Mikel Rico “I Have Fought My Whole Life To Be Here”
For the second straight summer there was belief that Mikel Rico could be leaving Athletic Club. Once again the midfielder has been able to stay at the San Mamés and is looking forward to another big season with the Lions. On Tuesday the 33-year-old sat down for an exclusive interview with Jon Zubieta of Mundo Deportivo and made it clear that the team is ready to carry out the playing style of new manager Eduardo Berizzo.
“The team is ready to carry out our plan, which involved a lot of physical effort. When we are at a great physical level, I think Athletic will be very good because the idea is so clear…press up the field, keep possession and control of the game in attack, and defend well. The preseason was difficult. I don’t know if it’s because each year you are older or what, but for me it was the hardest preseason of my career.”
Rico was then asked about the demanding preseason under the new coach, and admitted like others that it was very difficult. There wasn’t much time to rest, but Rico says that the coaching staff did well to make everyone feel important and that once they got used to the intensity things became much easier.
“There were very few days of rest and there were a lot of double sessions. The workload was rarely reduced. It’s true that it has been good for the team. Despite having a lot of players in the squad, the organization has been good and we have all felt important and noticed. When you get used to the workload it really shows in the games.”
One part of training that has been different this season is that Berizzo has chosen to hold many sessions behind closed doors. Fans are used to being able to attend most of the sessions each year and some have voiced their displeasure with that changing under the Argentine. Rico admitted that he wasn’t even aware of the controversy and is just focused on working hard every day.
“I wasn’t aware of the controversy that has created. In the summer a lot of fans came to Lezama and there were a lot of sessions and a heavy workload. I think you need to work and rest and I believe we did that. I don’t think its a good thing or a bad thing. When its been open a lot of people have come and we have had time with them as always. I really wasn’t aware that there has been a controversy because I don’t usually read what is in the news.”
Turning the attention to the summer transfer window, Rico says that his name has come up regularly over the past few years and he’s learned to ignore it. This time there was a real option to leave Athletic and return to Huesca, but the midfielder elected to stay at the San Mamés despite the offer.
“Almost every year my name has been talked about in the market. Some say that Huesca is interested and others say there was never anything. It’s true that this year there was an option in the final days, but I decided to stay. It has been so hard for me to get here, to the club where I want to be. I’m at Athletic and I want to play here so the thought of leaving Athletic doesn’t cross my mind. I think I can contribute a lot to the team.”
Rico went on to say that he was in contact with Huesca to listen to their offers and was transparent with Athletic about everything. The Lions never asked him to leave the club and in the end he knew he couldn’t leave Bilbao because of how hard he had worked to get to where he is now. Rico feels loved by the fans and believes that he can be an important player for Eduardo Berizzo this season.
“I was in contact with Huesca to see what options we had and I talked with Athletic about it as well. At no time did Athletic ask me to leave or try to convince me to leave. I could have made that decision after meditating on things, but I decided to stay. It would have been really hard for me to leave because I fought my whole life to be here and I want to be here. I think I can add a lot and I’m happy here. I’m delighted to be here and I did not want to leave at any time. I feel loved here and I’ve had horrible games during which the fans continued to support me. This is my home. When I hang up my boots it will either be here or in Huesca. Huesca is a club that I love a lot and were a key point in my career. I am totally grateful and would love to wear the Huesca shirt again one day. If they want me to retire there, I’ll retire there, and if not I will probably retire here.”
Speaking about his new coach, Rico understands that the players have to adapt to what the manager wants if they are going to be successful. The 33-year-old says that Berizzo counts on him and that he is happy with the new coaching staff and ready to repay their faith in him.
“With Eduardo we have to play the way he wants us and that means that everyone can contribute in different ways. The midfield is very versatile, practically every player is different and that is good for the coach. I think he’s happy with how we have been working and he can see me as an 8 or a 10. I feel comfortable in both positions and will work hard and wait for my opportunities. He’s made it clear that he counts on me and I sense that he is happy with me and I’m happy with him and the rest of the coaching staff.”
In closing, Rico discussed the fact that Athletic’s ultimate goal is to qualify for Europe once again. Doing so had become an expectation over the last few years, but they were unable to keep their streak going last year under Kuko Ziganda. Now, with Berizzo’s playing style in effect, the team is excited about what they can accomplish this season.
“The goal for Athletic is always to qualify for Europe. If not, we would be fooling people. This year we are trusting our new style of play. We want to cover the entire field, have a lot of intensity, and we come into games looking to dominate. When we turn it over we have to squeeze and pressure our opponents to win the ball back. We know that we have to take some risks and minimize mistakes, but it’s part of our style of play that we trust.”
Mikel Rico and Athletic Club will be back in action on Saturday when they will host Real Madrid at the San Mamés. It will be a very difficult match for the Lions, but there is hope and excitement that the Basques will be able to push their visitors at the Cathedral. The return of Aritz Aduriz and possibly Iñigo Martinez will give the team an added boost as they look to keep their place in the La Liga table with a game in hand.