Could Asier Garitano replace Jose Angel Ziganda at Athletic Club?

Colin Millar by Colin Millar / 14 March 2018, 10:19

Much of the speculation towards the tail end of last season centred on who could replace Luis Enrique in the hotseat at Barcelona. Athletic Bilbao boss Ernesto Valverde was entrusted by the Catalan giants to start a new era of success at the Camp Nou but it is unquestionable he left much bigger shoes to fill at his former club. Enrique had delivered success to Barca but was not a universally popular figure at the club, while Valverde is hugely respected at each of his former clubs.

Valverde’s four-year stint in the San Mames, his second spell in charge of the club dugout was a comprehensive success: he led the Basque giants to the Champions League in his first season before reaching the Copa Del Rey final the following year and then securing the club’s first trophy – the Spanish Supercopa – in 31 years. No other manager has been in the dugout at Athletic for so long.

As is tradition with Athletic Club, the new era would be a continuation of the last, leading to the appointment of Jose Angel Ziganda - Valverde’s former teammate and tactician of the club’s B team Bilbao Athletic. The situation has not worked out as planned, with the club languishing in the bottom half of La Liga for the entirety of the campaign despite having a squad widely-recognised as possessing the quality to challenge for European places.

Athletic’s economic situation is one of the most stable in the league and funds have been invested in retaining the club’s top performers. Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga – Spain’s number two to David De Gea – renewed earlier this season in the wake of sustained interest from Real Madrid while Inaki Williams is one of a number of players to turn down advances from elsewhere. The one notable departure – Aymeric Laporte – was immediately replaced by Inigo Martinez from regional rivals Real Sociedad, in a statement of defiance and intent while pocketing the club ¤33m.

The board at Los Leones may offer tolerance – between 2007 and May 2017 they had only two managerial changes – but such consistent underperformance will almost inevitably lead to a coaching change in the summer. Speculation in the Spanish press is already in full swing as to who will replace Ziganda, whose future beyond the end of the season would be close to untenable if his side cannot recover their 3-1 deficit to Marseille in the Europa League.

A report in Oye Athletic this week states the Basque club have eached ‘an agreement’ with Leganes Coach Asier Garitano for a move at the end of the season. The 48-year-old has worked wonders at the Madrid-based club over the past five seasons, earning two promotions, consolidating them as a top-flight side in Spain and reaching the Copa Del Rey semi-finals this season.

Garitano would provide a good fit for Athletic, having proved he can build a long-term project, improve existing players by coaching and creating a strong team ethic. There are fears Leganes have hit a ceiling in terms of their budget and resources, so Athletic would offer him the ideal platform to make the next step up.

Other rumours suggest current Eibar boss Jose Luis Mendilibar could return to the San Mames dugout – having previously spent three months in the position in 2005 – but Garitano remains the favourite to occupy one of Spain’s most coveted positions. Fans of Athletic may already be looking ahead to next season, with the current campaign threatening to peter out.

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