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Tuesday July 12 2016
Eibar’s nine lives

Eibar's achievements last season was one of La Liga's feel good stories, but as Yousef Teclab writes, the challenge will be to prove it was no fluke.

Eibar are certainly a club with nine lives and can be argued they have used two already. The first was when they won promotion to La Liga in late May 2014, the first time in their history. Celebration turned to dismay when told by the League authorities they faced immediate demotion to Segunda if they didn't pay an administration fee by August. Only an innovative crowdfunding campaign by their fans to pay the fee helped preserve Eibar’s rapid rise.

The second was during their first season in the top flight. After a promising start they suffered relegation, winning just two out of their last 20 League games. But Eibar were to be reprieved after Elche [who finished 13th] were relegated due to unpaid tax debts. Since then, Los Armeros have used their good fortune to try and prove they deserve to be where they are.

Under veteran Coach Jose Luis Mendilibar that is exactly what they did by finishing 14th last season. Now the challenge is to sustain their humble rise. Clever loan deals that helped maintain their top flight status, such as Borja Baston, who scored 18 goals in the League last season, have ended as they head back to their parent clubs.

In addition, Eibar have learned when success is achieved it tends to attract interest from other clubs. The loss of Keko to Malaga for €3.7m and Saul Berjon to Mexican club Pumas UNAM on a free transfer is a blow as both players were valuable assets on the wing.

However, under the guidance of sporting director Fran Garagarza, the Basque outfit once again utilised their knowledge and prudence in the transfer market to bolster their squad for the upcoming season. The signing of Pedro Leon from Getafe on a free transfer is a fantastic replacement for Keko. The 29-year-old is a veteran of La Liga and his experience will no doubt be invaluable.

Moreover, to offset the loss of Borja Baston, whose goals so helped Eibar last season, Kike will finally be able to play after arriving in January from Premier League side Middlesbrough. The striker had been inactive for six months after Eibar failed to lodge his registration papers before the end of the January transfer window, thereby making him ineligible.

Importantly, the fan-owned club have looked to rectify their problems in defence, as conceding 61 goals in the League last season is a worrying statistic. They will hope Florian Lejeune can bolster their leaking back line.

Mendilibar will be well aware teams in La Liga will know of Eibar's tactics and be well-placed to deal with a club from such humble beginnings. This season may be a tough slog Eibar are already living a dream that they hope will never end. It's likely more of their nine lives will be used by May 2017.

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