The little La Liga team that keeps raising the Eibar

peeeko Roar Guru

By peeeko, peeeko is a Roar Guru

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    Back in July 2014, I wrote an article for The Roar about the remarkable rise of small town SD Eibar into the top league of Spanish football.

    The article tells the story of how a town with a population of 27,000 (less than a third of the size of the stadiums that house Real Madrid or Barcelona) encountered off-field issues once they qualified.

    Spanish football regulations required a larger capital base and due to the laws of the community-minded club, where no one can own more than 2 per cent, a global crowdfunding search ensued.

    By completion time, people from 67 nations contributed to ensure Eibar’s position in La Liga.

    These events saw the club attain a form of cult status with supporter groups starting around the globe, including the recently formed Eibaroos here in Australia.

    The unexpected rise has been recently detailed in “Eibar the Brave – The Extraordinary Rise of La Liga’s Smallest Team” written by Euan McTear.

    Most pundits predicted an inevitable quick demotion. They were proved correct, albeit briefly, with Eibar finishing their first season in 18th position after showing early promise.

    However, Eibar were given a reprieve, in the form of mismanagement by 13th-placed Elche.

    Over the last decade, several Spanish teams have been relegated to the lower divisions due to financial mismanagement as clubs take on too much debt in order to compete. Elche became the latest victim and thus Eibar was able to stay up instead.

    From this moment, Eibar has thrived and consolidated their unlikely position in La Liga.

    A lack of resources, including a stadium with capacity of 7,200 (up from 5,200 at the time of promotion) has made the club’s management extremely prudent with their purse strings and squad selection.

    Additionally, the club’s junior academy doesn’t possess the resources to recruit anyone outside of the local Basque region. Even within the Basque region, the club is dwarfed by Athletico Bilbao and Real Sociedad.

    According to Transfermarkt.com, the current Eibar squad has a value of 50 million euro, which is less than 10 per cent of Real Madrid. There are five players at Real Madrid individually with higher market values than the entire Eibar squad of 25.

    As a comparison, the great underdogs of last year’s Premier League, Leicester City, is valued at around half of Manchester City and Chelsea.

    The sporting director and managers at Eibar have been able to find value in players not wanted by other teams. Despite the squad having a turnover of 28 players over the last two years, Eibar has refuelled their roster with cheap but effective players.

    Savvy recruiting of players from relegated clubs such as Getafe’s Pedro Leon has assisted immensely.

    Roughly half the squad are on loan from other clubs, or on free transfers. In its second season, Eibar was able to improve to 14th position, largely due to 18 goals scored by Atletico Madrid loan player, Borja González.

    González has since been transferred to the English Championship for a fee of 18 million Euros. Players who thrive at Eibar move on to big money elsewhere, and non-performers are let go. For instance, Raul Albentosa, Eibar’s defensive rock moved to Derby County for a 12-fold salary increase.

    It is a credit to the management that Eibar is able to spot value and keep recharging a squad while improving to eighth position this season with only 12 games to go. Eibar has never paid a transfer fee of more than 3 million Euros.

    The financial stability of Eibar, which holds no debt and a reputation for paying salaries on time, also attracts players to the club for slightly less than they could receive elsewhere.

    Just as Moneyball allowed Oakland to compete with the Yankees, Eibar has shown that talent identification and living within one’s means can propel the smallest club to within sights of competing in The Europa League next year.

    A new TV deal that spreads the broadcast dollars more evenly may see even a team of this diminutive size survive a few more years in La Liga.

    If so, a problem of stadium size will emerge. League rules stipulate for stadium capacity to be a minimum of 15,000. Eibar plans to use its success to expand its stadium to 9,000 by 2019, which is all that the current stadium can be reconfigured to fit, given its cosy downtown location. But that’s a problem for another day.

    In a league highly dominated by global powerhouses, Eibar has surprisingly held its place for longer than anyone predicted. In an age where football clubs are the domain of competing billionaires, Eibar is a refreshing sign that the little guy can still compete and prosper.

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    The Crowd Says (26)

    • March 10th 2017 @ 2:53am
      jeff dustby said | March 10th 2017 @ 2:53am | ! Report

      good to see teams without billionaires can still particpate

    • March 10th 2017 @ 3:16am
      Matt Jones said | March 10th 2017 @ 3:16am | ! Report

      interesting about the La liga Tv deal changing to be more equitable. Hopefully it creates a deeper league like the EPL did when it spread the love more

    • Roar Guru

      March 10th 2017 @ 5:52am
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 10th 2017 @ 5:52am | ! Report

      Nice article, peeeko. Eibar are a shining example as to the value of good governance, though they no doubt benefit from the profligate nature of many of their immediate competitors.

    • March 10th 2017 @ 7:24am
      Franko said | March 10th 2017 @ 7:24am | ! Report

      This is what Gombau was trying to sell Adelaide United, without unlimited funds (like Chelsea, PSG etc) mercenaries will only get you so far.

      When you have players from your region (in this case Basque) they can be inspired to perform greater than their abilities, Eibar and Bilbao both cracking examples in their own way.

      As a side note, perhaps the ideal club for Tommy Oar if and when he moves on.

      • March 10th 2017 @ 8:13am
        peeeko said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:13am | ! Report

        over the last couple of years they have needed to get a lot of non basque players. i think Basque pride was instrumental in getting them into the league

        • March 10th 2017 @ 9:36am
          Mark said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

          Athletic Bilbao is the only one of the Basque clubs that still holds the ‘Basques only’, and even there it is somewhat flexible in terms of family ties and people who grow up in the region. Ethnically Basque people from outside of Spain are accepted, as well as non-ethnically Basque people who grow up in the region (ie. Inaki Williams).

          The other prominent Basque teams gave up on the policy some time ago, although they do still demonstrate clear preference for players from the region.

    • Columnist

      March 10th 2017 @ 8:02am
      Stuart Thomas said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      It is a great story. To write about them exemplifies the whole point. They aren’t a headlining club, yet they deserve this article and headline. Well done Peeko. Not a popularist topic but better than most stories about big European clubs throwing wads of money at players and claiming to have built a team.

      • March 10th 2017 @ 8:12am
        peeeko said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:12am | ! Report

        thanks Stuart

    • March 10th 2017 @ 8:16am
      Franko said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      Should also point out that while Eibar itself is only 25,000 people the district that it is in (Gipuzkoa) is actually smaller than the ACT and has a population of around 715,000.

      • Roar Guru

        March 10th 2017 @ 8:53am
        peeeko said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:53am | ! Report

        good point, Real Sociedad is the biggest club in the region and play out of San Sebastian in a stadium that is almost a replica of the SFS

        • March 10th 2017 @ 9:30am
          Mark said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

          You mean the SFS with an athletics track separating the pitch and the stands.

        • March 10th 2017 @ 9:34am
          Franko said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:34am | ! Report

          Athletic Bilbao???????

          • March 10th 2017 @ 9:38am
            Mark said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:38am | ! Report

            I suspect Sociedad and Bilbao fans would argue the toss over that one forever if you gave them the opportunity.

            No doubt in recent times Bilbao has been the more successful and have built a shiny new stadium to replace the old San Mames. Sociedad have been through some hard times, going down to the Segunda. They’re coming back, though. May even qualify for the Champions League this season.

            • Roar Guru

              March 10th 2017 @ 9:47am
              peeeko said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

              Bilbao is in the next province of Biscay not Gipuzkoa. in saying that Eibar is right on the border

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