From a cash-strapped no-hoper to a La Liga high-flyer: The remarkable rise of SD Eibar

In a footballing world dominated by money, only the clubs that heavily invest in their team have the best chance of hitting their targets. One La Liga side however, are showing that it’s not about how much money you have, but how you use it.

Looking at the high rise apartments towering over the main stand, you’d be forgiven for thinking this a team that are anywhere near the top of the Spanish football pyramid. But you’d be wrong. Instead this 8,000 seater stadium is home to a top 10 Spanish side, and one of the best run and growing clubs in Europe.

Following promotion to La Liga in 2014 for the first time in their 78 year history, SD Eibar are on course to achieve their 3rd consecutive top half finish in Spain’s top flight. An achievement made even more remarkable by the hurdles the club has faced in times gone by.

In fact, it is difficult to believe the Eibar of today are the same team that as little as 6 years ago, were saving money in any way they could. Even for their promotion celebrations, the team brought unused confetti from Barcelona’s La Liga celebrations, with whom they share the famous kit colours, to ensure they were not spending too much on confetti themselves.

Situated in Basque Country in Northern Spain, Eibar were, until Huesca’s recent promotion, the smallest club ever to have played in Spain’s top flight. With a population of just 27,000, the city’s residents could sit in Real Madrid’s iconic Bernabeu stadium, and fill it by just one-third.

It was an initiative set up in 2014 however, that has given Los Armeros the foundations to become one of the best run and sustainable clubs in Spain. An initiative that saw the club saved by fans from all over the world.

Following a number of seasons in Spains third-tier, and with no training ground, the club would reach the heights of La Liga quicker than they had ever dreamed of, earning back to back promotions in 2013 and 2014. Fans celebrated throughout the region as those that had grown up watching the likes of Messi and Ronaldo on their TV’s, would soon be watching them gracing the turf at their very own 8,000 capacity Ipurua Municipial stadium. The quick promotions though would immediately come at a price, which would threaten to throw the club straight back into the lower divisions before a ball had even been kicked.

Due to a Spanish law that requires newly promoted clubs to prove they have enough capital to compete in La Liga, Eibar suddenly faced an unexpected problem. Though the law itself is controversial, but in place to ‘protect the future of newly promoted sides’, Eibar had to obey, and were forced to raise €1.7 million. The club made a decision to offer fans from around the world to buy shares worth €50 into the club, with the aim of reaching the required share capital through a seasoned equity offering. Unsure of how successful the end result would be, it was a risk Eibar felt they had to try. And a risk that paid off for seasons to come.

In total, reports suggested that 10,000 people from almost 50 different countries brought shares in the club. With Spanish, American and Chinese investments the most common, the club were able to celebrate securing their place with the elite, with just weeks to go until the season began. The club sold almost €2 million in the scheme, also securing a debt free time and becoming the 6th fan owned in La Liga, alongside Barcelona, Real Madrid, Osasuna, Athletic Bilbao and Deportivo. As part of buying a share, fans won voting rights, an idea to ensure that Eibar kept their identity and as true to their local roots as they have been since formation in 1939.

Eibar’s debut La Liga season wasn’t short of drama. Despite finishing in the final relegation place in 18th on a dramatic final day, the Basque side were given a reprieve and allowed to remain in the division. This was due to 13th place Elche being demoted to the Segunda for their own financial problems.

At the time of promotion in 2014, it was estimated that clubs across the top two divisions in Spain had a combined debt of €3.6 billion. By retaining their place in La Liga, Eibar went into 2015 with both feet firmly on the ground, free of debt and with a transfer budget of €16 million, mainly due to TV rights. La Liga’s smallest ever club suddenly had big hopes to become a regular in Spain’s top flight.

Eibar’s growth and forward thinking planning has been key to the rise and success they’ve had since then. A 14th place finish was followed up by back to back top half finishes, achieving 10th and 9th place in 2017 and 2018 respectively. It was this current season though, one in which Eibar are on course for another top 10 finish, that produced some memorable results that showed just how far the club has come. A famous 3-0 win at home to giants Real Madrid being the stand out, on a memorable night in which Madrid’s superstars were on the wrong end of a real ‘David vs Goliath’ story.

Despite all this, Eibar have always kept true to their word. The future and stability of the club is at the front of any business decisions made. Being fan owned has taken away the idea of a businessman, swooping in and turning Eibar into whatever he wants, thereby risking the financial future of the club. Despite investment being a crucial part of modern day football, Eibar have still managed to achieve a top 10 finish for the third consecutive season without spending much. With their transfer record just a small fee of €3.6 million, the club have mainly relied on successfully recruiting the right players from their own youth system, as well as free signings and loan signings.

The clubs CEO, Patricia Rodriguez, is the only female CEO in La Liga. Alongside a small hierarchy, the decision has recently been made to put much needed money into building a new training centre close by to the Ipuara stadium. This will allow all teams across all levels to train together under one roof.

With more investment made on this than on players, it is clear that Eibar are preparing for the future, and able to move away from the training pitch in which they currently rent. The long term plan is the ideology of the club. Rodriguez accepts the club may be relegated at some point, so preparing for the future by upgrading the youth facilities and stadium has been the main area of expenditure.

A few seasons ago, Eibar were named in the list of 1000 fastest growing companies in Europe. They are setting a perfect example of how to run a football team both on and off the pitch. With pre-tax profits rising season after season, this club continues to punch above its weight and exceed expectations, and have become one of Europe’s fairytale stories.

Written by Tom Winch

Follow Tom on Twitter @winchy33