The last thing that Gaizka Garitano did as coach of Athletic Club Bilbao was to say how happy he was. He hugged his assistant Paxti Ferreira when the final whistle blew, put his arm around Yuri Berchiche and vanished into the San Mamés tunnel under the busts of Pichichi from the cold and pouring rain.
The goal of Iker Muniain in the 25th minute and the goal of Óscar de Marcos in the last minute were enough to withstand even their strongest winning streak – one – against Elche and yet another ultimatum. That’s what they thought, at least.
Within the dry spot, the coach was asked how wonderful the relief was. “Collectively, totally,” he responded. “Personally, I always want Athletic to win, whether I’m here or not. “After placing his name on the shopping list, Zaccagni’s star rises | Nicky BandiniRead moreGaritano realized he would not be around much longer, but he still figured it would be a little longer, and so did everyone else. “We play ‘finals’ all the time; we knew what we were playing for,” said De Marcos.
The players figured it was another week, when they left the stadium still in their uniforms, but they barely had time to get home and shower when the news arrived.
Athletic declared a “substitution.” less than two hours after the end of regulatory period, 10 minutes after most board members were told.
A brief statement ended Garitano’s time, as unassuming, friendly and cold as a hit man.
The time was 5:41 p.m.
They announced his replacement at 10:27 p.m.: Marcelino García Toral. “This is a sad day,” midfielder Dani García said. The men who leave us are born workers who feel that no one else is sporting. One day they will understand and acknowledge all their work and what they have given to Athletic.”The men who are leaving us are born workers, who feel sporting like no one else. One day all their work and everything they have given Athletic will be recognized and appreciated.”We represent something more than soccer: a people,”We represent something more than soccer: a people,”We represent something more than soccer. A guy like him. He had never played an Athletic La Liga game, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
He was born in Derio, nine kilometers from Bilbao, and passed via Lezama, where cows saw the growth of generations of athletic players, and while his only appearance at Sampdoria was as a substitute, his return was cemented. Garitano is a skilled journalist, a soccer fan who travels to games for more than just entertainment, and an ardent Berstolari, a kind of impromptu Basque street poet. He spent almost all of his career in the Basque Country, 14 of his 16 years as a professional, and played in almost every Basque country: Athletic, Eibar, Real Sociedad and Alavés. He comes from a Basque family of four generations of eight Basque surnames – Garitano, Aguirre, Urkizu, Asla, Zubikarai, Madariaga, Garraminia and Arteche – and a soccer family that goes back almost as far. In 2006, Gaizka’s father, Ángel Garitano, arrived at Athletic as an assistant coach. In 13 games, the team had won just once and was in the relegation zone; the first relegation in the history of the club was not out of the question. Twelve years later, as a coach, Gaizka arrived from the B-team club, where he went to Eibar. The team had won just once in 14 games and was in the relegation zone; the relegation danger was worryingly real for the first time.
Athletic was 18th.
Only the bar kept them from hitting a European place at the end of the season.
They reached the final of the Copa del Rey last season, a first for Athletic-Real.
And they are ninth this season, closer to Europe than to the relegation zone…. And all of this at a club that doesn’t have Aritz Aduriz anymore, where Raúl García is 34 now, struggling with his knees, and just can’t sign players. In the summer, Álex Berenguer was the only new addition, limited by a policy that no one, least of all Garitano, challenged.
He won 38 and lost 29 in 90 games as coach, far from the last three men fired during the season: Eduardo Berrizzo, Félix Sarriugarte and José Luis Mendilibar all were in the relegation zone…. The surprise, however, in the end, was not so much that Garitano was sacked, but when and how he was sacked, because the timing depended on what was going on both in the boardroom and on the pitch – none of which was especially beautiful. There was a sense of stagnation, a certain decadence, and an increasing resistance to a coach who was accused of not wanting to improve.
If Garitano had previously spoken of Athletic’s style – direct, offensive, strong – that came to me