Fran Garagarza says financial management is central to Eibar at all levels.

“OK,” Fran Garagarza says, “what have we got?” Quite a lot, as it turns out. Tuesday evening in Eibar and five men sit around a table in a smart new meeting room overlooking the pitch at Ipurúa, where heat lamps light up the gloom. A sixth joins on a screen. One by one, Mikel Martija, Arkaitz Lakanbra, Eneko Romo and Fran Rico run through the players they have been watching this week, a small sample of the 19,000 in the system. Conversation starts: a catalogue of qualities – “striker, very much our style” – and classification. Red, amber and green: stop watching, keep watching, move to the next phase.

Every now and then, Garagarza asks for some extra detail: a spelling, an age, an agent. As they go round, Unai Ezkurra enters everything into the system. Garagarza used to travel around in a van, delivering packages for a courier; now he travels to watch matches for a club – or did before the pandemic, remote tracking taking over since. He has been at Eibar for 16 years, as under-19 coach, assistant manager and academy director. For the past decade, he has been sporting director, overseeing one of the greatest success in Spanish football, a model of debt-free, sustainable overachievement.

On Tuesday night, Eibar travel to the Camp Nou to play Barcelona. Back then, they travelled to Guijuelo, La Muela and Lemona. When they went to bigger clubs – Athletic, Real Sociedad, Osasuna – it was to face their B teams. Eibar were in the semi-professional Segunda B, one of 80 teams spread across four regionalised groups.

From a town of 27,378 wedged into the Ego valley, blocks of flats towering over the main stand, they had never played in the first division and never expected to either. Not even in 2014, when they got there: their unexpected promotion was almost blocked because they were too small. They haven’t left since. This is Eibar’s seventh season in primera, each a little miracle.

“I never imagined this,” says Garagarza, but the club with a ground that holds 8,000 and didn’t fill even pre-pandemic, traditionally a by-word for humble, tough football on muddy pitches, belongs in the elite now.

If budgets have grown and facilities have changed, the ground impeccable and overhauled, the ideals have not and the limitations remain. As watching briefs are assigned in this meeting, none of the games are from the Premier League, Serie A or the Bundesliga and only one is from Spain’s first division. That’s Eibar’s division but, Garagarza says: “It’s not our market.”

He outlines the process from scout to technical secretary to sporting director to coach. This is not a place players dream of, not a club that seduces with salaries. Even at youth level, they cannot compete with those surrounding them. They must invent imaginative solutions, contribute to the club’s development off the field too. “Financial management is central to our focus at all levels,” he says. “The idea has always been: ‘If I have five, I spend four’.”

“Last year for example we sold well – Joan Jordán [to Sevilla for €12m], Rubén Peña [to Villarreal for €8m] – but we never spend everything we make. It’s not just fees, it’s salaries too and other players always find out. Balancing that, managing renewals and increases, is one of the hardest tasks. Money isn’t everything, but if you can’t get close on salaries, forget it: players won’t come. Continue reading

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