Andoni Azkargorta: The Eibar analyst plotting a double over Real Madrid

Eibar was aggressive from the front to the back, constantly put Modric and Kroos off their rhythm and won 3-0 earlier this season. It plays Real Madrid again on Satuday and will be looking to do a historic double.

Sergi Enrich scored Eibar's second goal against Real Madrid CF.   -  Getty Images

Last year in November, SD Eibar recorded a historic first-ever win over Real Madrid. The home supporters at the Ipurua International Stadium were bouncing as their team ran out 3-0 winner on the day. On Saturday, the club heads to the Santiago Bernabeu in search of an improbable double over the La Liga giant.

On that cold afternoon in Gipuzkoa, Andoni Azkargorta, the Basque club’s analyst, played a significant role in helping his local team achieve the victory. Azkargorta placed himself in the stands in the first half studying the opposition’s weaknesses, where he noticed that Madrid’s makeshift-midfielder Dani Ceballos was struggling to get support on the left side of the midfield three. When the two sides went into the changing rooms at half time, Azkargorta told coach Jose Mendillibar that his players should “attack and hurt his (Ceballos’) side.”

Eibar’s right-sided players Fabian Orellana and Ruben Pena regularly found a lot of joy down Madrid’s left side in the second half, and the club managed seven successful dribbles down the channel, including one that resulted in the third goal. Eibar could have added a fourth when Orellana nutmegged an isolated Ceballos inside Madrid’s box, but he had his snap shot parried by Thibaut Courtois.

From U17 coach to becoming the club's first ever analyst

Azkargorta, born just a few miles away from the stadium, was a pleased man. Hailing from a village in Mondragon, a 20-minute drive from Gipuzkoa where Eibar’s first team trains, Azkargorta’s journey to top-division football in Spain started with coaching as early as 1992 – when he was just 14 years old – and he kept working with small teams in his village of 2,000.

Azkargorta’s first professional role came in Bergara, where he coached between 2000 and 2007. He joined Eibar in 2007 and was employed as both the coach of the under-17 team and assistant coach of the reserve team under Gaizka Garitano.

In 2011, he left for Onati, where he spent three seasons as the first-team coach before returning to Eibar as a video analyst at the request of Garitano, who had then been promoted to head coach of the first team. It was a giant leap for Azkargorta, who went from coaching regional teams to being the club’s first-ever analyst.

“I didn’t have the knowledge and experience of an analyst,” Azkargorta reflects on his current job profile. “After learning and putting in the hours and hours of studying and watching the other clubs, I collected the experience of an analyst.”

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Andoni Azkargorta’s journey to top-division football started with coaching as early as 1992 – when he was just 14 years old!   -  Special Arrangement

 

The experience of working with Garitano previously helped with his learning. “I know what the coach is demanding and the vision and ideas he has. So I can get the information that the coach wanted,” says Azkargorta.

Azkargorta normally analyses his opponent with a sample size of four matches. The week leading up to the reigning European champion's visit was a difficult one for him. “It was not an easy week because (Santiago) Solari just played four matches and two were against lower-level teams. He mixed a lot of players so I didn’t have a good picture of Solari. So I wasn’t able to get much information,” he says.

Yet, he managed to devise a plan to maximise Eibar’s strengths at home while stopping Madrid play out from the back. “Basically, I focused the strategy on detecting the weakness of the players individually. Usually, (Luka) Modric and (Toni) Kroos drop deep near the goalkeeper to get the ball. And if they pass the first pressure line, then they can be very dangerous. I gave the instructions on how to stop them and what behaviour they have on the pitch to Mendillibar and he analyses player by player,” he reveals.

The plan worked. Eibar was aggressive from the front to the back and constantly put Modric and Kroos off their rhythm. The duo struggled to bring the ball out from their defence and dictate play in the opposition half. Azkargorta maintains that the team adopts a similar style of play against all opponents and not just Madrid.

On Saturday, Azkargorta will have his task cut out in finding the strategy to get one over the three-time Champions League-winning coach Zinedine Zidane, who returned as Madrid's coach last month. He led the side to two wins but tasted his first defeat away to Valencia on Wednesday.

Eibar will take confidence from its win over Rayo Vallecano during the mid-week, which brought it back into the top half of the table at 10th. A result at Madrid will give Mendillibar and his men a big push in its bid for a first-ever Europa League place.

(The writer was in Eibar on an invitation from Eibar and LaLiga.)