Ernesto Valverde has secured a return to Athletic Bilbao after being appointed the club's head coach on president Jon Uriarte's first day in office.

Valverde remains a popular figure at the club following a successful second stint as the first team's coach between 2013 and 2017.

During that four-year spell, Valverde took Athletic into the Champions League, reached the final of the 2015 Copa del Rey and a few months later ended the club's 31-year trophy drought with a 5-1 aggregate defeat of Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana.

He eventually left in May 2017 to take over from Luis Enrique at Barcelona, with whom Valverde won two LaLiga titles, the Copa del Rey and Supercopa before being dismissed in January 2020.

The Blaugrana have won just one trophy since.

Valverde's return for a third spell in charge of the team he also represented for six years as a player coincides with the election of Uriarte as Athletic's new president.

Uriarte's key pledge in his election campaign was to bring Valverde back as coach following Marcelino Garcia Toral's departure in May.

Former Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa – who has also coached Athletic before – appeared to be Valverde's biggest rival, having reached an agreement to take over if presidential candidate Inaki Arechabaleta had won the election.

But Uriarte took 47.7 per cent of the vote compared to Arechabaleta's 33.7 per cent, with his success confirmed last week.

As such, Valverde will extend his record as the coach with the most matches managed at Athletic (306), while supporters will hope he can maintain the feat of not finishing below seventh in his last spell – they have not ended a season higher than eighth since his departure.

Ernesto Valverde, not Marcelo Bielsa, is set to become Athletic Bilbao's next coach after Jon Uriarte won the club's presidential election on Friday.

Valverde has coached Athletic on two previous occasions, from 2003 to 2005 and 2013 to 2017. No coach has overseen more games for the club than his tally of 306.

He enjoyed success with Athletic during his second spell, leading the team to Europe in each campaign and winning the Supercopa de Espana in 2015-16, beating Barcelona 5-1.

In 2017, Valverde was appointed Barca coach. He won LaLiga in his two full seasons at Camp Nou, and a Copa del Rey title in 2018, but failure in the Champions League placed him on thin ice and he was dismissed in late 2019.

The 58-year-old has since been out of work but earlier this week, Athletic presidential candidate Uriarte stated that Valverde would become the club's new coach should he win the election.

Another candidate, Ricardo Barkala, had also backed Valverde to be the coach, while Inaki Arechabaleta had chosen Marcelo Bielsa – another former Athletic coach who is fondly remembered in the Basque country.

Yet Bielsa will not be returning to San Mames just yet, and instead it is Valverde who is set to be appointed following Uriarte's victory.

Uriarte, the youngest of the three candidates at 43, is a former banker who co-founded ticket portal Ticketbis, which was sold to eBay in 2016. He won the election with 46.71 per cent of the vote.

Arechabaleta was second with a 33.72 per cent share, with Barkala coming in third (18.13 per cent).

A move to take Antoine Griezmann to Athletic Bilbao is "impossible" according to Inaki Arechabaleta, the presidential candidate who has pledged to appoint Marcelo Bielsa if he wins the club's upcoming elections.

Griezmann came through the ranks at Athletic's local rivals Real Sociedad, meaning the 2018 World Cup winner is often spoken about as a potential target for the club, who remain committed to a policy of only recruiting players hailing from the Basque Country.

Having returned to Atletico Madrid on a two-year loan deal from Barcelona last August, Griezmann struggled to tie down a regular starting spot during an injury-hit season.

He made fewer appearances in all competitions (36) than fellow forwards Angel Correa (49), Luis Suarez (45) and Matheus Cunha (37).

The 31-year-old's frustrating campaign in the Spanish capital had fuelled speculation he could be targeted by Athletic, particularly as prospective boss Bielsa attempted to sign the forward during his first spell at the club between 2011 and 2013.

But Arechabaleta says the France star's significant wages make such a move implausible at this stage.

"With Marcelo we have talked about the possibilities of signing players for Athletic and, therefore, we will be attentive to the possibilities we have to strengthen our squad," he told Spanish podcast El Partidazo de Cope.

