Mikel Rico “We Have To Focus On The Next Game, I’m Not Thinking About Qualifying For Europe Right Now”
Mikel Rico has been in the starting lineup for Athletic Club’s last two games and seems to be earning a more important role in Eduardo Berizzo’s team. The 34-year-old was a guest on the Fuera De Juego radio show on Thursday night and was asked if he is concerned about Athletic’s current place in the La Liga table. He made it clear that the players are only focused on their next game and that looking too far ahead can make things worse.
“Concern is not the word to use, but we are aware of where we are and what the situation is right now. We also don’t have to be alarmists who are already looking at the end of the season and thinking that we will be fighting for permanence. You have to go match by match and add three points as soon as possible to break this run. We need a good game to get out of this position.”
Taking it a step further, Rico said that the best thing for the players is to focus on winning their next game. Nothing else. He refuses to ponder the idea of eventually battling for European qualification and is only concerned with improving their current position in the table as quickly as possible.
“The problem with being worried is that you are already thinking about match day 38. Right now we have to be focused on match day 11 while also understanding where we are in the standings. When you are this far down the table the only thing you are thinking about as a player is winning and getting out of danger as soon as possible. I’m not thinking about Europe today.”
Like several of his teammates, Mikel Rico stands behind manager Eduardo Berizzo. He stated that Toto has done a great job of transmitting his ideas to the players and has worked hard to alter the system based on recent results. The midfielder believes that Berizzo has what it takes to improve the team.
“There is no doubt, we believe in the coach 100 percent. He has worked very hard; he knows what he wants and knows how to communicate that to the players. We are in good hands. The idea remains the same, with some variation. The original idea was very clear, but not getting results always makes you have to try other things. The Mister is making the changes that he believes are key and it’s okay to try things. He is very confident and focused.”
Despite the poor results this season Rico believes that Athletic have played some very good games and that should be a positive to build on. He stated that the Lions have been at their best when pressing high up the field and forcing turnovers in dangerous areas.
“We have seen the Athletic that we want in some matches. At the Villamarín we were very superior until we went down to ten men. In the Camp Nou we played a brilliant match, and again at home against Real Madrid. The times that we have been able to press up the field and steal the ball have been our better performances.”
There is no denying the fact that La Liga has been unpredictable and difficult this season. From the top of the table to the bottom there have been very surprising results and more often than not teams who have less possession have won games. Rico knows that Saturday’s match against Atlético Madrid will be extremely difficult for the Lions, but that won’t stop the Basques from fighting for a positive result.
“La Liga has been difficult. Sometimes teams that do not take risks and expose themselves will take advantage of your mistakes. They will score off of some play and win the game. Sometimes you don’t know what’s the better option. Atlético Madrid has been a difficult opponent for us in recent years. Their stadium is a complicated place to play. They are always looking to win and control games, but we have played well against some good teams already this season. It’s time for intensity and to leave everything on the field to bring home points that we really need.”
In closing, Rico was asked about the recent announcement from President Josu Urrutia who revealed that he will not be running for a third term in December. The midfielder had nothing but praise for Urrutia – who he has always had a great relationship with – and stated that the President has achieved some very special things while in office. Rico also admitted that it will be difficult to stay at Athletic after this season.
“Urrutia has given me confidence. He’s made me feel good and we are very close. I’m thankful to him and for everything he’s done for the club. What Urrutia has achieved is very difficult. You have to give him credit. He gave everything for the club and has always looked out for us. He put the club above all else. We must respect his decision. I don’t think the elections will negatively affect us, but we have to forget about it and focus on playing. I am still under contract. I’m 34 years old and not playing regularly so I think staying at Athletic will be difficult. Some stages end and others begin.”
Athletic will be without Dani García and Yeray on Saturday which will complicate things against a strong Atlético Madrid side. Eduardo Berizzo will have to put together a plan for the midfield and Mikel Rico could potentially start his third consecutive game. It’s going to take a great performance to pick up points at the Wanda Metropolitano and Rico believes that his team is ready for a fight.