Athletic faithful elects ex-player Urrutia as new president

Former Lions midfielder's win in record vote heralds arrival of coach Marcelo Bielsa

Former Athletic player Josu Urrutia on Thursday became the 31st president of the Bilbao team after beating his opponent and head of the club for the past four years, Fernando García Macua, by 2,261 votes at the polls.

Urrutia received 54.36 percent of the ballot (a total of 12,057 votes) against the 44.17 percent won by García Macua (9,796), the fourth biggest gap in the last seven elections at the club.

The poll also recorded the highest-ever turnout in the history of Athletic's presidential elections - 64 percent - with 22,500 votes cast out of a possible 33,860, despite taking place in the middle of July and on a normal working day. The figures surpassed those of 2001 when Javier Uria won in a poll in which 17,860 voters participated.

"These elections are a new show of hope and engagement from the members," summed up Urrutia when he appeared before the press, now as club president.

"It has been newly demonstrated that Athletic is very much alive. It is a club that is very weak divided and very strong united; consequently, I am counting on all of you. It is not a moment for big speeches, but rather for continuing the work that we have been developing."

Urrutia's triumph means the replacement of Joaquín Caparrós with Argentinean Marcelo Bielso as the new coach of the club, as the now president had promised during his election campaign. It will be only the 55-year-old former Argentina and Chile national coach's second stint in European soccer following a turbulent six-game spell in charge of Espanyol in the 1998-1999 season. "That is true. I am not going to deny my résumé, but I also know that over the last 15 years I have developed a methodology for studying rivals and I've realized that everyone has their limit."

Former Xerez and Osasuna coach José Ángel "Cuco" Ziganda also arrives to take over the reserve team, while former Athletic coach José Mari Amorrortu returns to the club as sporting director. Another of Urrutia's first hirings is former Athletic defender Aitor Larrazabal, who will act as coordinator of improvement processes.

Urrutia proposes to put Athletic's own "philosophy and values" ahead of everything else "without reservation." He also wants to improve the team's Lezama training ground and football in Bizkaia, actively participating in the development of the new San Mamés stadium and establishing "a truly bilingual reality" at the club.

Athletic fans swarmed around the club's headquarters at the Ibaigane Palace throughout election day, crowding in nearby bars and terraces to discuss the elections and argue over each candidacy's possibilities. The day had started off on a bad foot with accusations from the Urrutia camp against Macua for having handed in envelopes supposedly containing votes for him that were actually included in the list for Macua.

"It wasn't just one or two or three," Urrutia pointed out as he cast his vote. "Several members passed it on to me and that is serious. [...] You have to leave the [members] alone and not pester them because they are intelligent."

New Athletic president Josu Urrutia at the club's headquarters on Thursday.
New Athletic president Josu Urrutia at the club's headquarters on Thursday.TXETXU BERRUEZO
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