Athletic Bilbao

The man they called “El Chopo”

José Ángel Iribar Cortajarena, nicknamed El Chopo, or “The Poplar” was born 1 March 1943 and is a Spanish retired football goalkeeper and manager. Having played almost exclusively for Athletic Bilbao, he appeared in more than 600 official games for the club over the course of 18 La Liga seasons, winning two major titles. Iribar represented the Spanish national team in the 1964 Nations’ Cup and the 1966 World Cup, winning the former tournament.

Iribar was born in Zarautz, Gipuzkoa. After only three La Liga games in his first professional season at Athletic Bilbao, he proceeded to become the Basques’ undisputed starter for the following 16 seasons; his senior starts were made at CD Basconia in 1961, when the latter was still not the feeder team.

At Athletic, Iribar profited from injury to Carmelo Cedrún in October 1963 and never looked back, going on to conquer two Spanish Cups and finish second in the 1976–77 UEFA Cup, to Juventus FC. He retired in 1980 at 37, having played in 614 matches in all competitions as another club great in the position, Andoni Zubizarreta, would arrive in the summer; during the 1970–71 campaign, he kept a clean sheet at ten successive home games, which translated into a record of 1,018 minutes.

Subsequently, Iribar joined Athletic’s coaching staff, taking charge of the goalkeepers. In 1983–84 he coached the reserve team Bilbao Athletic, leading them to the second place in the second division, a best-ever, although they were not eligible for promotion.

Iribar also managed the first team in the 1986–87 season – for the only time, the league had a second stage divided in three groups, and Athletic won the relegation one (ranking 13th overall). Since 1988 and for over two decades, he was in charge of the Basque Country national team.

Iribar made his debut for Spain on 11 March 1964, in the first leg of the 1964 European Nations’ Cup’s last qualifying stage, a 5–1 home win against Republic of Ireland. He was the starter during the finals, and the nation emerged victorious on home soil. Iribar also represented Spain at the 1966 FIFA World Cup, playing all three group stage matches. He retained his position for a further ten years, his last game coming on 24 April 1976 in a 1–1 against West Germany for the unsuccessful UEFA Euro 1976 qualifying, and gained a total of 49 caps.

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