Gaizka Garitano On Thin Ice Heading Into Next Season
Gaizka Garitano isn’t going anywhere. At least not right now. The Athletic Board, led by President Aitor Elizegi and Sporting Director Rafa Alkorta, have firmly backed Garitano since taking over and have no intentions of making a change. Handing Garitano a new contract in June proved it. However, the Mister is on very thin ice.
The past year and a half has been a strange time for Athletic. With Garitano at the helm the Basques have tasted both success and defeat, tremendous highs and terrible disappointments. In a very real sense Garitano has achieved his goals as manager while also being a failure at the same time.
When Garitano took over in December of last season there was only one objective. Escape relegation. The team was in terrible form and Garitano’s arrival changed everything. Athletic not only climbed out of the bottom of the table, they soared all the way up into the race for Europe. Over the last few games of the season Athletic controlled their own destiny. A draw on the final day would have seen the Zurigorri finish seventh and qualify for the Europa League, but they fell short.
Escaping relegation was the goal and Garitano overachieved by taking the team all the way up to an 8th place finish. However, goals change as the season progresses. Athletic had a very real chance of qualifying for Europe but crumbled in the final stretch when it mattered most.
This season the team had two very clear goals that Garitano, the players, and the Board all outlined during the preseason. Challenging for Europe for the top priority, followed by making a strong run in the Copa del Rey. Reaching the Cup final was yet again another overachievement for Garitano’s side and the Lions did challenge for Europe as evidenced by the fact that they were in the race the entire season.
Again, Garitano accomplished the original goals set at the beginning of the season, though it doesn’t feel like it. Failing to qualify for Europe is one thing, but doing it the way Athletic did, by losing the last four games of the season, is inexcusable. Couple that with Garitano’s questionable rotations and substitutions, along with a defensive system that fans have grown tired of, and it’s impossible to feel that the season has been a success.
With one of the most talented squads in recent history, Athletic should be playing at a higher level. Many fans are convinced that Garitano is holding the team back, and that may very well be true. Still, Garitano will continue as the manager next season barring any unforeseen changes. Taking Athletic to the Cup final has bought Gaizka Garitano more time, but there will be little room for error next season. Patience has run its course, improvement is mandatory.