Athletic is close to finishing the first week of preseason training and the players have already been worked very hard. Their first game of the season is less than four weeks away so there is no time to waste. Following Thursday’s morning training session, Mikel San Jose spoke to the media and said that everyone came back fit and ready to start playing football once again.
“We will have to be prepared for our first game on the 27th. We are doing very well and the team has great desire. Everyone has come back fit and eager. We are ready to start playing again. It is exciting to enter European play in our fourth consecutive season, but we must earn it. We will be favorites on the 27th, but the have to show that on the field. We are very excited about the Europa League where there is a very high level of play.”
San Jose went on to say that new manager Cuco Ziganda has been waiting a long time for this and that he has given the players a lot of energy and strength. Training sessions have been different to those of Ernesto Valverde, but the midfielder would not give anything away regarding a potential system change.
“Ziganda has conveyed to us that this is an opportunity that he is very excited about. He has been waiting for a long time and we has seen him as a very enthusiastic coach and he gives off strength. He speaks well, corrects us, helps us, and is vocal. It is a little different to Ernesto Valverde. The entire technical body with Bingen, Iban, and Imanol is great as well. We know the preseason is hard so we have to train hard. You will see the results of the work that the new staff has done when we start playing again. The system? It is early, but we are already doing things well. It is very similar to our strengths and I think in Switzerland the three friendly games will show a lot.”
Mikel Merino continues to be linked with a move to the San Mames and would be direct competition for players like San Jose. However, the Lezama product made it clear that any new players are welcome in Bilbao and will help make the team stronger. Signing players like Kepa and Inaki Williams is difficult, but thankfully they grew up at Athletic.
“Anyone who comes here will be welcome and will help make the team better. There are many players in the squad so we will see discards, but that is a difficult task. Cuco will want to see everything then he will make the decision. We are virtually the same team and we must try to improve on last season. I have a lot of peace of mind about this team. I am very calm about who we have because signing players like Kepa, Yeray, or Inaki is very difficult. Luckily, we already have them here. Our identity is very important to us.”
In closing, San Jose remarked that he wants to improve his overall game and play as many minutes as possible. He doesn’t mind playing in defense or midfield, he just wants to help the team. He also said that the squad is excited for Yeray to eventually come back after his battle with relapsed cancer.
“I want to improve from previous years and try to play as many minutes as possible. I want to fight for my place and show my best performances. It is the manager’s decision on where to play me. I have no problem playing further back or more advanced. Wherever the Mister decides or tells me to play is where I will play. Yeray? We are optimistic and we all look forward to when he is recovered and joins us. He seems to be doing very well and Josean (Lekue) commented that everything is going well. He has been in a strong mood.”
Athletic Club will train again on Friday and then will be off until Monday when they will fly to Switzerland. They will spend eight days in the country and play in three friendly matches before returning home. The season will officially begin on 27 July when the Lions will play the first leg of their Europa League qualifying match. The draw is set for 14 July.