Bingen Arsotegi Discusses The Importance Of Lezama And What Went Wrong Under Kuko Ziganda
Before Bingen Arsotegi was Kuko Ziganda’s right-hand man, he was a successful coach within Lezama. He spent time managing the Juvenil A team before eventually joining Ziganda at Bilbao Athletic and the first team last season. He recently sat down with Iñaki Ugalde of Mundo Deportivo to discuss the disappointing campaign, but the conversation started with his thoughts on the current state of Lezama, most notably the 2000 generation of which he actually coached a few of the players.
“I would say that they [the 2000 generation] are coming along well. Paredes, Cubillo, Gorka Aguirre, Imanol, Arberas, Vencedor, Sancet…they are all very exciting. Sancet is a complete player, an international player who can do a lot of different things. He has presence, good at reading play, and has an aerial game as well. Being able to go from Lezama to training with the first team in the preseason is something that will help his development. Training with the first team is one thing, talking about staying is something else. It is a prize and an opportunity to train the best 18 year olds, but you also have to manage it well.”
Arsotegi was also asked about players who have left Athletic that he believes could one day return and wasn’t shy about dropping names. He was quick to praise several Lezama graduates, but also praised young stars who have been able to break into the first team recently.
“To me, Unai Bustinza seems to be 100% an Athletic player. He isn’t at the club, but he represents what Athletic stands for. There are others…Galarreta, Aketxe, Eguaras, Erik Morán…player who aren’t at the club for whatever reason. Muniain is still here and Nuñez and Córdoba have just arrived. Players who do well at the academy will have their chance, but it is difficult because you have to arrive at the right time with need in the team. You need to be sufficiently prepared technically, tactically, and physically to have the opportunity. Sometimes all of that can be there and you still don’t get the opportunity.”
Some have made the claim that Athletic’s model is not sustainable moving forward, but Arsotegi disagrees. He believes that the club can absolutely continue competing at a high level, but they have to keep growing to be able to do so. Athletic must work hard to have the best Basque players around and focusing on developing footballers at Lezama.
“I think the club definitely has a model for the future, but you have to keep growing. It is true that neighboring clubs are growing well, but Athletic has to have the best Basque players, whoever they may be. The market is what it is. La Real can sign seven foreigners, or Alavés or Eibar, but we have to get the best that we can. Athletic must have the best Basque players coming through the academy.”
When asked what he thought the worst moment of the season was, Arsotegi gave the same answer that most have given. Being eliminated in the Copa del Rey by Formentera was embarrassing and will never be forgotten. At the same time, he thinks that losing to Deportivo late in the season killed the team’s chances to qualify for Europe and was a hard defeat to swallow.
“Getting eliminated in the Copa del Rey was the worst moment. It’s hard to lose to a club in the Segunda B at home when you’ve had 11 or 12 chances to score. It seems unthinkable to fail like that, but it happens. The match against Deportivo near the end of the season was hard too. We had two months left and Europe was still an option. We had won at Villarreal and took points off of Real Madrid. By losing to Deportivo it killed our chances and momentum. As a staff we prepared well, but the results did not come. It was frustrating.”
Arsotegi has no regrets over accepting Ziganda’s offer to join the first team. He knew that when he accept the proposal it meant that his time at Athletic had an expiration date because you can’t last forever at that level. He wouldn’t comment on whether or not he believes the staff should have been given an extra year to prove themselves.
“I knew that when Kuko offered me the opportunity to join the first team staff that my time at Athletic had an expiration date. I didn’t know if it was this year, the next year, or the day we lost to Formentera. I already prepared myself for the unthinkable scenario. It is clear that Athletic has been very good the last few years, but there comes a time when everything ends. If the club didn’t offer us the chance to continue coaching it is because they considered that we didn’t deserve it.”
In closing, the coach was asked about the club’s recent signings of Cristian Ganea, Ander Capa, and Dani García. Arsotegi commented that Athletic needs reinforcements every year just like any other team. Nuñez and Córdoba may have been the only additions last summer, but they played big roles in Ziganda’s team.
“Athletic, like all teams, has to have reinforcements every year. Last year those were Unai Nuñez and Iñigo Córdoba. They came from the academy and both played at a very high level. We must reinforce ourselves and capture the best players possible. To stand firm and compete you have to have reinforcements to help.”
Now that his time at Athletic has come to an end, Bingen Arsotegi is waiting to see what will happen next in his coaching career. In the meantime, Eduardo Berizzo has taken over as the new manager and his staff will be looking to get Athletic back on the right path of qualifying for Europe and being a force to reckon with in La Liga and at the San Mamés.