Passion and programming: the fairy tale of SD Eibar

SD Eibar

Small, in terms of history and population. It is almost impossible to imagine them not only against Real Madrid or Barcelona, but even in front of Sevilla, Valencia or Atlético Madrid. Yet Sociedad Deportiva Eibar shows how organization and planning can overcome obstacles that seem impossible to overcome.

In that town of 27,000 inhabitants, they had to overcome several obstacles.

Distrust of such a tiny reality; the immediate financial difficulties after promotion from the Segunda División in 2014, with the club risking an immediate return to the third division due to the lack of a €2 million share capital. Still, the Defiende campaign at Eibar was an appetizer of what the last four years have been: Eibar can do it. Always and in any case. He has proven it in recent years, in which he has confirmed his status in La Liga despite a reduced budget and a stadium with just 7000 seats, the Ipurúa.
To understand the secrets of this reality, we wanted to talk about it with those who have dealt with it closely, namely Euan McTear, a journalist working for the English edition of Brand And above all, the man who wrote Eibar The Brave, a book that chronicles the club’s extraordinary promotion to La Liga in 2013-14. “Why did I deal with Eibar? I just thought it was an incredible story, one that would be interesting for readers – explains the Brit -. I think the most important part is the fans. The main group of supporters is Eskozia La Brava and they are always present, both home and away. They have always been there for the club, even when Eibar were in the fourth division.”.

Yes, because Eibar had sunk to the fourth division in the 80s and still played in the third in 2013. Yet there was a comeback, so much so that they achieved a double promotion between 2012 and 2014, bringing the club to La Liga for the first time. Not only that, because today Eibar gravitates towards the European zone and has improved its position every year. A surprising performance also for McTear, who continues to follow the team and explains the reason for this growth.

I didn’t expect the club to stay in La Liga for so long, but they keep getting better with each passing year.

“The more equal distribution of TV rights has certainly helped small clubs like Eibar get a fairer wage and can grow.” Television revenues have been key in helping the club (“Staying in La Liga has seen Eibar significantly increase its revenues thanks to television rights, while attendance at the stadium has risen significantly”), but it is not the only key to understanding the secrets of the Los Armeros, the gunsmiths, as the Basques are nicknamed for the thriving arms factories that for centuries have driven the economy of the area. The secret also lies in the dugout, because Eibar has been coached in La Liga by two faces who know the square well. On one side Gaizka Garitano, on the other José Luis Mendilibar.

Two different faces, but equally significant for this small reality. Garitano now coaches Athletic Club’s B team, the one he dreamed of playing for since he was a child, but he played five years for Eibar and was the first team he coached solo. While on the pitch, Mendilibar coached him in 2004-05, as the current Eibar coach had previous experience at Ipurúa. Mendilibar, however, has also managed to establish himself outside the Basque Country, doing very well especially in Valladolid. It is always McTear who explains the differences between these two Basques, so close and yet so far: “They are similar characters, having both had previous experiences with Eibar in their careers. But I would say that the main difference lies in Mendilibar’s experience: Garitano was a sort of rookie and made some mistakes, while Mendilibar is a veteran and has already seen quite a few.”.

And in fact, Eibar should have dropped back to the second division after the first year of La Liga under Garitano, but the official relegation of Elche allowed the club to keep their place in the first division.

The team has several interesting players, but there is one trait that particularly characterizes Mendilibar’s Eibar: “The most important trait of their game is their strength on the flanks. They have full-backs who attack well and fast wingers: this means they can always get to the back and put crosses into the box. That’s their main strength.”. Added to this is an excellent defensive phase, so much so that in the first half of the 2017-18 season Eibar was the second team with the fewest shots conceded in the Top 5 European leagues.

It’s Eibar’s fourth season in La Liga and it’s reasonable to think there’s a fifth, with or without Europe. One wonders what Eibar’s medium- to long-term goal might be: “Experience is important, but money is even more important. Every year they spend in La Liga they can get more revenue and that means strengthening every summer. There is a chance that Eibar can earn a place in next year’s Europa League, but realistically they will have to compete for the lower middle table in the coming seasons.”.

Cover photo, José Luis Mendilibar and Eibar-Real Madrid
Eibar ©fan photos Twitter/markelalonso