On a potential move for Griezmann, he said: "He could be [a target] because it's part of the club's philosophy, but I think it's absolutely impossible.

"The problem is not whether Griezmann enters our philosophy. Griezmann is unattainable at the moment for salary and what you have to pay for him."

Meanwhile, Arechabaleta revealed he has been in contract with managerial target Bielsa since the immediate aftermath of his Leeds United dismissal in late February, as he prepares for the elections on June 24. 

"Marcelo is a great professional, one of the best in the world and is an asset, who joins a lot of assets that we have presented these days," he added.

"I had one of the first contacts in the month of March. The first thing he told me is that he really likes the Basque Country and Athletic, but that we should let him analyse the Spanish league and the current Athletic.

"He is a very up-to-date football genius."

Athletic Bilbao will appoint Marcelo Bielsa as their new coach if Inaki Arechabaleta becomes the club's new president following the club's elections on June 24th.

Bielsa previously coached Athletic between 2011 and 2013, and led the Basque side to the finals of the Europa League and Copa del Rey in his first season in charge.

Athletic lost both matches, however – to Atletico Madrid and Barcelona respectively – and a disappointing season in 2012-13 hindered by the loss of key midfielder Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente's desire to leave the club resulted in Bielsa leaving.

The enigmatic 66-year-old has been out of work since he was dismissed by Leeds United in February, after three-and-a-half years at Elland Road.

Bielsa remains a fan favourite with the Leeds faithful, with the Argentine having guided the Whites to promotion in 2019-20 and a ninth-place finish in the Premier League in 2020-21, with his full-throttle, high-pressing style garnering plenty of praise.

 

Leeds ultimately made the decision to replace Bielsa with Jesse Marsch as a relegation scrap loomed, and they only stayed up on the final day of the Premier League season thanks to a 2-1 victory at Brentford.

Now, Bielsa looks set to return to management with Athletic, should presidential candidate Arechabaleta be voted in.

Arechabaleta is one of three candidates running to replace Aitor Elizegi, and on Monday told a news conference that Bielsa was his choice to replace Marcelino, who left Athletic after the expiration of his contract.

"[Bielsa] is the most respected coach in the world. He is also a coach for the future, although in the past he gave us the best season of this century," he said, as reported by The Athletic.

"He has evolved since then and his ambition, quality and abilities are going to take us to the Athletic that we must become."

Bielsa has confirmed he will take the job should Arechabaleta be installed as president.

Athletic Bilbao will be searching for a new head coach ahead of next season after Marcelino confirmed he is leaving the club.

Marcelino took over at the Basque club on January 3, 2021. He took Athletic to the Supercopa de Espana title later that month.

Athletic also made the final of the 2021-22 edition of the tournament but lost to Real Madrid, while former Villarreal and Valencia coach Marcelino oversaw two Copa del Rey final defeats – one of which was delayed from the 2019-20 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Marcelino's side made the semi-finals of this season's Copa, beating both Barcelona and Madrid, but they lost over two legs to Valencia, who were beaten by Real Betis in the final.

The 56-year-old's contract expires at the end of June and will not be renewed. He took Athletic to eighth in LaLiga in the 2021-22 season, following on from a 10th-placed finish in the previous campaign.

Marcelino oversaw 59 league games in total, winning 19 (32.2 per cent) and losing 17, with his team scoring 70 goals while conceding 59 in return, averaging 1.36 points per game.

Marcelino told a news conference on Tuesday: "We believe the time has come to step aside and bring an end to a beautiful story. We're proud to have had the privilege of coaching Athletic Club.

"Thank you to everyone, I wish you all the success in the future. This is not a goodbye. You will always be in our hearts. Always.

"Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to the fans. We were orphans while the pandemic attacked us. Then I found out what it really means to be at San Mames as Athletic's coach.

"We have had some magical nights and unforgettable moments."

Athletic, who lost 1-0 to Sevilla in their final game of the season, have been linked with Mauricio Pochettino, should the former Tottenham boss be dismissed by Paris Saint-Germain.

Inaki Williams is Mr Reliable for Athletic Bilbao and has now not missed a single LaLiga match for a remarkable six years.

