Aitor Elizegi “Many Clubs Are Going To Have A Difficult Time Over The Next Few Seasons”
For the first time since the pandemic brought football to a sudden halt, Athletic president Aitor Elizegi publicly addressed the media on Friday. Elizegi held a virtual press conference during which he answered a number of questions regarding the club, while also admitting that the aftermath of the health crisis will be a challenge for everyone to overcome.
“Many clubs are going to have a difficult time over the next few seasons,” Elizegi explained. “We have to work together on this path and agree on it. We know the impact and we have different entities evaluating it. Outside of competing in Europe there are budgets that will difficult to sustain. We must make the effort to become competitive again. We have inherited a budget policy that requires us to make efforts to sustain it.”
Elizegi also expressed his gratitude to everyone, medical professionals and others, who have worked so hard to protect society and bring life back to some version of normality.
“We must thank all those who worked so hard to allow everyone to come back together. We also want to dedicate a memory to those who aren’t going to be able to share these words or be at San Mamés; to our fans and all of those of football who have suffered in excess these months.”
In addition, Elizegi also revealed that Athletic have been one of the club working with the league to develop plans for finishing the season. La Liga will return on 11 June and Athletic will be back in action at San Mamés on 14 June.
“Since 14 March we have had the opportunity to be part of the working groups for the gradual return of the sport. Without the fans we will do the job but we lack the heartbeat of what this club is. We must give a message of health. The competitiveness between clubs must be fair. If I could be in my chair there would be a Socio in my place.”
The president was soon asked about the recent renewal of manager Gaizka Garitano and whether or not reaching the Copa del Rey final was the ultimate factor in the decision. Elizegi responded by saying he’s confident that Garitano is the right coach to lead the team moving forward.
“Gaizka’s renewal was strategic, the club orders us and allowed us to have a consensus. Many of the Socios of this club admire him day to day, his commitment, and his way of understanding the club. It doesn’t depend on an outcome, but on work. There is work to do and he’s the perfect profile to do it. The whole club wanted him to continue, it was the bet from the beginning. On the one hand there is his work, on the other hand he is from Athletic and he always emphasizes, and he brings us energy.”
While Garitano will be continuing at Athletic, Mikel San José and Beñat will likely be leaving at the end of the season. Both midfielders have expiring contracts and, though Elizegi didn’t say whether or not their futures have been decided, he did admit that there is competition in the team that has limited their chances.
“The sports management and Garitano share confidence and fluidity. The professionals are in good hands and I can’t think of anything other than their commitment to Athletic until July, with 25 percent of the season left to play. Sometimes we have to understand that a young player squeezes and wants to have his place in the team, but the veteran has to defend his position on the bus. Those who have worked with them speak of nothing other than commitment and loyalty.”
San José and Beñat’s contracts will expire on 30 June, but they could extend their deals until the season is over. “They know that there are still matches, like all of the players, and we have asked them to please continue to be with us,” said Elizegi. Both are expected to do so.
As San José and Beñat are likely to leave, a former star could return. Athletic have long been linked with a move for Javi Martinez who recently said that coming back to San Mamés is a serious option. When asked about the possibility, Elizegi shared hi enthusiasm.
“If a player wants to be at Athletic it makes the journey much easier. It’s good that a player wants to return to Lezama, but it’s essential that a player wants to be at Athletic. Athletic always tries to sign the best Basque players. When some of them say that Athletic is a good destination, I’m glad. For now this club is a good place for those great professionals.”
Finally, Elizegi touched on the current state of Lezama. The first team building is on schedule to finish construction by the planned timeline and the president was proud to highlight the success of Bilbao Athletic and CD Basconia this season.
“In the day to day we thought that it was essential to recover feelings of teamwork, cooperation, and collaboration. The goal has always been for Lezama to be in a state of constant improvement. The first team building is becoming more tangible. There are 104 male footballers and 61 female footballers. We want a Lezama that transmits who we are every day. There are few clubs alive in three competitions. We have 90 players preparing for the Tercera and Segunda B playoffs and the eleven remaining games for the first team.”
Bilbao Athletic will face either Atlético Madrid B, Badajoz, or Sabadell in the first round of the promotional playoffs. Basconia must play Portugalete with the winner meeting either Sestao River or Vitoria in the final on 25 July. Of course, Basconia can only be promoted to the Segunda B if Bilbao Athletic also earns promotion as both cannot compete in the same tier of Spanish football.