Ibai Gómez Opens Up About The Difficulties He Faced At Athletic Club And His Decision To Leave
When Ibai Gómez arrived at Athletic Club back in 2010 it didn’t take long for him to become a fan favorite at the San Mamés. The passion and fearlessness that he played with endeared him to the Athleticzales and he appeared in over 100 games before leaving to join Alaves in 2016. Injuries played a major role in the winger losing his place at Athletic and he recently opened up about the exit in an exclusive interview with Javier Ortiz De Lazcano of El Correo. He said that he was always playing injured which affected his performances and that sometimes he felt that he didn’t even want to play which was difficult to accept.
“I wanted to rush back as soon as possible. I got used to playing with pain and that meant that I used muscles in my other leg more. That is the key that explains my performances at Athletic, especially in the last year. Raúl García saw that I was having problems and introduced me to the physio he worked with. It’s something I’ll thank him for the rest of my life. Yes, obviously I feel more important here than I did at Athletic. I’m aware that in my last years I didn’t give the level I should have. At Alaves I am doing things well. I am giving everything I have and I’ve received support in return. I agree with Andre Gomes who said sometimes he doesn’t want to play because he feels shame. I think 80% of players feel that at some point. I have gone through not wanting to come on the field because I feel pressure to perform. Sometimes you don’t feel capable but you can’t tell the coach that you don’t want to play even though you don’t feel that are up to the level.”
Gómez went on to say that he did feel that shame at Athletic, especially in his final year at the club. Injuries really affected his ability to perform and he did not enjoy being at the club due to the pressure and expectations on his shoulders. He’s been asked why he didn’t play as well at the San Mamés as he is now with Alaves, but it just isn’t that simple. He went through a lot of sleepless nights and was even afraid to talk to the manager about what he was feeling and experiencing.
“It did happen at Athletic, especially in my last year. That last year was not the real me, neither as a person or as a footballer. I did not enjoy it and in this career the most important thing is to enjoy yourself. People will say ‘Why didn’t you play like this at Athletic?’ and I have searched through 500,000 answers to that question in vain until I figured it out. You don’t know how hard it is when people demand the most of you and that your job is to play your best every game. I did not see myself capable of playing my best at Athletic. My wife knows how it was when I came home. I cried at lot at home and I spent many nights without sleep. I am lucky to have the woman that I have, she has helped me a lot. My parents have too. I had a really difficult time but I have luckily found a very good environment. I didn’t talk to Valverde about it because at this little you are a little afraid to speak about it. I never made it public, but now that you have asked me I had to say it. To be on the bench at the San Mamés and not want to go into the game because I know I can’t give my best was extremely difficult. You want to think that you are always ready, but you really aren’t. You can’t tell the coach that either.”
At the end of the interview, the former Athletic winger said that when he plays for a club he also become a fan of that team which makes it hard to accept criticism. Some players handle it much better than others, but it took him a long time to learn how to accept criticism. Ibai Gómez eventually made the decision that he had to leave Athletic and spoke with then-manager Ernesto Valverde to make the move happen. Now that he is at Alaves he is happy and feels more important and capable than ever.
“When I play for a team I am a player, but I’m also a fan. It is hard to have other fans criticize your when you don’t do well. They ask you to give even more and I understand that, but it isn’t always that simple. Some handle it better and others handle it worse. It was hard for me to overcome and learn how to handle it. My worst time I can think of was two or three games at the San Mamés when I was playing on the wing and all I could think was that I didn’t want someone to pass the ball to me. I didn’t want to touch it. That is really hard. Other than the first little while of getting back into shape, things have gone much better at Alaves. I began to see the light. I know that I had lost my position at Athletic and I was excited to restart. I spoke with Valverde, who is the most complete coach that I have ever had, and told him that I understand the situation and that I wanted to leave because I was ready to play somewhere else. I have the upmost respect for Valverde and I felt that I needed to make a change in my life. I liked the project here at Alaves and I came to be a part of it. I only have words of thanks to the club and the fans. I am a Alavista now.”
Ibai Gómez’s interview should serve as a serious reminder to fans who sometimes forget that players are humans with emotions and fears. While he was at Athletic no one could have guessed that he was facing such deep personal issues that led him to leave the San Mamés. Fans still hold Gómez in high regard because of everything he gave for the club and those same fans should be happy that the 28-year-old has finally found somewhere that he is happy and able to play his best football.