Williams started Sunday's clash with Celta Vigo, partnering Oihan Sancet up front.

That means that the 27-year-old – who seems set to stay at Bilbao for the majority of his career, given he is under contract until 2028 – has now played in 227 consecutive LaLiga matches, far and away a record in the competition.

Williams overtook previous record holder Juanan Larranaga when he played in his 203rd LaLiga match in a row earlier this season.

 

He last missed a league game on April 17, 2016, when Athletic beat Malaga 1-0.

Williams featured as a substitute in a 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid four days later and went on to play in Athletic's final four top-flight fixtures of the campaign as they just missed out on Champions League qualification.

In each of the intervening seasons, the forward has featured in all 38 LaLiga games and his incredible run of appearances includes 189 starts.

His goal tally is not quite as impressive, with Williams managing 44 in the league since the start of 2016-17, including seven so far this term.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been heavily linked with an early exit from Manchester United this season.

The Red Devils are out of the Premier League title race and struggling to make the top four.

There is said to be tension surrounding Ronaldo due to Ralf Rangnick's appointment as interim manager.

TOP STORY - RONALDO RE-COMMITS TO MAN UTD

Ronaldo will stay with United next season with interim manager Rangnick set to depart, reports AS.

The 37-year-old forward has committed to United, whom he joined in August on a two-year deal with the option for a third season, as he is confident they will show their ambition by making a major appointment with their new permanent manager.

United were eliminated from the Champions League this week by Atletico Madrid and are struggling to reach next season's edition, sitting fifth in the Premier League.

ROUND-UP

- Jesse Lingard has been offered to Italian clubs Milan and Roma as he prepares to leave United as a free agent, reports Nicolo Schira. West Ham  and Newcastle United are also interested in the 29-year-old England international.

- Benfica have slapped a £67million price tag on striker  Darwin Nunez , who is being pursued by Manchester United , Arsenal , Liverpool and Newcastle ,   according to The Mirror.

- Foot Mercato reports  Arsenal will enter the race to sign Real Madrid winger  Eden Hazard , with Chelsea previously linked to their former player.

- Fichajes claims  Atletico Madrid are considering a move for Athletic Bilbao head coach Marcelino should Diego Simeone opt to leave the Spanish champions.

Jose Bordalas dedicated Valencia's victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey semi-finals to the club's "incredible" fans.

A spectacular strike from Goncalo Guedes sealed a 1-0 win at Mestalla on Wednesday and a 2-1 aggregate triumph for Valencia, as they reached the final for the second time in four seasons.

Athletic, who had lost the past two finals, only managed a single shot on target in the match as the home side, roared on by the Mestalla crowd, kept them comfortably at bay.

Valencia have won just eight of 26 LaLiga games under Bordalas this season but will now face either Real Betis or Rayo Vallecano in the final for the chance to lift a trophy and qualify for the Europa League.

"It's a feeling of enormous, incredible satisfaction," said the former Getafe boss.

"It was a case of be in the final or don't be. The little they created against us, we solved in a remarkable way. We were the fair winners of this semi-final. We're in the final on our own merit.

"These fans and this pitch are incredible. I always wanted to manage Valencia and getting to the final will give us a lot of confidence and will unite us.

"What I experienced when I arrived, I was very surprised. I couldn't explain it. I've experienced similar moments, but not like this.

"The fans all deserved that we went through. On the pitch, I couldn't even communicate with the players. Everything was shaking. This gave us incredible strength and energy."

 

Marcelino was in charge of Valencia for their Copa triumph in 2019 and took Athletic to the 2019-20 and 2020-21 finals, where they were beaten by Real Sociedad and Barcelona.

After falling short in his quest for a fourth consecutive final, the Athletic boss said his side had been punished for a lacklustre performance in the first leg.

"Firstly, we have to congratulate Valencia," he said.

"It was a very even tie, but in the first leg we weren't at a good level, and we paid for it. Here, we stood up really well, and we were superior to Valencia in the first half, but a great goal from Guedes decided the tie.

