unai Vencedor will get chances with the first team during the season. When asked if the club will continue to demand release clauses for players the President made it clear that won’t be changing.
“Six players have left the club and the illusion is that six from Bilbao Athletic will spend the preseason with the first team. During the season we hope that Unai Vencedor will get to come up and train with the team. Maybe he needs a tad of maturity because he’s still young. At Athletic, the clauses and the words must be fulfilled. The clauses order the message, the signature between the player and the club, allow everyone to have a certain path. I think it is a good decision that must be kept in time and in the future of Athletic.”
Despite six youth players being called up, the club could be looking to sign a few players according to Elizegi. Anyone who is brought to San Mamés this summer must be able to compete in Europe to justify the transfer and the President believes that coming to Athletic is an enticing offer for many players.
“Our obligation is to be attentive to the day to day of the players that meet our philosophy, and we are. Zero follies. We don’t want anyone to come just to end their careers here. We are looking for players who can maintain the level of demand. The doors are open to two or three European-level players. There are players who have earned the right to choose their teams in Europe and I doubt that many clubs offer what Lezama and Athletic offer.”
Athletic already have four strikers in the squad which has effectively ended any interest in bringing back Fernando Llorente. Elizegi explained that there just isn’t room in the team and, while the 34-year-old has been taking the time to decide his future, the Zurigorri moved on.
“In January we all thought about the ability to improve the competitiveness of this squad. We needed to send a message of improvement, of hardness. We think that Ibai and Kodro sent that message. Surely Fernando Llorente wants to decide his future after the Champions League final. While Fernando decides his future, we have already decided the strikers that Athletic will have next season. Two are experienced and indisputable, the other two have merit and will have to earn their position.”
Ander Herrera has also been a transfer target due to his expiring contract with Manchester United. The President believes that the midfielder has chosen to sign with PSG, though he believes that playing for Athletic is a much better option.
“We approached Ander Herrera’s environment who told us that the player had the possibility to play in Europe. It seems that is what he’s chosen. I understand the footballer who still attracted to the challenges of Europe. I’ve heard that Paris have reached out to him and between PSG and Athletic I would have doubts. The high performance of Lezama, the love of the fans, San Mamés and then the canned football in Paris…”
Similarly, Javi Martinez will likely leave Bayern Munich this summer. Elizegi is convinced that there are many reasons why Martinez should return to Athletic but that remains to be seen.
“Like Fernando and Ander, Javi Martinez is a player who has the ability and profile to compete in Europe. All three are likely to receive offers from clubs who will compete at the top level. I would take the Athletic offer. I think there are enough reasons for him to choose Athletic but I don’t know if those appeal to him.”
In closing, Elizegi was asked how the club can convince top players to stay at the club. The President believes that everyone has the ability to become an Athletic legend, but moving elsewhere just makes you another footballer. Money has changed the beautiful game in so many ways and Elizegi’s goal is to keep Athletic competitive in a world where only the rich succeed.
“There is a possibility that a player can become an Athletic legend or just one more outside Athletic. You have to fight tooth and nail in UEFA, in the league, and at any club to stop the inflation of football. The health of European, Spanish, and Basque football is based on 120 years of words and work. Nothing to do with money, inflations, or artificial TV rights. Within other rules, which only suit a minority, we can find that some clubs have no future. The new rule is that only those with the most money can be successful. I don’t know who is amused by this way of understanding this sport. I don’t think it’s fun.”
This summer will be one of the most important in Athletic history. Aitor Elizegi’s plans will be put in place, as will Rafa Alkorta’s vision for Lezama, while the team will prepare to compete for European qualification after missing out the last two years. There’s little margin for error and no excuse for failure. This is one of the strongest squads ever assembled and Athletic must justify the largest wage bill ever seen with success.