Around 35,000 eligible Athletic Bilbao club members will head to the polls on Thursday to choose a new president, who will become the 10th elected chief executive of the all-Basque team since Jesús María Duñabeitia introduced the electoral system in 1977.
Duñabeitia took charge of Athletic unopposed in the inaugural ballot held that year - as did Pedro Aurtenetxe on his re-election for a second four-year stint in 1986 - a luxury that will not be afforded the two candidates on this occasion. Instead, the person who triumphs will be whoever has won over the red-and-white faithful during energetic campaigning in recent weeks.
If the results of a poll carried out on behalf of Basque daily El Correo on Monday are reflected in the vote, that man will be former Athletic midfielder Josu Urrutia, whose primary electioneering gambit has been to promise the installation of Marcelo Bielsa as coach for the upcoming season.
The survey revealed a lead of almost 10 points for Urrutia over the incumbent president Fernando García Macua, with 22 percent of those quizzed still unsure of their choice. Macua, who has been in the post since 2007, has promised to keep faith with current coach Joaquín Caparrós, who has been in charge of the team for four years during which Athletic reached the King's Cup final in 2009 and last year qualified for the Europa League with a sixth-placed finish.
"Athletic has a bright future," said Javier Irureta, who will continue in charge of the Lezema training center should Macua win and backed Caparrós' position. "Almost all my life I have been a professional coach and whenever I have met my targets I have continued in the job. It is a natural path and Caparrós has more than earned that right."
On the subject of Bielsa, a cerebral tactical maverick who is also known as "El Loco," Macua made it clear that continuity is at the forefront of his thinking and that Caparrós was a safer bet as someone "who already knows the club and not someone who doesn't know our team or European soocer, nor even our city." In fact, Bielsa was in charge of Espanyol for a short period in 1998 before leaving to take up an offer to coach Argentina.
Urrutia has claimed that Bielsa "would fit Athletic like a glove." If Urrutia wins the vote and Bielsa signs on - he has already confidently turned down offers from Inter Milan, Sevilla, Real Sociedad, the USA national side and US club Chivas - he would become the first Argentinean to coach Athletic in its 113-year history.
Bielsa's most recent job was as coach of Chile, which he guided out of the group stage at the 2010 World Cup while recording its first tournament finals match win since 1968. He did so largely with a base of young talent and an offensive attacking formation; the former he would certainly inherit at Bilbao, with several of its players involved in Spain's successful European under-21 campaign.
Whatever the outcome of the vote, it appears unlikely there will be bad blood between the runners. Urrutia refused to be drawn by Macua publishing a list of youth team players to be promoted to the first team on Tuesday and issued a call for unity, whether he and his team win or lose.
"Our only strategy is to be ourselves, to show ourselves as we are," he said. "There will be things we didn't do well and we will try to improve. But we will continue to be close to the members and more than convincing them, we hope that they will freely decide which is the better option for Athletic. [After the vote] we must concentrate on ensuring Athletic moves in one sole direction, with everybody united."