"In the second half, we maybe lacked freshness, a reading of the game. We were losing our positional play as the minutes went by and maybe our best men, or the most decisive in the second half, didn't have their best night.

"We did everything possible to reach the final. We just needed one goal to go to extra time until the 95th minute, but we didn't hit the opposition goal, and we were penalised for that.

"We would have liked to have had a final with fans. Now, we ask that they continue to support us. The team deserves it because it was only small details that decided the tie."

Valencia reached the Copa del Rey final for the third time this century as Goncalo Guedes' strike secured a 2-1 aggregate semi-final win over Athletic Bilbao.

The Portugal international's powerful effort two minutes before half-time sealed a 1-0 second-leg win at Mestalla to send Los Che through.

Winners in 2008 and 2019, Valencia will now contest the final against either Real Betis or Rayo Vallecano, who meet in the second leg of their semi-final on Thursday.

Athletic had eliminated Barcelona and Real Madrid from this season's competition but could not lift themselves after Guedes' goal and were unable to reach the final for the third year running.

After 40 tense minutes of few chances, Inaki Williams was played through on goal by Iker Muniain but dithered on the ball and was denied by goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala.

Just two minutes later, a free-kick was cleared to Guedes 25 yards from goal, he took a touch into space and blasted a superb strike well beyond the reach of Giorgi Mamardashvili.

Athletic pushed for a way back in the second half, but their final product was lacking. Williams miscontrolled at just the wrong moment, and Muniain cut inside and curled a shot a yard over.

A fierce free-kick from Inigo Martinez was well held by Mamardashvili, who had mostly been protected superbly by a disciplined back three.

Athletic had a few late set-pieces to send towards the Valencia box, but there was little to unnerve the jubilant home fans.

 

What does it mean? Valencia seize chance to rescue season

Valencia are ninth in LaLiga, 11 points outside the European places, so the Copa has represented one of the few bright spots in their season.

The chance to win the trophy for the ninth time and qualify for next season's Europa League is therefore a hugely welcome one for Jose Bordalas.

For Athletic, who had performed so well to eliminate Barca and Madrid in the previous rounds, this will feel like a missed opportunity.

Guedes' golden touch

In a contest of few clear-cut chances, it fell to Guedes to settle things with a spectacular effort from outside the box.

It was one of just four shots on target throughout, but it was worthy of winning any match.

More Copa misery for Muniain

Athletic's captain and inspiration, Muniain was exceptional in the earlier rounds to drag his side towards a possible third final in a row.

However, he could not influence proceedings at Mestalla, creating only one goalscoring chance throughout and failing to test Mamardashvili.

What's next?

Valencia host Granada in LaLiga on Saturday, while Athletic are at home to Levante next Monday.

Barcelona head coach Xavi compared Pedri to Blaugrana legend Andreas Iniesta, while he hailed the performance of Ousmane Dembele against Athletic Bilbao.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's fourth goal in his past two LaLiga appearances put the Catalan side in control against Athletic on Sunday, before a late flurry added deserved gloss to the scoreline.

Substitute Dembele, whose future remains in doubt after failing to agree to an extension on a contract that expires at the end of the season, scored one and assisted two more for substitutes Luuk de Jong and the fit-again Memphis Depay.

With those involvements, Dembele become the first Barca substitute to play a part in at least three goals in a single LaLiga game in the 21st century.

After moving back into LaLiga's top four with a 4-0 success, Xavi reserved special praise for midfielder Pedri and Dembele.

"How [Pedri] understands the game, it's wonderful to watch him play," Xavi told reporters. "He reminds me a lot of Andres Iniesta, I haven't seen many talents like that.

"I see many scenarios for Dembele, we have seen the Dembele that we want and know he is capable of doing."

Asked whether the France international will stay at the club, Xavi added: "That is no longer my thing, I have always said that he has been very professional."

Barca sit level on points with Atletico Madrid, who ran out 2-0 victors against Celta Vigo on Saturday, and moved just one shy of third-placed Real Betis after they fell to Sevilla.

