Former Athletic Club Presidents Call For Patience Ahead Of “Difficult Year”
Since Ernesto Valverde’s exit in 2017 Athletic have been unable to replicate the same success that the club had under Txingurri. After qualifying for Europe in four consecutive years, the Lions have now gone three straight seasons without a top seven finish. Fans have understandably grown frustrated, but those who have worked behind the doors of Ibaigane are calling for patience.
Fernando Lamikiz served as Athletic president from 2004-2006 and sees the upcoming season as a time of transition. “I would love to see a few young players consolidate their place in the team,” he told Robert Basic of El Correo. “I would settle for a year of transition and to not be in trouble. The focus should be on La Liga. It’s the fundamental thing. You can’t rush.”
When asked if he lacks ambition, Lamikiz explained that its quite the opposite. He wants to see Athletic achieving great things, but also recognizes the reality that football continues to change.
“I am ambitious, sometimes too much, but you have to be realistic. Thirty years ago we played at San Mamés and said we were going to win the league. Today it’s increasingly difficult. Every Primera club has good players. People don’t realize that football has evolved a lot. Everyone is building competitive squads. If we can play well and win the Cup then perfect, but La Liga must be our priority. Let’s remember that Granada and Osasuna were ahead of us.”
Despite another disappointing end to the season, Lamikiz maintains that Gaizka Garitano’s style of football has made Athletic a strong team. Scoring is still a big concern, though the former president sees options to put the ball in the back of the net.
“This team is difficult to beat. We will be a toothache for opponents. Despite problems, Gaizka Garitano has sculpted a strong rock. We are competitive and others know that they won’t have it easy against us. It’s true that we have a hard time scoring. Either players like Villalibre and Williams will explode, or someone from below like Nico Serrano will come up, or the games will be very hard for everyone.”
Fernando García Macua, who served as president from 2007-2011, has a similar opinion on the season ahead. “At the moment we must assume that there will be difficulties,” he added. “We must give our full support to the club as an institution and help. A difficult year is coming, but I’m sure that Athletic will bring out its competitive gene.”
Regardless of the ever-changing landscape of football, Macua emphasized that Athletic can never change the club’s unique philosophy. Difficulties are expected and more than ever the club must hold to their values.
“Those of us who feel Athletic as it is, with its philosophy, idiosyncrasy, and personality, have to be consistent with these ideas in good times and bad times. We are in a contact that anticipates a difficult year. If competing is always complicated, now it will be even more complicated. We are talking about a season with less income, a different San Mamés, without fans, and we must be consistent with our model.”
Signings players have become more challenging than ever. Athletic have had to trust heavily in Lezama and Macua is confident in the current squad. Most importantly, the former president says the team must be challenging for Europe in the years to come.
“The club has dependence and roots in grassroots, Bizkaian football which is suffering a lot right now, but there is always potential and possibilities. The players will have to do their best and put the team on their backs. They must lead the team on and off the field. Europe is the key to Athletic’s project in the coming years.”
Athletic narrowly missed out on qualifying for Europe the last two years under Gaizka Garitano, but with one of the strongest squads in recent memory fans haven’t been satisfied with the performances. In the upcoming season the Zurigorri will once again be chasing a top seven finish while also hoping to win the Copa del Rey final and lift the first trophy since in nearly 40 years.