Are Valverde’s Athletic Club the most fun football team to watch in 2024? | Sid Lowe

Manager is helming the thrilling third stint in a trilogy that could see the club win a first major trophy in 40 years

“Football is like a film,” Ernesto Valverde says, and sometimes it is an entire trilogy of them. The man who allayed fears that sequels are never any good by reminding everyone of The Godfather Part II when he returned to Bilbao for a second spell as coach of Athletic Club in 2013 and then proved it by leading to them to their first trophy in 31 years has gone and done it again. If Part II was even better than the original, the player they called “The Ant” becoming the only manager who could match what he had achieved first time round, Part III of his San Mames saga might be the best yet, Valverde back to take them where they have never been, not even with him.

When Valverde rejoined Athletic in the summer of 2022, his last job had ended with him being sacked by Barcelona, he had not worked for 30 months and he signed for a single season. But at least he was home, among those who appreciated him; besides, he insisted, it was an adventure – and it has been excellent. Eighth in the league – as high as Athletic had been since he was last there – and within four minutes of the Copa del Rey final in his first season, a year on and with his contract extended, this season they did get there, putting four past Barcelona and Atlético Madrid en route to April’s final against Mallorca in Seville. Then this Saturday, they got two more to defeat Alavés and move into fourth – well-placed to qualify for the Champions League for the third time ever and the first since way back when the manager was, well, him.

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