The Blaugrana still boast a game in hand over their fellow top-four contenders and Xavi refused to give up hope on any possible outcome in LaLiga.

"The feelings are getting better and better," he continued. "The team is training very well, that's why the results come.

"We have worked very well and it has paid off against a team that has a very good middle and low block and that defended very well.

"Even with the [seven] changes they made, they are a strong team. Putting four goals past Athletic is not easy at all, Marcelino's teams are always very hard-working and difficult.

"We're fourth, we'll go for third, then second and if it reaches us we'll go for first. You have to be realistic and humble and keep working day by day, nothing more."

Barca have lost just one of their past 15 top-flight fixtures and will look to continue their impressive run of form when they visit Elche next Sunday.

Ousmane Dembele netted his first LaLiga goal of the season and added two assists in a dazzling cameo as Barcelona moved back into LaLiga's top four with a 4-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Dembele has become an unpopular figure with Barca fans after failing to agree an extension to his contract, which expires at the end of the season, but his thunderous effort six minutes after arriving from the bench made sure of a Camp Nou victory on Sunday.

After Atletico Madrid had leapfrogged the Blaugrana with their win on Saturday, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continued his fine recent scoring form to set Xavi's side on their way, before Dembele struck and then twice crossed for Luuk de Jong and the fit-again Memphis Depay in the closing stages.

And with Real Betis beaten by rivals Sevilla, Barca are now just a point behind third place with a game in hand as their season maintains its upwards trajectory.

 

Gerard Pique saw a header cleared on the line by Oier Zarraga while Ferran Torres tested Unai Simon with a stinging volley as Barca dominated the opening exchanges.

The reward for Xavi's hosts arrived on 37 minutes when Aubameyang acrobatically finished after Pique headed against the crossbar from Dani Alves' corner.

Torres should have doubled his side's advantage past the hour mark, but his tame effort was pushed away by the onrushing Simon, who then denied Aubameyang's weak header.

Simon was powerless to stop Dembele, though, as substitute Frenkie de Jong found the winger, who smashed a left-footed attempt in from the left side of the box, earning a touch off the post as he put the game beyond doubt.

There was still time for Luuk de Jong to flick a header into the bottom-left corner following Dembele's pinpoint delivery from the right, before the France international repeated the trick to find Depay, who turned in from close range for the final goal.

Even if not quite the force they once were, Manchester United still like to show their fans their ambitions match up, especially in the transfer market.

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick has the job of ensuring the Red Devils qualify for next season's Champions League and is currently on course, with them sitting fourth in the Premier League.

However, the club supposedly remain confident of adding big names at the end of the season regardless of a top-four finish.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD WANT MORE ENGLAND STARS

Manchester United believe they can attract big names to Old Trafford at the end of the season, even if they may not have Champions League football to offer.

According to ESPN, the Premier League club have an ambitious list of targets that includes England pair Declan Rice and Harry Kane, and they believe the 2016 signing of Paul Pogba – when they were in the Europa League – is proof the name of the club is enticing enough.

It remains to be seen what that means for whomever the incoming permanent manager is by then, but they will likely not say no to additions of that calibre.

ROUND-UP

Atletico Madrid are plotting a move for Georginio Wijnaldum from Paris Saint-Germain, according to Fichajes.

- Calciomercato claims Inter wish to add Torino defender Bremer to their ranks next season and may already have an agreement with the player.

- Meanwhile, Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele is being pursued on a free transfer by both Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, 90min reports.

- The Catalan giants could get one in return though as they have offered a two-year deal to Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta, according to Sport.

- Marca is reporting Tottenham are looking at Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simon as a potential long-term replacement for Hugo Lloris.

Roma could reignite their interest in Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka at the end of the season, Calciomercato says.

Carlo Ancelotti admitted Real Madrid missed the quality of Karim Benzema as he claimed their Copa del Rey exit to Athletic Bilbao was not a surprise.

The LaLiga leaders were beaten 1-0 at San Mames on Thursday, Alex Berenguer scoring a brilliant winner in the 89th minute to send Athletic into the semi-finals.

