The last couple of years have been a bumpy ride for Basque Country side SD Eibar and their loyal band of supporters.
But with a mixture of hard work, creativity, good management and a little slice of luck here and there, the tiny club from the north of Spain have come through it all, and now sit proudly in the upper reaches of La Liga, in just their second ever season in the Spanish top flight.
The rocky road to success
Under the guidance of young coach Gaizka Garitano, the Basque Country minnows achieved promotion to La Liga back In May 2014. But despite being one of a handful of debt-free clubs in the second tier, Eibar could not afford the €1.7m administration fee required to convert the club to SAD status (a La Liga requirement).
Most of the club’s revenue was ploughed into wages for player purchases and loans. As a result, they were running the second-highest wage-to-turnover ratio in the league and were unable to meet the financial demands thrust upon them by the leagues authorities.
The rules were originally introduced to prevent La Liga clubs running up huge debts and going into administration.
As a well-run club with no debt, Eibar believed that they should have been exempt from such demands, but the LFP insisted that the rules should apply to every club – with the exceptions of those with historical exemptions due to their cooperative status, such as Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid, Osasuna and Barcelona.
To raise the required sum by the August 6 deadline, the club launched a successful online share campaign that increased their membership from a couple of thousand locals to over 10,000 fans worldwide.
Their reward for raising the cash was a place in La Liga and a €16m share of the revenue.
From relegation to reinstatement
Having reached the top flight of Spanish football for the first time in their history, Eibar inevitably found themselves fighting for survival. However, they managed to win nine games and looked set to retain their top-flight status until an incredible run from Granada in the last four games edged Garitano‘s men into the relegation places. The club was heading back to the Segunda Division and the Coach left his role despite receiving the backing of his owner.
In a remarkable twist, Eibar were reinstated to La Liga when Elche CF were demoted to the second tier for financial irregularities. However, they needed a new Coach and turned to a former boss José Luis Mendilibar.
The Basque-born coach has had plenty of experience of working with teams on very tight budgets having held posts at Osasuna, Lanzarote and Real Valladolid. He even led Eibar to fourth-place finish in the Segunda Division back during his first spell in charge back in 2005 but narrowly missed out on promotion.
The second Mendilibar era
In his first 12 games back at the club, Mendilibar led his talented team of players to five wins, five draws and just two defeats. With such a record, Eibar fans could be forgiven for thinking that a European qualification place is not out of the question.
For the coach, the priority will be gaining enough points for survival and consolidating their position as a top-flight club.
The secret to their success
Eibar got promoted to La Liga by being very shrewd in the transfer and loan market. They have continued that trend in the top flight and assembled a team of real quality through free transfer and clever loans deals. A perfect example this season was the loan-signing of Borja Baston from Atletico Madrid.
The 22-year-old striker spent last season on loan at Real Zaragoza where he bagged 23 goals in 39 appearances prompting interest from many clubs around Europe. However, Atleti were reluctant to sell one of their hottest prospects and a loan deal with Eibar was struck.
The loan star has already netted six time in an Eibar shirt this term
Written by Neil Morris
Follow Neil on Twitter @nmorris01
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