Published on February 16th, 2018 | by Paco Polit0
David against Goliath as Eibar take on Barcelona to reopen title race
Eibar, a club with a budget 36 times smaller than Barcelona has the chance to stop a giant in its tracks and reopen the title race
A few days ago, a survey performed on LaLiga’s twenty teams revealed just how much money they have all sunk into their current rosters. Figures soar when you look at the $906 million invested by Barcelona (those Coutinho and Dembelé lads aren’t cheap!) or the $621 million splurged by Real Madrid throughout the years.
In comparison, little Eibar’s current squad was bought for around $17 million. And yet, they sit in seventh place, only one point away from the European spots and seven points away from Los Blancos, with a budget 36 times bigger.
Not bad for such a modest club, right?
After their shocking promotion to LaLiga in 2014, nobody could have expected such a small town (slightly over 27,000 inhabitants) to consistently perform in such a solid way. Without spectacular players or a big, old bag of cash to strengthen their team, only hard work, smart decision-making and a bit of luck in summer 2015 (when Elche CF was relegated due to economic problems) allowed Eibar to remain a top-tier club for three seasons in a row.
However, the Basque side haven gotten themselves too comfortable in their shoes. The ‘Armero’ Board is full of busy bees, and they have steadily built on the foundations of a serious, no-nonsense, very balanced management style which is leading their way to success. Journalist and writer Euan McTear, author of the book ‘Eibar The Brave’, has followed this evolution closely and isn’t surprised about the current trend of results.
“Eibar have been battling at the top half-of-the-table for the previous two seasons as well, and they have the same coach, Jose Luis Mendilíbar, and many of the same players as they did back then”, he recalls. “Of course, the small size of the club makes it a bit of a shock. But they have signed a lot of quality players and are sufficiently talented to compete for a Europa League place”, he adds.
Achieving such a feat would be amazing indeed, one of the biggest stories of the year in Spanish football. But, in order to get there, many challenges lie ahead. The most immediate one: Barcelona, managed by an old friend of Eibar’s coach. Ernesto Valverde and Mendilíbar’s friendship comes a long way, since both of them played for Sestao in the 1985/86 season under well-known Basque manager ‘Jabo’ Irureta.
— SD Eibar (@SDEibar) February 15, 2018
“Ernesto is a good friend and a great manager. He deserves to be with Barcelona, it didn’t happen by chance”. Mendilíbar has shown high praise for his colleague, although he isn’t ready to bend the knee just yet and this weekend his team will try to pull off its biggest stunt this season at rowdy Mendizorroza, which the side has turned into a stronghold this season.
One of the reasons for such an impressive performance this year lies on the (very) smart moves in both the summer and winter transfer markets. Scoring big names such as Fabian Orellana from Valencia has had an immediate impact on the team, a collective effort where nobody stands out and everyone works hard.
“I don’t think Eibar rely on one player, as they can play well no matter who is injured, suspended or dropped”, says McTear, “but I do think the wingers are very important to Eibar, as they love to cross the ball into the box. So the performances of Takashi Inui, Ivan Alejo, Fabian Orellana and the full-backs have been crucial.
Mendilíbar and his team of warriors will face their biggest challenge this weekend but, at the same time, won’t keep their eyes away from the real price, the one that offers stability and allow them to thrive: securing another season in LaLiga. The coach has stated it many times: until the 40-point mark is crossed and a hypothetical relegation is mathematically avoided, he won’t start talking with the Board about an extension of his contract.
Eibar might be bound for a historical European spot at the end of the season, but they won’t let such a tasty treat distract them from ‘doing their homework’ as soon as they can.