Ibai Gómez Returns To Athletic Club A New Man
Ibai Gómez was born in Bilbao and has bled Athletic since that day on 11 November, 1989. It was a dream come true when he was signed by the club in the summer of 2010 and he would go on to feature in 145 games, scoring 17 goals along the way. He quickly became a fan favorite at the San Mamés, but there was a lot of things going on behind the scenes that no one realized.
It was only after he left the club in 2016 after a string of injuries that he opened up about his struggles at the club. “I remember two or three games in which I lost the ball in ways that I never had before”, he told El Correo in an interview last year. “I would be on the wing and didn’t want the ball passed to me or on the bench and not want to go in. I thought ‘I’m losing everyone’s confidence and people really don’t know what’s wrong with me’. I felt ashamed and it wasn’t something I could talk to the coach about because he would drop me.”
Gómez had found it extremely difficult to handle the pressure of playing at Athletic Club and often felt that he was letting everyone down. “I’m aware that in my last years I didn’t give the level I should have”, he then admitted. “Now that I’m playing well with Alavés people ask ‘Why didn’t you do this when you were at Athletic?’ The truth is that I searched 500,000 solutions from my body in vain until I hit the key. You don’t know how difficult it is to go out on the field and not be able to do it. I understand that fans demand the most because it’s your job to play your best and I didn’t see myself capable of playing my best.”
The pressure was too much for Gómez to handle and started to affect him off the field as well. “My wife knows, I cried a lot at home”, he said. “I had many sleepless nights, it was a bad time. When I play for a team I’m a player, but also a fan of that team. When fans criticize you it’s hard. They ask you to give a better level and I understand. Some handle it better and others worse. It was hard for me to overcome that and learn how to handle it. I spoke with Valverde [the manager at the time] and told him that I knew I had lost my place in the team and asked to leave.” Gómez would be released from his contract in the summer of 2016 and signed with Deportivo Alavés.
Joining Alavés changed things for Ibai. He was given the freedom to just play football, the game he loves, without the pressure and demand that he had been living with. The winger went from being afraid to have the ball in a match to being a star at the Mendizorrotza who was deciding results and playing the best football of his career. The move was just what he needed, both on and off the field. He played the best football of his career while in Gasteiz and it was only a matter of time before he returned to Athletic, which was announced on Thursday.
“When I left I needed minutes, to play games”, he told reporters during Friday’s press conference. “The last year and a half in Bibao were not good and I needed to play and prove to myself that it was possible to go back to playing the way I had in previous years. I’m a totally different player now.” It’s true, he’s not the same player that left the club back in 2016. Over the last two and a half years he’s become a father, a leader, and has found the confidence that every player needs to be their best.
At one point in the press conference a reporter asked the one question everyone was thinking…”Are you afraid of facing the pressure again?” Gómez responded with a serious, “If I was scared I wouldn’t have come back.” He went on to say that this decision, returning to Athletic, was the hardest he’s ever had to make and that his heart led him home. The pressure will still exist as will the demand. Ibai Gómez has come back to the club he’s always loved and he’s returned a new man.