When Athletic Bilbao promoted Gaizka Garitano to first team manager, from a role with the club’s reserve side, his brief was clear – avoid an embarrassing La Liga relegation.
Sacking managers has been a common theme at the Basque side, since Ernesto Valverde left the club for Barcelona in 2017,with Garitano the third coach to take the reins at San Mames in just 18 months.
He has replaced Eduardo Berizzo, and follows in the footsteps of Berizzo’s predecessor Cuco Ziganda, who was plucked from reserve team management at the club.
They endured a 2017-18 miserable season under Ziganda, finishing 16th in La Liga and only just avoiding the drop due to the poor form of the sides around them.
That brush with the Segunda Division was too close a call for the club, and Ziganda was fired – enter Berizzo.
His first six months at the club were disastrous, with just one win in 14 La Liga games from the start of the season, and with supporter tensions growing as they slipped into the relegation zone, they have now turned to Garitano.
His record in similar situations did not exactly breed confidence in supporters, having overseen relegation at Eibar (although they were later reinstated) and being sacked for poor performances with Real Valladolid and Deportivo.
However any lingering doubts have been banished after a fine turnaround since early December, with just one defeat in 11 La Liga games, since his arrival.
They have battled out of the relegation zone and up into 11th place in the table, and the signs look promising that they can continue their momentum until the end of the season.
Progress was slow initially, with just two goals in their first three league games under the Bilbao native – but those two Aritz Aduriz penalties secured five valuable points and a platform to build on.
However he big story has been the explosion of Inaki Williams, after the 24 year-old had laboured under Berizzo earlier in the season.
Since Garitano’s arrival he has netted five goals in nine starts and is beginning to show the type of consistent performances that will go a long way to fulfilling his potential, before it’s too late for the Spanish international.
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