Two years ago Athletic Club made a shocking move when they signed Atletico Madrid midfielder Raúl García. Many did not see the move coming, but it was clear that he wold immediately upgrade the team. Since joining the club, Rulo, as he is affectionally called, has become one of the most important players at the San Mamés and a fan favorite. On Monday he gave an exclusive interview with Robert Basic of El Correo and said that the group of players at Athletic are all friends which is something that no other club has.
“I think my two years here have been positive. I adapted very quickly and I have the feeling that I can be here much longer. From the first moment I joined the group I personally felt very good in the city. When I went to Madrid I was a shy person and I’ve grown a lot since then. I have always tried to make my teammates my friends, but here is different. At Atletico part were friends and part were just teammates. At Athletic we have something that no other Primera team has. What Aduriz said about us being a game…its true. We are a very professional team in what we have to do, but at the same time we are a group of friends.”
García went on to say that he has a lot of love for Osasuna, Atletico Madrid, and Athletic which are the three clubs that he has played for. He also touched on his character, which has been largely seen as aggressive, saying that he is completely different off the pitch and knows where he limit is.
“I highly value all three clubs that I have played for. In Osasuna I began at ten years old and was eventually able to make my debut in the Primera. Then I went to Atletico and took a step forward. I left home and had to compete with everyone else so I learned a lot. Now I am in another stage of my life. I came here with the same illusion and desire I had when I was still in Pamplona. My character? I think it’s more on the pitch than anything else. I am totally different outside of the football. In spite of wanting to calm myself on the field, it is very difficult. I am a very competitive person who has to win and I translate that into energy. Of course, I know where the limit is. The moment you lose your passion for the game is when your career is over.”
When asked about the differences between former manager Ernesto Valverde and new coach Kuko Ziganda, García stated that there are a lot of similarities. Ziganda wants the team to be better every single day and has worked hard to install his new identity of playing football.
“Kuko has had to work fast to implement his identity, but there is a lot of similarity with what we did before under Ernesto. Any coach has his way of playing football and that is what Kuko is trying to convey to us. He wants us to play better. When we are working on it on a day-to-day basis we are convinced that we will get stronger in the long run. The main thing is results because you want to win. When you win you can continue improving and that is the most important thing for every team.”
Since Rulo joined the team two years ago there have been no new outside additions. Still, he believes that Athletic is very competitive and that the players coming up from Lezama have helped to improve the squad tremendously.
“The team is able to compete as has been doing that in recent years. We know that all clubs get reinforcements and, theoretically, have better teams. But with the change of coach and the kids who have come up to to the first team, we have what we need and that will be enough. We are stronger and ready to compete. Here we are fortunate that the young players come into the team already quite learned. They [Unai Nuñez and Iñigo Córdoba] have already trained under Kuko and they understand him and what he wants. We have to help them through our experience because we have already lived what they are living now.”
This season has seen Iker Muniain play his best football in a more central role, which could eventually affect Raú García’s playing time. The midfielder says that he never thinks about losing his place because he only wants what is best for the team. Like everyone else, he wants to play but is willing to line up wherever Ziganda tells him.
“I never think about the danger of losing my place, only for what is best for the team. Of course I want to play, but I have to adapt to what the Mister asks of me. If he decides to play Muniain inside and my outside, then I will play on the outside. If he decides that I will not play, then I won’t play. If I’m not playing well, there are others who can do so. We don’t want to put limits on our goals this season. you have to go out and play and see where you stand. Our first goal was to qualify for the group stage. Now we must make the most of the three competitions and finish as high as possible. The Europa League is a different competition that we play in every year. Call it an illusion if you want. It is a different tournament and it would be a prize to win it.”
In closing, the 31-year-old was asked about his future as a footballer and whether or not he can continue playing until he is as old as Aritz Aduriz. García says that he has been working hard to take care of himself and will keep playing until his body won’t let him anymore. He also revealed that he joked around with Aduriz about the two playing until they are 40 years old.
“Since the age of 20 I have been evolving and taking better care of myself. I know that in football you only have a few years to express yourself and be 100 percent. I have always said that I will play as long as my body allows me. I don’t want to unable to compete and in pain. I always joke with Aduriz because we like the sport so much. I always tell him we are going to play until we are 40. My life is so closely related to the sport. I love it and I need to keep playing.”
Raúl García and Athletic Club will be back in action on 10 September when will they host newly promoted Girona at the San Mamés. The Lions currently sit tied for fourth place in the La Liga table with four points, so they will be looking to add another three on Sunday to continue their great start to the season. Kuko Ziganda has already proven to be very focused on player rotations so it will be interesting to see who starts against Girona and who will be rested for Thursday’s Europa League group stage match against Hertha Berlin.