Ernesto Valverde began his second stint as Athletic Bilbao's coach on Friday, as the Basque club looks to move beyond two years of highs and lows under Argentine Marcelo Bielsa.
Valverde first coached Bilbao from 2003-05 and returns on a two-year contract after rejecting an offer to continue on at Valencia after it barely missed qualifying for the Champions League. "Coaching Bilbao is a very big responsibility for everything the club represents," Valverde said at his presentation. "It is the second time for me and I know the saying goes that (sequels) aren't good, except for 'The Godfather.'"
Valverde said he was motivated to accept the challenge of rebuilding the team after the exit of Spain internationals Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez during the past year. "This team has potential. It is true that it lost two very important players and it needs to be remade, but I see that as something positive."
The 49-year-old Valverde was hired after club president Josu Urrutia decided not to offer Bielsa a contract extension following last season's disappointing campaign. Bielsa installed a fast-paced attacking style that led Bilbao to the finals of the Europa League and the Copa del Rey in 2012, but his young squad's erratic play and poor defending caused it to struggle last season. While remaining popular with large sections of the fans and local media, Bielsa's demanding demeanor also appeared to wear on his players.
Valverde was hesitant to set any specific goals for the team other than "moving forward." "When I debuted (as coach) with Bilbao I gave myself the challenge of playing in Europe," he said. "Now, I would like the team to move up the standings (...) but I don't know, I would like to have a clearer idea. (Last season) the team was near the bottom of the table until the last two weeks."
Valverde said he was pleased with Bilbao's squad featuring attacking midfielders such as Iker Muniain, Ander Herrera, and Oscar de Marcos, but he was sure the club would try to bring in reinforcements.
Bilbao, which fields players only from the Basque Country or neighboring regions in northern Spain, will play in a new stadium next season after 100 years in the old San Mames. Valverde said the chance to be the first coach in the new stadium helped him make the decision to return.
"I will try to win the first game," he said. Valverde played for Bilbao, Barcelona, and Espanyol before coaching Olympiakos, Espanyol, Villarreal and most recently Valencia. As a coach, Valverde guided Espanyol to the final of the UEFA Cup in 2007 and won three Greek league titles and two Greeks Cups with Olympiakos.