This year has not gone according to plan for Athletic Club. After qualifying for European competition in four consecutive seasons, the Lions currently find themselves 10 points off of that mark with only eight games left on the calendar. Fans have not been shy in showing their displeasure with how things have gone and midfielder Mikel San José recently gave a very open and honest interview with DEIA to have his say on things. He was quick to admit that things aren’t like they were in recent years.
“Last year we competed well and the numbers are there to show that. Finishing the league with 63 points is not easy, it has merit, and only two teams beat us at the San Mamés. However, there was a lot of criticism of our game, especially away from home. This year we have been in a bad form. Last year we finished seventh because we lost on the last day at the Calderón, but we were close to fifth. This year we have never been in the fight for Europe. There are still eight games left and nobody knows what will happen, but in that sense the sensations are very different.”
Many fans have wondered just what has caused such a drastic drop in form. The squad has barely changed, leaving most to simply blame the hiring of Kuko Ziganda when Ernesto Valverde left to take over at FC Barcelona. Still, San José revealed that the training sessions and work hasn’t really been that much different and believes that there will always be difficult seasons for every club.
“I know that there are a lot of questions about what has happened, but the team has come out to play every game wanting to give our best. Many games have escaped us because of defensive errors, because we have not been successful in our game plans. The work that is done daily in Lezama is similar to that of the previous years. I guess it is normal for a bad year to come from time to time. It’s not something we like, but it can happen. We have been at a high level for a long period and now we have come down.”
When asked about Athletic’s drop in form, the midfielder said that it happens everywhere. All clubs will go through times of poor form and bad results, but he understands that the fans have a certain level of expectation based off of what Athletic have accomplished over the past four years. That being said, the players see it as a more normal part of football than the fans do.
“It happens everywhere. Sevilla or Valencia, for example, change ten or twelve players and they are not at the top every year either. The last few years Valencia has been below Athletic in the table. Of course we prefer to keep competing for important goals, but we understand that this can happen. I understand that people have demands based on what they have been given. What else would they want, but it is not always possible. Like I said, we are not happy with how things have gone but I think we have taken it with more normality than the fans outside.”
One things that San José and many other players are not happy with is the fact that the fans have taken to whistling the players at home games. He said that when he retires and goes to watch games at the San Mamés that is something that he will never do because of how it affects the players on the field. He’s also sad that most of the whistles have been directed at Ziganda when it is the players who are actually on the pitch performing.
“When I retire and go to watch a football game at San Mamés I will never whistle one of our players. Logically, it does not help you to be comfortable on the field. I would say it isn’t usual for it to happen, but this year it has been hard for everyone. We’ve noticed it. Surely the worse has been aimed at Ziganda. It is easier to blame the head than 25 players. The coach has had to hear many things. He started working with great enthusiasm and I can say that have continued to work hard and still have hope to reach our goals. But they aren’t the ones that go out on the field.”
Athletic Club has long been a team that has found success in group strength rather than individual talent. The Lezama product admitted that everyone’s level of performance has dipped and that it has affected the squad as a whole. Speaking about himself, San José said that he doesn’t believe that he’s earned as much playing time as he’s gotten due to his poor performances.
“Almost all of us have been below our level and we have not had consistency as a team either. Our greatest strength is the group, but we have been unable to give our best individual levels and that is our responsibility. We see what we do not do well and we train so that we don’t repeat mistakes. Because of my level of play I would probably say that I do not deserve to have played as much as I have. In the end when someone plays there is a reason for it. I know that I can do better than I have this year.”
In closing San José was asked what he thinks will happen in the summer. He quickly said that the only focus he can have is on right now and finishing the season as strongly as possible. He did admit that the poor results will likely affect the summer, hinting at changes in the team and at manager, which is expected at this point. At the end of the day, he knows how special it is to wear the Athletic shirt and the responsibility that it carries.
“We will see where we finish. I am an optimist and winning the match on Monday would give us more options to get higher in the table. It is clear that we are in debt to everyone. The year has been bad and I think that what has happened will affect next season. Now is not the time to look that far ahead, but we know that there has to be something different shown on the field to the fans and ourselves. If you wear this shirt you have a responsibility in every game, every game is important.”
Athletic Club will be back in action on Monday when they will travel to take on Villarreal. The two clubs have built a rivalry over the last few years due to their battles for European qualification, but that has taken a backseat during the current campaign due to Athletic’s place in the table. Still, both sides are coming off of disappointing results in their previous games and will want to turn things around with only a handful of matches left on the calendar.