The former Barcelona boss, Ernesto Valverde is set to take charge of Athletic Bilbao for the third time, which might help them to win silverwares again.
Valverde has reportedly returned to Athletic Bilbao at the end of June following the outcome of the club president election, which saw Jon Uriarte triumph over Inaki Arechabaleta. The former had promised Valverde the head coach position, while the latter wanted to bring back Marcelo Bielsa, who led the club to the Europa League final in 2012.
The appointment of the 58-year-old coach for the third time in San Mames is undoubtedly noteworthy. He is one of the few names given such a rare opportunity. Valverde is unquestionably a prominent figure in the club. During his reign, Bilbao’s campaigns were never disappointing, with one trophy in hand, the Supercopa de Espana 2016. In his third stint, he will face a greater challenge to improve their position in the standings and possibly win a prestigious title. Athletic Bilbao finished eighth in the table, missing out on a European spot for the 2022/23 season.
Ernesto Valverde’s Third Spells in Bilbao Could Inspire the Club’s Revival
Valverde’s Extensive Experience
Valverde’s return to the Basque side is unsurprising. He is without a doubt the club’s most prominent figure in guiding them back to at least the top five in the Spanish top flight. The former striker from the 1980s and 1990s has got what it takes for such target.
During his two spells, Valverde managed to lead the club to better positions. In his first period between 2003 and 2005, Bilbao finished fifth and ninth respectively, which secured their place in UEFA Cup and Intertoto Cup. In the second stint from 2013 to 2017, he was able to guide them to fourth place in LaLiga in 2014, which allowed them to play in the Champions League qualifiers. In the following seasons, Iker Muniain and co had a consistent campaign by ending their league campaign on the sixth, fifth and seventh in a row, earning a place in Europa League each time. They also won the Supercopa de España by crushing Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate.
Judging from their results in his previous reigns, at least from the positions on the La Liga table plus his vast experience in the Champions League with Blaugrana, Valverde is likely to help the Basque side climb to higher position, at least sealing a spot in Europe and probably win a better silverware such as Copa del Rey or UEFA Conference League in the future.
Another factor that could motivate him is the fact that he is on track to break the record of Bilbao’s legendary manager, Javier Clemente, who won La Liga for the club in 1983 and 1984. Valverde has a 140-game winning streak in Bilbao, one game behind Clemente. It may be difficult to expect him to replicate what the former Spanish coach in World Cup 1994 and EURO 1996 had accomplished there. However, winning another prestigious trophy could boost his standing in the club’s hall of fame.
Bilbao’s Promising Squad
Athletic Bilbao is regarded as a one-of-a-kind club in modern football. They continue to enforce the policy of only including Basque players in the squad. Despite relying solely on local talent, Bilbao is one of the few teams in history to have never been relegated to the Segunda Division.
In the past few seasons, Bilbao constantly stays in La Liga mid table. They even reached two Copa Del Rey finals under Mareclino’s tutelage. This signifies their squad’s potential to do better with Valverde in command.
Bilbao still have Spain’s number one in between the sticks, Unai Simon. Yeray Alvarez, as well as Oscar de Marcos and Mikel Balenziaga, are irreplaceable at the back four, while youngsters Dani Vivian and Alex Petxarroman have been excellent cover since last season alongside Unai Nuñez. In the midfield, they even have a number of promising young talents such as defensive midfielder Unai Vencedor, Nico Williams and Oier Zarraga to support the likes of Mikel Vesga, Dani Garcia and the versatile Alex Berenguer, Yuri Berchiche and Inigo Lukue plus the skipper Iker Muniain.
Up front, the 22-year old Oihan Sanchet had impressive form last season by registering six goals and four assists in 27 games, 16 of which as a starter. He and Asier Villalibre have been deemed to be the next forward to replace the veteran Raul Garcia. They even could be playing regularly along with the main striker Inaki Williams who could also play wide in a 4-3-3 formation. The 28-year old frontman has recently been lured by Ghana football federation to switch sides for World Cup 2022.