How have tiny Eibar managed to scale the mountain top of Spanish football?

Team 33 speak to 'Eibar The Brave' author Euan McTear about a small club performing well in La Liga

BY Raf Diallo 16:09 Wednesday 23 November 2016, 16:09 23 Nov 2016

General view of Ipurua stadium before the match between Real Madrid and SD Eibar, during their La Liga soccer match, at Ipurua stadium in Eibar, northern Spain, Saturday Nov. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Unless Swansea City manage to turn their form around significantly, the Welsh club face relegation from the Premier League.

Yet despite having one of the smaller budgets in the TV money-infused English top flight, they can still attract the star players from their La Liga equivalents.

During the summer, the Swans signed Borja Baston for €18 million after the ex-Atletico Madrid and Deportivo de la Coruña forward plundered 18 La Liga goals on loan at Basque minnows Eibar in 2015-16.

He hasn't hit the ground running since moving to Wales but his former loan club continue to punch well above their weight in the upper echelons of Spanish football.

You can listen to the full interview on the podcast player or stream for free on iTunes:

Tiny SD Eibar, from a town of 27,000 from the scenic Basque province of Gipuzkoa, had been accustomed to life in the second and third tiers, literally in the shadow of regional giants Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad.

But in 2013-14, they achieved promotion to La Liga automatically on the pitch. However, there was a catch which threatened that deserved ascension to the top level.

"The problem was they just didn't have enough social capital because they were so small. There was this absurd law put in for good intentions to try and make sure that clubs that came up were financially stable enough to survive a season of first division football. But based on that law Eibar, wouldn't have qualified," Euan McTear, author of Eibar The Brave, told Newstalk's Team 33 on this week's show.

It was the all more galling given how well run and debt free Eibar have been financially.

"So they had to raise their social capital which they did through a crowd-funding campaign and a result they have shareholders in just about every country in Europe and something like 66 overall across the globe," said Euan.

Ironically, their survival in La Liga in the 2014-15 season occurred because Elche, who had finished 13th, were demoted due to financial problems.

SD Eibar's fans cheer the match during their La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and SD Eibar, at Ipurua stadium in Eibar, northern Spain, Saturday Nov. 22, 2014. Real Madrid won 4-0. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Eibar had finished 18th in the final relegation place but because a side further above had been sent down to the Segunda Division, the Basque club got a reprieve and remained in La Liga for the 2015-16 season when they managed a mid-table finish. They also expanded the small Ipurua stadium from 5,000 seats to about 6,200.

This campaign has seen them sit in an excellent 8th place, just four points off the Champions League spots and ahead of traditional big clubs like Valencia, Espanyol, Real Betis and Deportivo among others.

That's despite losing the aforementioned top scorer from last season, Borja, and having a small transfer budget.

And Euan credits one figure as being key to how Eibar have got as far as they have.

"With each season you realise what a good job the sporting director Fran Garagarza is doing. Because after one season in the top division they lost a lot of their players and they had to bring in 14 new arrivals in the summer. And they were just as good, if not better, in the second season. And now they've brought in even more players in the summer and again they're doing even better. So the turnaround in players every year is very high because players who have had a good season move on to bigger clubs and the ones that haven't are being let go. They're not keeping players around just out of loyalty because they can't really afford to do that," Euan explains, adding that there is a "magic touch" from the sporting director in consistently finding better players than the ones that left.

In the past, more out of necessity than anything else, they focused on local Basque talent (for example earlier in the 2000s, World Cup winners Xabi Alonso and David Silva were on loan there) but now have cheap senior players from beyond the borders of the Basque region.

"Wherever they see value in a player, they're going to go out and try and buy them. So their youth setup is still largely Basque but that's just because they have a very local team and can't afford to scout the rest of Spain," Euan adds.


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