Javier Clemente “There Must Be Ambition At Athletic Club”
Javier Clemente is one of the most successful managers to have ever coached Athletic. As a youth product who spent his entire career at the club, Clemente had a great understanding of what the team needed when he took over in 1981. The manager would lead Athletic to several titles before departing in 1986 and returned twice when the Lions were in a difficult situation.
“There must be ambition at Athletic Club,” Clemente said in a recent interview with Radio Popular. “The objective must be to be champions every year. That is the future of Athletic. If you don’t succeed then you go to the Champions League and, if not, then to the Europa League. Our fans and Socios need a title.”
During the 1980s Clemente was never afraid to promote young players and doesn’t think it should be an issue today. The former manager says it’s important that everyone at Lezama learns the way to play Athletic football before reaching the first team.
“The kids who go up to the first team have to have a clear understanding of the concepts taught at Lezama, the concept of how Athletic plays football. If I was coaching now I wouldn’t vary much from what I did in the 80s. We were almost always leaders with 9 internationals and an average age of just over 20. I called up 9 kids from the academy because I thought they could make us champions. That’s how I understand Athletic. You have to play to be a champions even if you’re sixth. I don’t believe in football luck.”
Clemente was always outspoken about his displeasure with Lezama under the former Board. “Being at Athletic has nothing to do with the methodologies of other clubs,” he explained. “Amorrortu, who is a wonderful person, did us a disservice because the football he brought from Ajax is different than our football. We lost many years with this way of playing.”
For many fans, Marcelo Bielsa is a mythical figure who took the team to two finals. “Of course Marcelo Bielsa is a good coach, but he was very bad for Athletic,” Clemente said sternly. “The team was physically dead by January. They could have been champions but the team couldn’t win the two finals because the players were no longer responding. In his second year the team almost went down and lost great players when we could have kept them.”
Looking at the current team, Clemente refused to speak negatively about Gaizka Garitano. However, the Euskadi manager believes that the Lions can play better football than they have to this point.
“I’m not going to prosecute Garitano. This year we have played some brilliant matches, some average, and others that were horrible. We are doing well in the table but when the team isn’t overwhelmed by an opponent you have to let go and be more cheerful, more Athletic, and more vibrant even if we are bad.”
Despite supporting Aitor Elizegi, Clemente admitted that he hasn’t received a single call in regards to returning to the club. At this point he doesn’t expect one but does believe that Rafa Alkorta can do a good job in his role as Sporting Director.
“No, I don’t expect a call from Athletic. If they call me it would be a surprise. Many new people have come to the club and they haven’t counted on me. There has been a radical change and I was one of those who talked the most about the problems at Lezama on the eve of the elections. I supported those who are now the Board and they still haven’t counted on me. They brought my friend Rafa (Alkorta) who is a very valid person.”
Clemente would go on to share that he hasn’t had the chance to watch the youth teams at Lezama this season but hopes there has been a change in the style of play. Above all else, Clemente says the top priority should be preparing players for the first team.
“I haven’t seen much of the teams at Lezama – be it Bilbao Athletic, Basconia, or the Juveniles – to see if there has been a change in the concepts. I don’t know if there has been any evolution or not. The results at the lower levels worry me less than how the teams play because that is the foundation. Winning games in the Segunda B isn’t the issue, it’s if the boys can go up and play in the Primera without having to go on loan.”
In closing, Clemente explained that he believes young players should be given more opportunities. “For me, promoting a player who plays one day then goes three months without playing isn’t thinking about Athletic’s future.” While it’s been over a decade since Javier Clemente was last employed by Athletic, the legendary coach still has strong opinions about the club and the way things should be done.