Since arriving at Athletic Club in the summer of 2015 Raúl García has been one of the most important players in the team. His passion, aggression, and eye for goal has characterized Athletic’s fighting spirit and has made him a vital component in the squad. For a player who is so full of fire, this season’s shortcomings won’t be taken lightly. García was a guest on the Fuera de Juego show on Thursday evening and admitted that this has been the toughest time since he made the switch to the San Mamés and lamented the fact that the Lions are finding their best form so late into the campaign.
“This has been the most complicated season since I came to Athletic. I like to play at the best level and meet the goals of the club. It’s been a tough year but the experiences we now have makes us better. You have to be realistic and know the strengths of your team. We were looking for our best level, but now there is not much time left. It’s a shame that our best form has come so late in the season. For one reason or another we have not been able to achieve our best level.”
Rulo, as the fans affection call him, will see his current contract run out at the end of next season. He says that negotiations will take place when the appropriate time comes, but made it clear that he and his family are happy in Bilbao and that he believes renewal talks will be quick and easy. When asked about rumors that Kuko Ziganda will be relieved of his post in the summer the midfielder said that the club makes the decisions, but the players can’t let things like this affect them.
“Renewal? These things have to be talked about at the appropriate time and in their due course. I want to be clear that I am very settled here. I am happy and my family has been well received in Bilbao and that is important to me. I am very happy and if I’m happy then the rest comes very easy, so there will be no problems. Ziganda? In football there are so many things that can bother you so you have to ignore them. This is a job. The club decides if someone should continue or not, it happens with us [players] as well. These things do not affect us.”
With seven games left on the calendar Athletic currently find themselves seven points off of the last European qualifying spot in the La Liga table. García says that he likes to take it one game at a time and that the goal for right now is to keep playing at the level that saw the Lions win 3-1 against Villarreal on Monday night.
“I like to play the games, one at a time, and each one you win is a step forward and closer to the goal. I want to return to the level of our last game and keep winning. There are only a few points left to play for and Europe is far away, but as long as there is a mathematical chance then we will fight for it. We want to play a complete game at home, to show the fans our best again. The match against Deportivo is going to be complicated. We are not better than anyone else if we don’t play well. This Saturday’s game is definitive for both us and Deportivo.”
Athletic’s turn of form happens to have coincided with the return of Iker Muniain who tore his ACL back in September. The winger played his first minutes since the injury in Monday night’s win and scored a late goal to seal the victory for the Basque giants. García admitted that it was a very special night and that Muniain’s absence has been clearly noticeable in the team’s performances over the last six months.
“We always talk about the emotional level of the game, with long-term injuries or diseases like with Yeray. People don’t know what a footballer experiences when he is separated from the group during that time. Muni’s return was perfect, he was able to score and help us to victory. He gives us a lot. His injury was something that was noticeable in the whole team.”
Saturday’s match against Deportivo has to be viewed as a final if Athletic are serious about fighting for seventh place. That being said, they will have to compete without Ander Iturraspe and Unai Nuñez who will miss the game due to suspension from yellow card accumulation. If the Lions are able to pull off the victory at the San Mamés they could potentially move to within four points of their goal. It definitely won’t be an easy game, but players like Raúl García are fired up about finishing the season strong.