Monday was a very busy day in Bilbao. Not only did Athletic unveil their 2017-2018 New Balance kits, the Lions also had their first training session of the preseason. This was Cuco Ziganda’s first day in charge of the Athletic Club and he took the time to speak to the media in an official press conference. He was immediately asked what it feels like to be coaching Athletic and Ziganda was openly very excited about his new role with the team.“Being the coach of Athletic Club is a great feeling. I am very eager and excited. I wouldn’t trade this for any other coaching job in the world. We will have quality training sessions. We will take advantage of as many minutes that we have. I want a team that plays well and this team has already done excellent things. We have to maintain that and improve it further. We have many goals, but at the very least we want to continue where we have been in recent years. As a coach, having a squad like this is a luxury, but you always want to improve and the players do as well. They see that it is worth the effort invested. What I hope is that when fans see Athletic play they see a club representing them.”
Ziganda went on to state that he has not made any decisions for the squad yet. He wants to see everyone in person before trimming down the squad, but also admitted that the players who left on loan were able to show a lot while away.
“I want to see everyone here firsthand and then I will make decisions. Everyone who is a part of this team is an asset. I don’t have a predetermined number of players that I want in the squad. Everyone will get the chance to show themselves and then we will make decisions within the time we have. To accomplish extraordinary things you have to have extraordinary training sessions and effort. The higher you are the harder it gets, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The players who went on loan last year played good minutes and we were able to see what they can do.”Asier Villalibre, Inigo Cordoba, and Unai Nunez will train with the first team this preseason and Ziganda says that they have all earned the right to do so. He also revealed that he would like to have three goalkeepers in the squad, but hasn’t spoken to them about that yet.
“Players come up from the reserve team because of one of two reasons: necessity or form. In this case it is both. Villalibre is here to show himself and compare with others. He’s already played in the Primera. Inigo Cordoba and Unai Nunez both had great seasons and will now have to demonstrate that in the first team. Lezama is where dreams are fulfilled more than anywhere else. The idea is to continue with three goalkeepers. I have a plan but I want to talk to them first. I will communicate my plan to them soon but I haven’t had the chance to talk to them yet. I’ve been thinking of how to handle the situation but it isn’t urgent right now.”
In closing, Ziganda was clear that he believes Athletic can continue playing at a high level. The Lions have qualified for European competition for four consecutive seasons and that is something that the Lions want to continue. Ziganda was also asked whether or not Youssouf Diarra qualifies to play for Athletic and he was firm about the club’s philosophy and identity.“This team has proven that with hard work we can finish really high in the table. Without almost any reinforcements this team has maintained its level and quality. That is something that we believe in and identify with. We have a demand and brutal ambition. Our goal is to answer the call. This is a unique place and we are proud of our identity. The philosophy and history of this club is indestructible, and it is incredible what the club has done and what I have felt since I came here in 1991. It’s players who are formed here or born here, that is how I understand it. I don’t know Diarra very well, but he was at Ardoi and Txantrea. If he comes here I don’t have the slightest doubt that he enters those parameters.”
Athletic will continue training this week before flying to Switzerland on 10 July. The Lions will spend eight days as part of the Festival of the Alps before returning 18 July. During this time they will play in three friendly matches. The Basques will officially begin their season on 27 July when they will play the first leg of their Europa League qualifier.