Despite the fact that the international break has brought a pause to club football, Athletic Club is hard at work preparing for their next game. The Lions have earned four points from their first two La Liga matches and will be looking to secure three more next Sunday when they host newly promoted Girona at the San Mamés. On Sunday, versatile right-back Iñigo Lekue gave an exclusive interview with José Artetxe of DEIA and gave his opinion on several topics. To begin with, he said that the team achieved their goal of qualifying for the Europa League group stage, but that he doesn’t consider it an advantage that he trained under new manager Kuko Ziganda at Bilbao Athletic.
“Well, we have met the first goal of qualifying for the Europa League group stage and we are happy. Now, during this week without a match we are gaining strength and we will try next Sunday to get out first home victory in the league. It’s true that Kuko knows me well because we have worked together, but I don’t know if it’s an advantage of not. It’s good that he is the coach because he’s kept things a little similar to Ernesto. Each coach has his methods and Kuko has changed quite a bit. The work we do every day has not changed much from what we did with him at Bilbao Athletic. His training sessions are high intensity. Kuko lives everything he does, not only in training, but especially in games.”
Lekue is entering his third season with the Athletic first team and believes that he has done well in his first two years. His ability to play several positions which has allowed him more minutes, but believe that he can give more and be an ever better footballer by continuing to improve.
“I’m happy with my performance since joining the first team. In the first year I play enough to show myself in the Primera. I’ve not always been a starter, but I played well. In the second season I would say I did pretty good too, but I think I can give a lot more. I played practically the same minutes as the first year. I can play several positions and that helps. If you can adapt to different roles it is something that, in principle, favors you because you can get more opportunities. The downside would be that it may cost you the change to secure a regular place in the team. I think in my case it is positive. I don’t think it hurts me playing on the left. I have played a few games there, but it’s not my natural position.”
Right-back has been Lekue’s best position with the first team and was his major role with Bilbao Athletic. That being said, he recognizes that Oscar De Marcos and Eneko Bóveda are also vying for the same position and that the competition makes everyone better in daily training sessions.
“There is De Marcos, Bóveda, and myself all available for right-back. Bóveda can play centrally and I can play higher up the field. The competition in the team helps us all in training and in the end it is the Mister who decides who plays. So far we’ve seen a little more changes in the lineups. At the moment I suppose the coach has a favored lineup, but he will change it for what is best depending on the schedule or opponent. We can rotate.”
When asked to compare former manager Ernesto Valverde with current manager Kuko Ziganda, the 24-year-old said that doing so is never a good thing for anyone. He sees the Lions playing at a very high level and believes that they can compete to win the Europe League; but first they must take it one match at a time and not get too far ahead of themselves.
“Obviously it is too early to make comparisons and I don’t think it is ever a good thing to compare. What Ernesto did in his time here was great and positive for the club. Meanwhile, Kuko was doing great things with Bilbao Athletic, which has been getting players into the first team. I trust Kuko a lot, but I don’t think comparing is good for anyone or the club. Every year we have seen that Athletic can play at a high level. We can aspire to win trophies like the Europa League, but that is only possible if you can advance through each round. You have to do a lot of qualifying and that is why we take it one game at a time.”
In closing, Lekue stated that the goals for this season are the same as last year. Athletic wants to have a deep run in the Europa League and finish in the top six of the La Liga table. On a personal note, the Lezama product wants to play even more and challenge for a starting role in the team.
“Our goals are the same as last year, and I want to have more presence in the team and try to earn a starting job. I know that I can give more. I think I have the ability to play better football and a better player than I have shown so far. I am a player that came into the team with daring, confidence, and intensity. I need to be more consistent with that. When I was a kid and went to the San Mamés I watched Andoni Iraola a lot because I played in the same position. He was my reference, of course. I don’t want to be compared to anyone either. ”
Iñigo Lekue and Athletic Club will be back in action on 10 September when they will host Girona at the San Mamés. Former Athletic players Gorka Iraizoz and Jonas Ramalho, who currently play for Girona, will be welcomed back to Bilbao for what will be a very special reunion. The Lions will be hoping for earn three more points and continue their strong start to the La Liga season.
*This interview was conducted by DEIA and has been translated in it’s entirety.