The Bilbao International Football Summit (BIFS) is an annual gathering of footballing talents and executives from the Basque region.
It acts as a showcase for Athletic Bilbao’s ever present philosophy (the club is known to only have Basque players on its teams). The event has only grown in stature throughout the years, and yesterday, at BIFS 20, it decided to honour one of its most famous natives – Ernesto Valverde.
Now, Valverde is nothing short of a legend in Athletic, having played a hundred and seventy league games for the club and having scored forty four goals for them.
The man played a big role in the club being a sizable threat throughout his time at the club from 1990-96. Therefore, even with his dubious managerial tactics during his tenure at Barcelona, his legacy as a player alone makes it completely understandable that the summit would award him for his services to football.
What piqued the curiosity of a lot of people, however, was the other, arguably just as famous Basque resident invited to the function.
That man was Unai Emery, recently having undergone the ignominy of being sacked by Arsenal and now a managerial pariah in the world of football.
They even managed to meet and have a friendly conversation, both being in a unique position where they can actually empathize with the other’s misfortune. The meeting was not a formal occasion, just one that happened at the spur of the moment on the sidelines.
While at the summit, however, the two gave out rather contrasting statements to journalists about their time at their former clubs.
Valverde was calm and measured, looking upon it as a great experience and refusing to focus on the negatives such as the allegations that he was not treated well.
He instead looked forward to his next job that he claims will be “off the beaten path” and something very unique.
Emery, on the other hand, has been far more vociferous in recent times about his fate at both Arsenal and Paris St Germain.
The Spaniard has insisted on fending off criticism about his tactics, instead claiming that he was stifled by the clubs’ boards.
In an interview with France Football, Emery claimed that Arsenal were “already on a downward slope” before he came in and refused to take any of the blame for their abysmal performances.
It remains to be seen how the managers go about rebuilding their shattered careers from here on out, but their statements provide an adequate signal about their intent; one man looks at the future while another dwells in the past.