By Richard Martin
EIBAR, Spain (Reuters) - Eibar have long stood out for being the smallest club in La Liga, hailing from a tiny city of under 30,000 inhabitants and with no training ground, and they now lead the way in gender equality in Spanish football.
While women hold high offices at Real Madrid, Real Sociedad and Leganes, Eibar are the only club in Spain where over half of the management positions are occupied by women.
"Eibar is a city where women have always had a very big role in every aspect of society and the club is nothing else but a reflection of this trait," Eibar President Amaia Gorostiza told Reuters.
"We don’t have any policy in the club and this all happened naturally, we haven’t pushed it. Whenever we employ someone the only thing we look for in candidates is quality. We look for ability and worthiness without considering gender."
Eibar were largely unknown outside the Basque country until four years ago when they were promoted to La Liga and launched a worldwide appeal to increase their social capital by 1.7 million euros (£1.5 million) in order to comply with league regulations.
Ten thousand people across 50 countries responded by buying shares in the club, giving the tiny provincial club an unlikely global fanbase.
Money has remained tight, though.
Eibar have the sixth lowest wage bill in the league, totalling 41 million euros per year. Real Madrid, who visit their Ipurua stadium on Saturday, pay their squad 566 million euros annually.
Eibar's success has been built on a carefully designed recruitment policy and defined playing style adopted by coach Jose Luis Mendilibar, a veteran of Basque football who last season guided Eibar to a highest La Liga finish of ninth.
"The scouting system is about hiring some players who are around 30 years old with experience and good knowledge of the league, who are a little more expensive, and combining them with younger, cheaper players from Segunda Division," CEO Patricia Rodriguez said.
"Combining these two sets of players makes a strong team for us which is key on the pitch as well as in management."
Rodriguez is the only female CEO in La Liga and even at a club as forward-thinking as Eibar she admits facing difficulties.
"It was not easy. In my first months, when I spoke, sometimes my opinion was not heard as much as that of my male colleagues," she said.
"I had to make an effort to show people my work and achieve my targets at the club. I had to show I can do the same amount of work or be better than my male colleagues. But now I can say that all my colleagues behave normally with me."
Gorostiza is more guarded when asked if she has faced barriers due to her gender in an industry traditionally dominated by men.
"I cannot deny the evidence that today being a woman in a position of business responsibility still exposes you to certain attitudes which are never applied to men, but that is changing and those attitudes will disappear eventually," she said.
"I prefer not to give any importance to these incidents or enter into details. Things end up falling into place and you have to do things as naturally as possible."
Gorostiza is also reluctant to talk about Eibar setting a trend.
"We’ve never aspired to be an example in this or any aspect, we just do what we believe," she said.
"But if there are other clubs and organisations that believe that there are some things they can learn from us that’s great, and we feel proud about that."
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(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)