Ernesto Valverde began his third spell in charge of Athletic Club Bilbao when the club returned to pre-season training on Monday with the task of qualifying for Europe for the first time since he left in 2017.
Valverde returns after leading FC Barcelona to two league titles in 2018 and 2019 and the 2018 Copa del Rey but was sacked after Barca (who were top of La Liga at the time) lost to Atletico Madrid in the semifinal of the Spanish Supercup in January 2020, and has not worked since.
The 58-year-old former player agreed to return to Athletic if either Jon Uriarte or Ricardo Barkala won the recent vote for the club presidency on March 24 and has signed a one-year contract after Uriarte’s decisive win at the poll of club members.
He replaces Marcelino Garcia Toral, who just missed out on leading Athletic to a place in Europe last season with an eighth-place finish and who then ended his 18-month tenure as his contract expired at the end of June.
Valverde will be reunited with several players from his previous four-year spell in which he led the club to a place in Europe every season. Iker Muniain, Oscar de Marcos, Mikel Balenziaga, Inaki Williams, Raul Garcia and Mikel Vesga are all survivors from his last first-team squad, reports Xinhua.
Athletic on Sunday confirmed that striker Gorka Guruzeta had returned to the club on a two-year contract after impressing in the Liga SmartBank (second division) by scoring 13 goals for relegated Amorebieta, while three B-team players, Luis Bilbao, Malcolm and Benat Gerenobarrena will take part in pre-season training with the first team and defender Imanol Garcia de Albeniz will also get his chance after an impressive loan spell with second division Mirandes.
Inigo Vicente, who also spent last season at Mirandes, and Inigo Cordoba, who was loaned to the Dutch side, Go Ahead Eagles, have both been told they can look for a new club as they don’t enter into Valverde’s plans for the coming season as he looks to trim the squad down to 24 or 25 players.
The Basque side kicks off the 2022-23 campaign with home games against Mallorca and Valencia with Europe their main aim for the season.