Eibar... raising the bar!

After a promotion to LaLiga, Eibar has transformed itself into one of the most well-run and self-sustaining football clubs in the division.

Coming into a male-dominated environment, Patricia Rodriguez, the CEO of Eibar, has quickly become a trail-blazer for women in football.   -  Special Arrangement

In 2011, when SD Eibar was languishing in the Segunda Division B, Spain’s third-tier league, the club had just one staff member tasked with multiple roles in the administrative department. The budget of the club at that time was estimated to be around €1.2 million.

Eight years on and after a promotion to LaLiga, the club has transformed itself into one of the most well-run and self-sustaining football clubs in the division. Its success on the pitch — staying in the top flight for four successive seasons — is matched by success off it, too, driven by individuals who work relentlessly to bring the club on the world football map.

A key member is the club’s chief executive officer Patricia Rodriguez, who joined as the finances and resources manager in 2014. She is the only female CEO among the 20 teams in LaLiga.

Under the direction of Rodriguez, the club is focusing on making its presence felt beyond the city of Eibar and Spain. “We are very focused on internationalisation and to be known as a modern team and focus on innovation,” she says. “We are very clear with this target. In Spain, the market is small and in the Basque country, it’s even smaller — with three big teams (Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Alaves) around us which have a lot of history and supporters. We try to use the new facilities like social media to connect with other countries to explain who we are, what we are doing, why we consider ourselves different and that we offer more things than football.”

Patricia Rodriguez became the CEO in 2016. This is her first job in football, having previously worked in the management and finance consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in Madrid.

“PWC has a defined structure and when I came here there was only one person working in management. It was a challenge. We now have 15-16 people working in management so we have improved the structure. We have organised all the areas and set some policies. We have a strategic plan for the next five years. We now have the structure of a private company,” says Rodriguez.

Eibar players try to smother Barceliona superstar Lionel Messi in a LaLiga match. Eibar has plans to set up its own world-class training facility.   -  Getty Images

 

Among the targets set by Rodriguez is for the club to set up its own world-class training facility. This, she believes, is a necessity for a top-flight football side.

The first team currently trains at Atxabalpe in Arrasate-Mondragon, which it rented following its promotion to LaLiga. The reserves, junior teams and the women’s team all play across different centres around the city. By 2022, the club hopes to have the ‘Eibar Sports City initiative’ operational in Mallavia, which is a 10-minute drive from Ipurua, where all its sides can come together under one roof.

“Eibar needs to have assets; the players are not the only assets. We need to have long-term assets. All the teams of the first division have a training sports city. I think it’s a key element to increase the quality of training and develop our academy. Now we are spread in seven different locations and it’s a bit crazy. We have been saving the money for four seasons for this,” she says.

Coming into a male-dominated environment, Rodriguez has quickly become a trail-blazer for women in football. She aspires for women to hold top positions across industries and her journey to the top is a story of perseverance.

“In the applying process, I thought I will not be hired because I am a woman,” she recollects. “It was surprising that they chose me. When I started working in football, there were several differences with my opinion. In a field like football, the opinion of a man has more value. But, I am a very positive person. I think that a man or woman could make the same task work. It depends on the person and not gender. I always say what I think and try to give my opinion and not give up.”

When asked how she feels to be the only woman to hold the position of a CEO in the league, she says, “I would not like to be only one!”

As the words painted across the seats at Ipurua say, ‘Another football is possible,’ at SD Eibar.

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