The easiest change

Gaizka Garitano.
Gaizka Garitano. / EFE
  • Athletic Bilbao have sacked Gaizka Garitano despite the fine job he's done with the players available

A seasoned chairman once confided in me that the key to success is refreshing the players from season to season or admitting defeat and changing the manager.

"It's easier to replace a coach than a whole squad of players!" he reasoned.

At one club more than any other this rings true. Athletic Bilbao's proud traditions mean they can't go on a recruitment drive or make a marquee signing; it's inevitable that when the directors get twitchy, they will change the most prominent voice in the changing room.

So, despite fulfilling the remit of initially keeping the club in the top division when appointed and then going beyond expectations by taking them to the Copa del Rey final, and even winning his final Liga game in charge, Gaizka Garitano was told his days were up.

Garitano had done a fine job. He'd ensured Athletic preserved the proud record of never being relegated from La Liga and in truth ninth place is about right given the talent pool he could dip into. The Covid crisis means the all-Basque cup final versus Real Sociedad is on hold until supporters from both clubs can witness the historic occasion.

The Basque-only player policy means they must nurture their own academy talent, bring players back home or just nick some from their regional rivals Real Sociedad. The market is exhausted, they have promoted many young players and La Real have their eyes on the Champions League so they're not letting anyone go.

So, the only alternative was to change leadership. Exit Garitano, enter Marcelino García Toral.

Marcelino has been latent since leaving Valencia just after leading them to the cup final success against Barcelona in 2019. The vastly experienced coach is an expert in asset management. He assesses what he's inherited and maximises what can be achieved.

At Recreativo and Zaragoza he won promotion. Racing Santader went on an unlikely European adventure after finishing a best-ever sixth place. He fully established himself at Villarreal by finishing in the top six on three occasions and reaching the semi finals of the Europa League in 2016. He doesn't tend to stay long, often departs abruptly, yet he is very quick to impose himself upon a club.

He knows he can't bring in players, but it seems he is appointing a new behind-the-scenes team. Dieticians and sports scientists will compliment the excellent facilities they have at the club with a view to giving the players a shot in the arm, so to speak!

It's difficult to understand what will be acceptable to the fans of Athletic as the reaction can't really be measured in an empty San Mamés. The best they can realistically hope for is winning the cup and they have at least a 50/50 chance of that thanks to the outgoing Garitano regime.

I'm predicting Athletic will win the cup as Real Sociedad have other priorities, make a fist of the Super Cup and scrape into Europe.

Marcelino will be like a storm, he'll cause a bit of mayhem, leave in around eighteen months with another accomplishment on his resume and his successor will inherit the same set of players who need new motivation.