Aitor Elizegi Explains Athletic’s Current Finances And Plans For The Provisional Fund
Aitor Elizegi is facing his first summer as President of Athletic and there are several issues that must be addressed. From a high wage bill to introducing his own changes for the club, the new Board of Directors are facing a very important time in the history of Athletic. On Sunday, Elizegi took the time to answer questions from DEIA where he wasn’t shy about discussing the club’s finances and challenges ahead.
It’s June and it’s time to take stock. What do you say about your first semester in charge of Athletic?
Intensity, commitment, a job which requires 24 hours per day which sometimes isn’t enough for everything we would like to do.
Has that bittersweet taste of what happened at the Sánchez Pizjuán in the last league match gone away?
The stinger against Sevilla is unforgettable, but I also have the satisfaction of having enjoyed a great San Mamés. I can only thank the team and Gaizka for what they have done during these months. Virtually all games are unforgettable and some moments are to be saved, such as the communion between the fans and the team, and above all the feeling that in Lezama there is an environment and a working group that I think is very important and very difficult to achieve in five months.
What has Elizegi done of note in these five months?
Of course, in the focus of the Foundation, the focus of the Women’s team, and the commitment of Lezama. Gaizka is a firm and sure bet and the club has taken another direction. We’ve also opened doors at the level of communication. We are not pretending to be above the club and we have the forums where Athletic can be represented by Socios.
On the 30th of this month, the economic course closes. What calculations do you use today?
The club established these accounts last October. We are people of our word and we will defend these accounts until 30 June. We have that obligation.
Is it going to close with a deficit or surplus?
What was calculated last October, with some significant benefits from the sale of Kepa Arrizabalalga, will give us a number in favor of the club. All the Socios know how Kepa’s revenue has impacted accounting.
Is the revenue credited to the previous Board of Directors or to yours? Is it just nuance of numbers?
Obviously, it is the work of the entire season that we are going to defend on 30 June. The arrival of Kodro and Ibai are credited to the two Boards. The Sevilla stinger…finding the team in the relegation zone is credited to the two Directives, such as renewing Garitano and the investments we are going to make in Lezama. The budget is part of the Socio’s exercise. We don’t make budgets every six months.
Apart from the €80 million from Kepa, another €109 million was expected. Have these forecasts been met?
The income and expenses were approved in the October Assembly. Our obligation is to fulfill it and bring to each area what was budgets. We arrived knowing that we would have to continue that through 30 June. The important thing is to fulfill it. There are small sporting details, small forecasts of the budgets that are different. For the most part, we are going to follow it to the letter. There are commitments with third parties, mainly with suppliers, that we have to follow.
The expenditure of the staff rises to €85 million.
What we agreed to with these players, what was promised at the beginning of the season in salaries and variables, is written in black. It must be fulfilled.
You’ve warned that if the team doesn’t qualify for Europe there will be a deficit.
I haven’t warned of anything new. There have been four or five presidents who warn that Athletic has difficulties maintaining a competitive team. We are seeing how other clubs around us act, how they invest up to fourteen signings in some cases, and our obligation is to hope that the work of the academy allows us to compete at the highest possible level. This Board of Directors can only reaffirm what the other Directives have said for the last 20 years. It’s increasingly difficult for Athletic to compete in Europe.
What can you tell me about the €76 million Provisional Fund set up by the previous Board?
That provisional fund will grow because it’s our obligation. That Fund was created to cover our backs when there are greater expenses. Therefore, this reserve will be increased in order to continue influencing this form of saving.
In other words, the Fund will be included in the budget that will be submitted to the Assembly in October?
Yes. We believe it gives possibilities, not to this Board, but to continue working in the efforts that Athletic can compete in three competitions because the current formula means Athletic must compete in Europe to meet these budgets. It’s increasingly difficult to compete in these scenarios where, in addition, the academy is damaged. Sometimes UEFA, FIFA, and the Federation forget that football was born from the academies. It’s becoming less profitable to invest in academies and the worst isn’t even that, it’s that there are those who want to compete by breaking the rules.
I understand that, despite this, Athletic are well financially?
Athletic has enough resources to compete within reasonable rules, where the academy is rewarded and admired, not punished. We don’t want to only reward sporting results and social wealth which, by the way, we are one of the clubs that contributes the most in European football. We want to reward the clubs that invest in youth development in two ways: the value of the academy on the field and the right to training.
How much of the Fund will be budgeted?
From now until 30 June the accounts, balance sheets, and budget will be formulated. Our obligation is to undertake it. Athletic is healthy, has capital, can invest and will do it. But we have to be prudent, working in the medium term and always bringing projects that improve competitiveness. We aren’t PSG. We aren’t focused on just one year, but developing a medium-term project which is what has made Athletic work, not just looking at the short term which is what other clubs have done.
Due to the financial muscle you are talking about, would Athletic be in a position to pay €30 million for Javi Martinez, for example?
Athletic already has large contracts for Williams, Martinez, and Yuri. We are facing big deals with the players who could be in any club in Europe but want to be at Athletic.
But is the club going to try to bring in top players?
We will face operations in which three things are clear. First, they are medium-term bets and not at the end of their careers. Secondly, they must improve the team. Third, they have to be players who want to be at Athletic.
There is also €200 million in the bank that this Board can’t touch. Does that burden your management?
In this complex situation, this Board can invest it and work on its strategy in the next three years. There are two different things. First is the Fund, for which we are responsible, and the other is the surplus that was inherited.
So you can touch the money?
We just don’t want to touch it. We don’t leave home touching the heritage of our familes. When we come to a company, our obligation is to leave the same heritage that we have found. It’s about making wealth and consolidating the project. Touching the estate is the last thing that we should do. The important thing is to make it grow, that’s good management. The Fund is for investing. The smart thing is to leave the heritage because it guarantees the future.
What measures will your Board carry out to increase the club’s assets?
The first thing is good management of resources and the first team which, if possible, Lezama will give the fruits to reinforce the squad. The recruitment, improvement of scouts, technical staff, Bilbao Athletic and Basconia, and the youth are really the relief of the first team. We must work 24 hours per day.
Competing in Europe is key because of the risks of a deficit. Could this lead you to sell players?
We don’t need to sell players. We can maintain the squad that we have through the league and Cup. Hopefully, we will compete again in Europe soon. We have the Fund for that. The contracts Athletic offered to Yuri, Raúl García, Williams are those of a European team. Athletic offers them this and that is how it will continue. Athletic doesn’t have to make the same mistakes that we see around us from other competitors.
In October you have to submit the accounts in the Assembly for the first time. Do you detect social peace or has the campaign brought discord?
I only work with the understanding that there is only one Athletic. There are many people who work in favor of this club and other people that I understand have personal interests.
Have you detected any kind of opposition?
I only see people with a terrible desire to qualify for Europe next year and to support Garitano. Athletic Socios dream of a miracle every season and that the kids from Bilbao Athletic become professionals.
What is your idea for the VIP stand?
First, I don’t like the name. That name doesn’t bother me, but we need a name that says this stand is in the service of Athletic, veterans, Bizkaia, and the community. It’s a stand that has to work to unite San Mamés.
Would you change its current format?
It has to be closer to the commitments of the club, especially its social responsibility and the supporters. It can’t be an island or an independent project.
Wouldn’t that generate a loss of income when €5.5 million is collected each year?
The project is to put San Mamés at 100% performance, both in terms of restoration, the management of the stand, and events. We believe that San Mamés can be an integral part of resource management.