Athletic Club’s season will begin in just one week when they will travel to take on Dinamo Bucuresti in the first leg of their Europa League qualifier. The Lions have been hard at work preparing for the new campaign and new manager Cuco Ziganda seems to have won over the players. On Wednesday, Mundo Deportivo spoke with Ander Iturraspe to discuss the preseason and he was quick to point out that he wished he wasn’t suspended for the first leg due to last year’s red card against APOEL.
Iturraspe will miss the first leg against Dinamo Bucuresti (Mundo Deportivo)
“I won’t be able to play because of the expulsion last season, which is a shame. The game was already over but I made a bad decision and picked up another booking. We respect Dinamo a lot and we know that they were one of the most difficult opponents that we could play in this round. It is going to be difficult. We are really excited and ready to play, but I will not be able to in the first leg. We know it is going to be a difficult tie, but we never think anything will be easy. It’s dangerous to ever assume that of any opponent. We will be playing in Bucharest again too and we have good memories of that city. It is clear that it’s a place that brought us a lot of sadness, but it is a part of our history. We will try our best to have a different result this time.”
When asked about system changes under Ziganda, Iturraspe revealed that a lot of things are similar. The team still wants to pressure opponents and win back possession, but there is also new freedom for the holding midfielders to move further up the pitch and get involved with other aspects of the game.
“What makes the difference is the commitment and we are all going to be one. We are a powerful team and we want to take advantage when we win back possession. We like to play with pressure up top and we are the best in the league at doing that so we have to keep that going. That is a nonnegotiable. When we have the ball, Kuko proposes that we open the field and play fast. We have the qualities to play short or long football and that is a great thing for us. He does have more of an idea to release both pivots. There is always one that is more likely to stay back, but now there is more freedom with the Mister. With Valverde it was more of a fixed system is one staying further back the other always more intermediate.”
Iturraspe said that he is starting from scratch this summer like everyone else. He wants to play as much as he can and continue helping the team. This summer he took time to disconnect from football, but it is hard to do that when you love the game so much.
“I am starting from scratch like everyone else. I really want to play and help the team as much as possible. Last season I had moments when it seemed I was playing my best, but suddenly it would change. I would play a lot then not see the field. It’s not an easy situation, but I tried to my best. I think I had a pretty good season, but I want to improve. This summer I wanted to disconnect and rest, which is important. You always have that goal, but football is our daily break and I love to play and compete.”
The midfielder was then asked about the goals for the upcoming season and admitted that it is getting harder to qualify for Europe, but that is still the team’s goal. On a personal level, Iturraspe just wants to do as much as he can for the team.
“Europe is becoming more difficult every year. The League is always strong and you have to be at your best. I see our team as very competitive and with great desire. We want to be back in Europe and we are very ambitious. Personally I just want to play as much as possible, be the best possible, and help the team as much as possible. On a collective level, our goal is to do what the Mister tells us. I expect us to be very solid at home. I don’t know how many points we earned last year, but I know it will be very, very difficult to repeat. I think we are capable of doing it, but on the road we have to be more consistent.”
In closing, the Lezama product was asked to describe Cuco Ziganda. He said that the new manager is a perfectionist and detailed. His energy and demanding presence makes the players have to focus hard during training, but he is also building a great relationship with the team and loves to ask their opinions on many different things in the system.
“He is a perfectionist. He tells us that we are a team and all the details are important. We are heating up and have to be 100% concentrated. He can make you laugh a lot, but you have to be focused on every detail in training. He is very demanding, very detailed, very intense. He likes to be around the players all day and he’s always eager to help and correct. He likes to ask our opinions and know what the players think. That’s smart. We will always do what the Mister says, but he wants to know our thoughts too. Sometimes he will just stop and ask why we did something just because he wants to know and understand what we were thinking or seeing. He has clear ideas and that is important.”
Ander Iturraspe and Athletic will be back in action on 21 July when they will travel to take on Club Brugge. This will be their fourth friendly of the preseason and one of the final games in preparation to face off with Dinamo Bucuresti next Thursday. Of course, Iturraspe will not be able to play against the Romanians in the first leg, but he is really looking forward to being back at the San Mames.