Coach Ernesto Valverde made Athletic Club history on Sunday, taking charge of his 290th game in all competitions to eclipse Javier Clemente’s club managerial record.
The trip to former team Valencia did not produce the desired result, Athletic losing 2-0 at Mestalla, yet Valverde’s achievements with the Bilbao side – where he also spent the bulk of his playing career – cannot be questioned.
“It’s an important achievement that makes me proud. This is a high-risk profession so to have taken charge of so many matches means a lot,” said the 53-year-old, capped once by Spain as a striker.
“I just try to repay as best as I can the faith put in me. I’ll try to keep getting more and more victories so people can be pleased with my work and above all with the team.”
Valverde first took the Rojiblancos reins in 2003, overseeing 93 fixtures and leading the Basque outfit into Europe with a fifth-placed Liga finish in 2003/04.
He sought a new adventure in 2005 and, after a short break, joined Espanyol whom he subsequently guided to the 2007 UEFA Cup final. Valverde had also played for the Periquitos when they lost that competition’s 1988 final. The coach then went to Olympiacos, winning three Greek championships and two domestic cups in three seasons that sandwiched a solitary campaign at Villarreal.
Following a short spell with Valencia, Valverde returned to his spiritual home of Athletic in summer 2013, succeeding Marcelo Bielsa just as the Leones were preparing to move into their magnificent Nuevo San Mamés stadium.
At his introductory press conference, Valverde jokingly lowered expectations about his second tenure, remarking: “Sequels are never any good.” He threw in one caveat, though: “Well, the Godfather II was quite good.”
With Francis Ford Coppola as inspiration, Valverde quickly outdid the achievements of his first stint by sealing fourth spot in the 2013/14 Liga and returning the team to the UEFA Champions League after a 16-year absence.
Things got even better the next year as Athletic reached the Copa del Rey final. Although they were beaten by Barcelona they exacted revenge in the Spanish Super Cup in August 2015, defeating Barça 5-1 on aggregate to land their first trophy in 31 years.
With a spring in their step from that triumph, Athletic came fifth in Valverde’s third season and progressed to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals, succumbing on penalties to eventual champions Sevilla.
There are now high hopes for the remainder of this campaign as Athletic target another top-six finish and look to go as far as they can in the UEFA Europa League. On Thursday they travel to APOELwith a 3-2 first-leg lead in their round of 32 tie.