January 10, 2019 / 3:19 PM / 6 months ago

Ibai quits Alaves for Athletic relegation fight

FILE PHOTO: Football Soccer - Alaves v Celta Vigo - Spanish King's Cup Semi-final second leg - Mendizorroza, Vitoria, Spain, 08/02/17 Alaves' Ibai Gomez reacts during the match. REUTERS/Vincent West

BILBAO (Reuters) - Spanish winger Ibai Gomez has taken the surprising decision to leave high-flying La Liga side Alaves to return to struggling Athletic Bilbao, swapping a push for Champions League football for a relegation dog-fight.

Ibai, 29, left Athletic for Alaves in 2016 when they were promoted to the Spanish top flight but despite helping the team climb above Real Madrid to fourth in the standings, he is heading back to his boyhood club after signing a three-and-a-half year deal.

Athletic are the only team apart from Barcelona and Real Madrid who have never been demoted from La Liga, but that status has been seriously endangered by a poor campaign which has left them 17th in the standings, two points above the relegation zone.

“I know many people will not understand this decision and will not share my thinking,” Ibai said in a video released on social media which appeared to be a nod to “The Decision”, the documentary Antoine Griezmann made last year to reveal he was snubbing Barcelona to stay at Atletico Madrid.

“I thank Alaves for everything, I will always have the club in my heart, but today it’s time to return home.”

Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond

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