All change up north

Would a return to Spain interest Rafa Benítez?
Would a return to Spain interest Rafa Benítez? / EFE
  • Opinion

  • Both Real Sociedad and Athletic are on the look-out for a new coach to revive their fortunes

'Rafa Benítez for Real Sociedad' screamed the headlines back home; personally I think he's better suited to their eternal local rivals Athletic Bilbao.

There are so many comparisons to football in the North East of England and the East of Northern Spain. Geordies and Basques are proud people whose passion and personality is reflected in their football teams.

Legend has it that Sunderland and Athletic Bilbao wear the same red and white stripes because British miners helped to form the team; and of course David Moyes failed to earn his stripes at both Sunderland and Real Sociedad.

Moyes is one of the many managers who has tried and struggled to bring the success of the eighties to a football mad territory. Things are so bad that Eibar, a club with resources on par with Hartlepool, are currently the top-ranked team in the region.

This is an area that dominated Spanish football in the eighties. Real Sociedad won the title in 1982 and 1983 and Athletic claimed it the following two seasons. The only success in the past three-and-a-half decades has been a solitary Super Cup success.

This summer there will be a managerial revolution in the region, hence the Rafa connection.

Athletic and Real Sociedad will pin up 'Under New Management' signs next season.

Athletic only allow players born in the territory to play for the team but are more relaxed when it comes to managers. Of course Howard Kendall headed there in the eighties but they do prefer a local which is why José Ángel Ziganda was appointed in the summer to replace the Barcelona-bound Ernesto Valverde.

In theory Ziganda was ideal as he'd coached the future players in the development team. In practise it just hasn't worked and the fans have turned on him.

Moyes has problems with the distance between the pitch and stands at West Ham and that was one of the same problems at Real Sociedad. They're addressing the lack of closeness between the players and supporters in the long term and addressing the manager in the short term.

Eusebio Sacristán used all of the means to lead La Real into Europe but didn't have the depth of resources to succeed in in the Europa League and he lost his job as they deteriorated.

So the shortlist for the two jobs may come down to three men. Benítez, José Luis Mendilibar and Asier Garitano.

Mendilibar has worked wonders at Eibar, the Cinderella club in the region. With crowds of 5,000 in their municipal stadium and a limited budget he's shaped a top-ten team. He's favourite to return to Athletic, the club who sacked him after just ten games in 2004.

The other candidate is Garitano, another man who left Bilbao unfulfilled as an unwanted reserve player in the 90s. He's lifted Leganés from the third tier to an established La Liga position with his prudent style. He may be more suited to Real Sociedad?

I could see Rafa at Athletic Bilbao, a club with so many similarities to Newcastle United; loyal fan base, incredible stadium, unfulfilled promise etc.

Watch this space for the next Angel of the North.