Andoni Ayarza “The Ultimate Goal Is To Get Engaged And Competitive Players”
Andoni Ayarza understands the Athletic way as much as anyone. The defender grew up at Lezama and played for Bilbao Athletic for three years before reaching the first team. Despite being unable to solidify his place at the San Mamés he’s always been dedicated to the club and is now serving as the Technical Secretary under new Sporting Director Rafa Alkorta. Ayarza recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Juanma Mallo of El Correo where he opened up about the goals for Lezama and creating competition in the first team.
First, what is going to be your mission?
“Being very close to Rafa Alkorta, for issues related to the Technical Secretariat, and for the organization of human resources at a sporting level. While we are on this path we are always think about the project, not individual roles. I am a graduate in journalism. I love the projects of the social commission, and with total security we will get involved from the sporting area, but my passion is football. Since I left Athletic I have been dedicated to the monitoring and analysis of football and Athletic, both the first team and the lower categories. When the time came, Rafa told me that he would like me to be by his side and I did not hesitate for a second.”
When did Alkorta propose to work together?
“We have been sharing reflections for many years about how we would like Lezama to work, how we would like Athletic to be, things that can be improved…We spoke with each other and with experienced professionals in both Lezama and other schools and in the last two years it began to take a more defined form. In the last six-seven months, moving away from other occupations, I decided to bet 100% on this project. Although to be honest I was not sure that there would be elections either. Without a doubt, regardless of who won, the possibility of having been able to choose is a success. Because the elections have shown that Socios, for example, are interested in the future of Lezama and we share that focus. Lezama is the essence and also the future.”
And what can be done to continue to conquer? There are teams that are very far from first place, there is more competition.
“Rafa and I know how Lezama worked in our day and we are aware that the current world lives in constant change and adaptation. But there are things that can not be lost. We have to give a lot of value to new technologies, to innovation, because there is a lot of knowledge that can come from there. But you also have to give a lot of value to the roots. Feeling and competing, tradition and ambition, must be perfectly compatible in our Athletic.”
Has ambition been lost?
“It’s not a matter of losing yourself voluntarily, but the key is to generate the maximum possible competition. I, for example, cried the two times that I was with Athletic and I had to leave because they pushed other much brighter alternatives, in my case Rafa. That, although not for the player, was fantastic news for the club. Having players who are in the ideal age to compete but have to leave because the competition is pushing them is a good scenario for the club.”
Is there not enough competition?
“Maybe less is happening, and we want Lezama to become the best football academy in Europe. That means that it’s not just a sports resource, but, once that priority is covered, it is also a source of economic resources. The club sold me twice, which means that there was a return for the investment in my training. The economic sustainability of our model also passes through there.”
You’ve spoken of competition, of meeting needs…One of them is the replacement for Aduriz. Is that one of the things that concerns you the most?
“Football is not mathematics and there are always many variables involved with any player. Iñaki Sáez said ‘The football player is not made, but born and then formed.’ The phrase has two keys: born, which is detecting talents, and formed, or managing the development of that talent. Scouting and training are two essential components. And by the way, Aritz will surely continue to give us many joys.”
Does that mean having more scouts and giving them more resources?
“The first thing is to know exactly what there is. We must analyze with utmost respect the tasks and professionals who are already here and from there make the appropriate decisions.”
You have spoken with many people. How do they see Athletic from outside?
“The last years have not being easy. I personally suffered a lot in Kuko’s year. He was one of the great successes of the Urrutia era. His work with Bilbao Athletic was spectacular, especially earning promotion to the Segunda. In the first team he did not find the reward that his commitment and dedication deserved, but he is young and the future is always being written.”
You speak very well of Ziganda. Is he an option to return?
“I’m not going there. That’s what I feel.”
You have six months of hard work to collect and analyze date to make decisions.
“We know the most visible things, but to make decisions we must have the full knowledge, and we do not have it yet. We know grassroots football, like many people, but it’s another thing to be on the inside. If there is something important in Lezama, it is all the children and also the trainers. They make up the most important thing that a club like Athletic can have.”
So more trainers than coaches?
“The term isn’t important, it’s the goal itself: to get engaged and competitive players. Football is a competition and it is necessary to learn to compete.”
Will there be someone mainly responsible for Lezama?
“In the organization chart, Rafa is the head of the entire sports area. From there hangs all other responsibilities. He talks about his experience, but his life as a footballer is the best experience that can be presented. He also has leadership, personality, character, but also a lot of empathy and sensitivity.”
During the campaigns it was said that Lezama is in the best moment of its history.
“The campaign is already over. Now everyone, as Uribe-Echevarría himself said, we are all working together for the good of Athletic. I insist that there are excellent people in Lezama who I’m sure will commitment themselves fully to this new stage.”
There is talk of revolution.
“Nothing will be convulsive. It will be analyzed and the appropriate measures will be taken.”
Is it feasible for Bilbao Athletic to be in the Segunda?
“We are part of that Bilbao Athletic based in the Segunda. We went directly from the Juvenil team to Bilbao Athletic, making it compatible even with military service. It was a time of great demand, in which you learned a lot for the future. Being almost children, you really gained experience. We know that it is very difficult to even earn promotion and it is still so complicated or even more difficult to stay there, but working to recover that missing link is a previous goal.”