SD Eibar shouldn’t be in LaLiga.
If we move the town’s tiny 27,000 population and their tiny ~8,000 capacity Ipurua stadium to one side for a second, there are other reasons why they shouldn’t be competing against Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain’s top tier.
For most of the 21st century so far, Eibar were where they probably should be, yo-yoing between the Segunda División and Segunda División B. That was until the 2013/14 season where they achieved promotion to LaLiga, winning the Segunda, after having been promoted from Segunda B just the season prior. Never mind how they compared to their future LaLiga opponents, they managed to win the Segunda with the smallest budget in that league too.
So they were heading to LaLiga with a tiny stadium and not much money, but as it turned out due to an absurd piece of Spanish law, they needed more money and fast. In order to prevent relegation back to Segunda B they were required to raise €1,724,272.95, quadruple their capital at the time. This was despite the club being awarded for their Modelo Eibar, recognising superb financial management as one of the few Spanish teams not to be in any debt whatsoever.
Once the socios had had the chance to buy the first round of shares available, after which the club was 28% of the way to their overall social capital goal, the #DefiendeAlEibar marketing campaign began. This second round was available for anyone around the globe to purchase shares in the club and once their promotion to LaLiga was officially confirmed on the pitch, that’s when the sale of shares started snowballing from over 50 countries. It wasn’t Jota’s goal in their 1-0 win against Alaves that officially sealed promotion though, it was the club’s oldest socio, Luis María Cendoya, symbolically purchasing the last share required that confirmed their promotion to LaLiga.
They took the first half of that 2014/15 LaLiga season by storm and sat in the top half come the halfway point. The loss of rock at the back, Raúl Albentosa, to Derby County in January took the heart away from a defence which had stood so firm in that rise up the table in the first half of the season. They struggled to cope and slid down the table, eventually finishing in 18th place, the last relegation spot.
However, while financial issues were almost their downfall a year earlier, luck was on Eibar’s side this time. Elche had finished 13th in the table but due to an unpaid tax bill were relegated to the Segunda and Eibar were miraculously saved from relegation.
Eibar were in the right place at the right time as luck and money came into play once again in the 2015/16 season. LaLiga changed the way they sold their TV rights and the distribution of the money from those rights became much fairer, following a similar model to the English Premier League. Spain’s big clubs could no longer negotiate their own TV deals that were leaving the country’s smaller clubs behind. The Modelo Eibar coupled with this change has seen the club comfortably maintain their top tier status since that lucky season, finishing as high as 9th in the 2017/18 season.
The Basque Country isn’t all about Athletic Club and their cantera approach. Bilbao may be the most populous city in the region and Athletic’s San Mamés may be a footballing cathedral where 53,000 Basques, who’ve been educated on the ways of the club and the region, go to worship, but the Basque characteristics stretch across its seven historical regions.
Basque clubs make up 25% of the 2019/20 LaLiga. Eibar are now muscling in on the traditional rivalries between Athletic, Real Sociedad, Alavés and Osasuna. While those rivalries exist, the atmosphere is friendlier, almost party-like, in nature rather than hatred. They’re celebrations of their shared heritage. The four Spanish Basque regions plus the three French Basque regions all come together to make one Euskal Herria.
Politics is not my favourite topic of conversation, but it’s prevalent here to mention the historic attitudes of the Basques, and many other regions of Spain, towards Madrid and General Franco’s regime. To me, it looks as though being the underdog is a character trait of the Basque people, and that filters down even further to the people of Eibar and its football club. We’ll need to punch well above our weight if we’re to achieve anything at the club.
Eskozia La Brava
There’s always a link to Scotland. Aside from the relationship between those fighting for Basque and Scottish independence (politics…), there’s a very strong direct connection between Eibar and Scotland.
Eskozia La Brava, Scotland the Brave, are Eibar’s principal fan group. It was alcohol, naturally, that led Eibar fans to seek a closer link to Scotland. La Bombonera, Eibar’s previous main fan group, looked at where their whisky bottles originated from and from watching the Rugby Five/Six Nations on television saw how passionately Scottish sports fans turned out to support their teams win, lose or draw. They decided to adopt this same mentality and since the early 2000s it’s been Eskozia La Brava who have taken up this responsibility. The group has attended matches all over Scotland over the years and Celtic were invited to play in the clubs 75th anniversary match in 2015 at Ipurua.
Tartan, Saltires, Lion Rampants, See You Jimmy hats and Scottish national team and club shirts are regular features across Ipurua and opposition stadiums when Eskozia La Brava are in town. Away supports are virtually non-existent in Spain, but when Eibar play away there are usually a few, but crazy fans in attendance.
I’ll be looking to bring in some Scottish staff and players to keep this connection with the fanbase going.
Modelo Eibar eta La Furia
As I said earlier, the Modelo Eibar is the approach to financial management at the club which has been widely acknowledged as one of the best in the country. I’ll be looking to continue this excellent work in-game. I’m going to be judged on it too as the expectation is that I work within the wage budget set out by the board. Even with the tweaks to the way the TV revenue is distributed there is still a huge gulf between the global behemoths in LaLiga and the rest of the league. Despite the loyal core of Eskozia La Brava members, the club still doesn’t sell out Ipurua regularly meaning that the financial gulf remains, even to the clubs in mid-table on the LaLiga turnover table.
I’ll be expanding the model beyond just our finances too as the board also expect us to sign players under the age of 23 for the first team. Looking at the current first team squad, I’m deeming this essential while the board are only favouring it. My signing policy normally naturally leans towards this anyway but our average age of 29 is currently the highest in LaLiga. An injection of youth is required.
That injection of youth might help when it comes to La Furia. “The rage” was a style of play synonymous with Athletic and Spain, influenced by the British game. It was direct and aggressively in-your-face. Even into the 1990s the Spanish national team still played along these lines with former Athletic man, Javier Clemente, in charge. I’m not saying I’ll be thumping long balls up to a targetman throughout the save, but I’ll be looking to continue José Luis Mendilibar’s high pressing game, getting into the faces of our opponents. This requires a certain profile of player, of which I’ll be incorporating some aspects around La Furia into when I’m identifying new signings.
- I’m managing SD Eibar on FM20.
- We’ve got the smallest stadium in the league and will massively struggle to compete financially against the rest of LaLiga.
- There’s going to be a Scottish flavour, of course.
- Good financial management is high on the agenda to continue the Modelo Eibar.
- As is a player identification approach around La Furia.
As soon as I discovered Eskozia La Brava and their links to Scotland, I knew Eibar would be the next club I manage on the game. Thankfully Euan McTear wrote an excellent book, Eibar the Brave, on their first season of struggle in LaLiga which detailed many other aspects of the club too. Big thanks to Euan as well for answering a few more questions I had around the club and the league. I really appreciate Andrew Miller from LaLiga Lowdown helping to confirm a few points too. Oh and the Basque/Athletic Club chapter of that book I always talk about obviously had a big influence on my decision too.