The new season is quickly approaching and fans are eagerly looking forward to the exciting upcoming preseason matches. The players will officially return to training on Monday, 3 July, so the joy is tantalizing. On Friday, Athletic Club President Josu Urrutia took the time to speak with AthleticTV on a variety of different topics. He began by saying that the players want to continue at the high level of the past few years and that squad moves won’t be decided until Cuco Ziganda has had the chance to look at every player.
“All of the preseason matches should be very exciting. One of our goals is to excite the fans and for that to happen, the first step is being excited yourself. I know that all the players want to maintain the level of the past few years and continue fighting for big things. The coaching and the response of the team these years has made it easier to schedule matches against strong opponents. We start with a lot of players, but Cuco knows everyone and first wants to see them in person. After that we will then see how things are going and make decisions about the squad.”
Urrutia was also asked about club legend Joseba Exteberria who coached CD Basconia last season. After not getting the Bilbao Athletic job, Etxeberria took over at Amorebieta in the Segunda B. The President said that everyone involved believed this would be a great chance for Etxeberria to grow as a coach and made it clear that he is still under contract with Athletic.
“Joseba is still around Athletic because of his relationship with Athletic, and because he still has a contract with the club even though he will be at Amorebieta. We knew what we wanted for Bilbao Athletic, which was Gaizka Garitano. So we had an open conversation with Joseba and he said that he had several possibilities to coach in the Segunda B. He saw this as something good for his training and also for Athletic. We also saw it as a good decision and hopefully he will take a firm step in his training as a coach, which will benefit him and Athletic.”
There has been a lot of debate on social media since it was revealed that Athletic would be signing Youssouf Diarra to CD Basconia. The player joined a Basque youth team at 17 and many believes that he doesn’t qualify as being trained in the Basque Country, and thus he doesn’t line up with the club’s policy. Urrutia touched on the subject, saying that the philosophy is clear that players have to be born or formed in the Basque Country.
“Within the Basque community we can see that it is very different from that of 30 years ago. We now see that 10% of the people that make up the Basque Country are people who have migrated here, and Lezama and Bizkaian football is an exact rubric of that. We have another situation but the philosophy of Athletic is clear: people who are born here or formed here at any Basque team. Since Lezama began this has always been questioned and there are many issues of interest. If a player is a finished product then they are no longer being formed. The result of the hard work at Lezama can be seen in the first team.”
One of the biggest things that still needs to happen this summer is the renewal of Kepa Arrizabalaga. The 22-year-old is only under contract for the upcoming year, but reports claim that he has already agreed to an extension that will be signed when he returns from Spain U21 duty. Rumors also suggest that Real Madrid is interested in the keeper, but Urrutia firmly stated that the player wants to stay at Athletic Club.
“Kepa wants to stay with us and we want him to stay as well. We have been talking and the matter is being handled with normality. When something concrete is finished or an agreement is reached, we will notify the public like always. Kepa had a great year with us even though he was injured for a few months. I would put him in the group of young stars with Laporte, Inaki Williams, Yeray, and now Vesga, Aketxe, Lekue, and Sabin Merino. Each has shown their stuff. Kepa’s goal is to stay here for many years and that is our goal too.”
This will be an interesting year at Athletic due to coaching changes. Cuco Ziganda has taken over the first team and was replaced at Bilbao Athletic by Gaizka Garitano. Urrutia said that all of the last few Athletic managers have been winners and that he believes the current pair line up perfectly with the club’s vision.
“At the top level we have had four great coaches. Marcelo Bielsa, Ernesto Valverde, Kuko Ziganda, and no Gaizka Garitano at Bilbao Athletic. We see that there are differences between them in personalities as well as football ideas. But we also see that they clearly meet the criteria of what we want in a coach and that is the common denominator between them. We believe that Kuko and Gaizka know the club well and that they are in line with our vision. They are winners and they want to win at Athletic and help improve the team. We will continue to improve every day.”
In closing, Urrutia touched on all of Athletic’s success over the last few years, both financially and competitively. The goal is to continue improving and growing as a club and to always make the fans happy and feel represented by Athletic.
“We are in a great situation that we have not been in for more than 30 years in terms of a sporting and economic level. At many levels the club is demonstrating that it is strong, very healthy, and that is what it is being shown to those outside the club. Things have gone well on the sports field and that has contributed to the economic situation taking another positive turn. The feeling we get from outside is that people are happy and it is difficult not to be happy because of how things are going. We have classified for Europe four consecutive times, which is something that not many teams can say. We played in the Champions League with both the men’s and women’s teams and the men continue to climb and improve. Our ambition is to get even better. But it is good to value this time and, in general, be satisfied and happy. We can’t fall asleep because we must continue working towards our goals.”
As mentioned above, Athletic will begin preseason training on 3 July and that day will also include team pictures and the unveiling of the new kits. Cuco Ziganda’s side will then travel to Switzerland on 10 July and play their first preseason friendly on 12 July against FC Basel. The Lions will begin their season on 27 July in the first leg of their Europa League qualifier.