Mikel Rico is loving life since returning to Athletic Club back in 2013. After years away from his boyhood club, he returned from Granada and immediately had an impact on the team. Speaking with Radio Marca Bilbao, he touched on his career so far and said that returning to Athletic is the best thing that has ever happened in his many years as a professional footballer.
“In my playing career, signing for Athletic is the best thing has happened to me in my life. After having been away so many years it was my last chance to come back here. From the moment I arrived I enjoyed every day, every game, every minute. Most of the moments have been very good, but there have been tough times and you can always learn from those. For me, playing with Athletic and reaching this number of matches is something that I could have never dreamed of when I was little.”
Rico went on to say that he dreamed about playing for Athletic before finally coming home, however his transfer from Granada was a bit difficult. In the end, he wouldn’t trade his career for anything.
“Before I came back here I would have killed to play one game with Athletic. The transfer from Granada was not an easy one. I was stuck inside for a week because the agreement was not finalized. There was a problem with the teams involved, but everything finally worked out. Playing in the lower divisions was not easy but it did not last long. Every footballer must go through their own moments. I would not change anything that has happened to me in my career.”
Over the years Rico has played fewer minutes and that is something that most players wouldn’t enjoy. Regardless, the 32-year-old says he can’t complain because he is at Athletic which is his dream and he knows there is a lot of competition. All he is focused on is improving and being available to the manager.
“It is impossible for me to complain about my playing time. I am at Athletic and it isn’t easy to get into a game. My situation right now is to work hard and to always be available to play or start. When I don’t play I continue to work hard and be prepared. There is no reason to give it any more thought. The four years I have been here have been great, both as a team and personally. The first year was incredible. I scored 7 goals which wasn’t normal for me and we got into the Champions League. It was an unforgettable year and so was the next one. Winning the Super Cup against the European champions was amazing.”
In closing, Rico was asked about the ongoing whispers that Ernesto Valverde is being looked at to replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona. The Basque midfielder has a lot of praise for his manager and said that Valverde is the best manager in the world for Athletic Club. Like his teammates, Rico hopes that Txingurri will stay in Bilbao.
“I don’t think he knows to this day. I think that when Ernesto has made a decision he will pass it on to us and the club and that’s it. If we don’t know anything yet it is because the future is still unclear. He knows that he has the support of the club and the players. We all want him to continue here and we have been delighted to have him as our coach. He is a super normal person, knows the club well, understands football, and just knows what all this is about. The training sessions and the way he studies opponents is very good. In press conferences he never sells himself and always praises the group and that says a lot for me. Right now he is the best coach that Athletic can have and I wish he’s stays here for many more years.”
Mikel Rico and Athletic Club will be back in action on 1 April when they travel to El Sadar to take on Osasuna. The Lions are undefeated in Basque Derbies this season, but this won’t be an easy game. Osasuna are currently at the bottom on the table and need points if they want to have a chance at avoiding relegation. Add in the fact that this is a bitter rivalry and there is reason to believe that it will be far from easy for Valverde and company.