It was a measure of revenge for Marcelino's men, who lost 2-0 in the Supercopa de Espana final to Madrid last month, in which Benzema scored the second goal.

Los Blancos were without their talisman in the Basque country, though, as he had not recovered from a hamstring injury sustained in the 2-2 draw with Elche.

In the absence of Benzema, who has scored 24 goals in 28 appearances this season, Madrid managed just two shots on target against Athletic, while their first-half expected goals figure of 0.1 was their lowest since January 2020.

Ancelotti accepted the decision not to rush Benzema back into action left his side without enough of a threat going forward.

 

"We're hurt because we want to win everything. I don't think it will have consequences. I only hope that it makes us stronger," he said of the defeat, as quoted by Marca.

"We don't have players of Karim's quality. We didn't change the plan. We tried to play from the back, and we couldn't. Athletic's pressing was really great until the 70th minute.

"I think in extra time we would have had the advantage, but they scored in the last minute. We played too much on the wings. We should have used [David] Alaba and Casemiro more. It didn't go the way we wanted.

"It's not the worst game of the season. It was even until the end. I'm not surprised with how the game went."

Even as Madrid's attack laboured, Ancelotti left Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale and Luka Jovic on the bench, his only changes being Isco for Toni Kroos and Eduardo Camavinga for Vinicius Junior.

It was put to Ancelotti that the trio were being punished by being kept among the substitutes, but he replied: "I have nothing to say. Nobody is punished. [Dani] Ceballos and [Jesus] Vallejo didn't play, either. They're at the same level as the others who didn't play. You have to be fair.

"Kroos was taken off due to fatigue, as was Vinicius. We were thinking of changes for extra time and there wasn't time."

Madrid's next match is at home to Granada in LaLiga on Sunday.

Athletic Bilbao avenged their Supercopa de Espana final loss by defeating Real Madrid 1-0 in Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final.

Alex Berenguer struck a brilliant winner in the 89th minute to send Marcelino's men into the last four, where Valencia, Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano await.

Madrid had beaten Athletic 2-0 in last month's Supercopa final but could not find a breakthrough at San Mames in the absence of Karim Benzema.

It means Athletic, who eliminated Barcelona in the previous round, could now reach their third consecutive Copa final, having lost the previous two to Barca and Real Sociedad.

Clear-cut chances were scarce in the first half, but it was Athletic who carried the threat, with 10 shots to Madrid's three despite having only 41.3 per cent of the possession.

Indeed, Carlo Ancelotti's men ended the half with just 0.1 expected goals, their lowest tally for the first 45 minutes of any match since a 1-0 away win over Real Valladolid in January 2020.

Inigo Martinez saw a header well saved by Thibaut Courtois early in the second half, before Raul Garcia glanced an effort wide via a deflection and Berenguer, on for the injured Nico Williams, fired over.

Madrid began to assume more control as the 90 minutes wore on and Casemiro spurned a great chance, firing straight at Julen Agirrezabala from Marco Asensio's clever backheel.

Yet just as extra time beckoned, Berenguer produced a moment of magic, turning cleverly onto his left foot inside the Madrid box before bending a superb strike to the right of Courtois.

 

 

Karim Benzema has been left out of Real Madrid's squad for the Copa del Rey quarter-final against Athletic Bilbao on Thursday due to a hamstring injury. 

The fitness of France international Benzema has been a source of concern since he hobbled off in the second half of Madrid's 2-2 draw with Elche in LaLiga on January 23. 

During his pre-match news conference, Carlo Ancelotti was hopeful the striker, who has been in sensational form this season with 24 goals in 28 games in all competitions, would be fit for the trip to San Mames but insisted no risks would be taken. 

Benzema's name was not in the 22-man squad for the match against Athletic that was released later on Wednesday, prompting concerns about his fitness for the Champions League last-16 meeting with Paris Saint-Germain in less than two weeks. 

Mariano Diaz and Ferland Mendy also miss out through injury, while Marcelo is ineligible due to suspension. 

However, Marco Asensio could make his return from a hamstring injury sustained in the Supercopa de Espana success against Barcelona 

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