Ibai Gómez Opens Up About His Decision To Return To Athletic In Latest Interview
When Ibai Gómez made the decision to leave Alavés and return to Athletic it seemed like the perfect move, but the 29-year-old has admitted that it was a difficult decision to make. He recently sat down for an exclusive interview with El Correo where he opened up about making the choice to return home, as well as discussing other topics such as the state of the team, the important of supporting players, and Athletic starlet Iñigo Vicente.
How and when did you come up with the idea of the video in which you said goodbye to Alavés and hello to Athletic?
“Everything happened in a day, when I made the decision. The company had contacted me earlier to ask me what I was going to do. I did not know. People think that I had made the decision a long time ago but that isn’t true. The first thing I wanted to do was listen to the offer from Alavés and then the rest of the teams, which until January could not be formally presented. When I started to evaluate all the factors, I decided to go back home. I called the company and I told them. They told me to write a letter with my heart, with sincerity, and I wrote it, which is what is heard in the video.”
Did you write it?
“Yes, of course, I wrote it. My wife, who is a journalist, gave me a hand, but I did it. I said what I felt, what I wanted to convey and between myself and the company we looked for images that would accompany the letter. I wanted to get it all out, to convey all the feelings I had towards, to thank Alavés in a different, special way, and I think it was beautiful.”
You said that leaving Vitoria and returning home was one of the most difficult decisions you’ve had to make in you life. Why?
“Because when a city and a club give you so much in such a short time it is difficult to leave. Vitoria has given me a lot, the club, the people…It has been an extraordinary two and a half years in which I have evolved a lot. Nor have I ever hidden my feelings for Athletic. It’s like choosing between your blood family and your adoptive family. It seems silly.”
But it’s difficult.
“People believe that when you make a decision like that you only do it for economic and sporting reasons, but there are many more factors. We are not made of stone, there are feelings and I will always be grateful to Alavés. They gave me love and confidence. I grew up and made awesome friendships. It has been the most complicated decision I have ever made.”
In your presentation you assured that you are a new player. How is the current Ibai different from the one that left in the summer of 2016?
“Physically I’ve taken a big jump. Now I feel good throughout the game, with more spark, stronger, and also stronger mentally.”
The latter is fundamental.
“I like to be close to fans and the following comments are always given: positive and negative, among which are constructive and destructive. Positive comments must be taken also because you have to always have your feet on the ground; the constructive ones are very useful because they help me learn; and the destructive ones I have been able to ignore because I have realized that I can not please everyone, neither personally nor with football. But when comments are destructive most of the time it is because it is something personal and then the objectivity is lost.”
Also because of ignorance.
“Yes, or because it’s something personal. I know players whom I have trained with and who have enjoyed fewer minutes and had a grudge against me; they made comments that were not objective. When one loses objectivity it is not worth spending a minute thinking about it.”
Did you ever think that it was not worth playing football?
“In some circumstance, maybe, yes. It wasn’t about doubting, but seeing if I could turn it around. When I made the decision to go to Alavés I did it with all the confidence in the world because I knew it was risky. They were a newly promoted club and if you didn’t play well there could be relegation. But when I spoke with Ernesto (Valverde) to leave I was convinced that every year Athletic had helped me.”
Athletic pardoned the last year of the contract. That is not usual.
“The economic is not the most important thing for me, like now. People think that I came here for money. If it had been for money I would have waited until June to leave for free and earn more; or I would have gone to other countries where they offered me a lot more.”
Was coming back to Athletic decided with your heart or your head?
“More with the heart. When I left here, the stage was closed. I told my people, I told them I was not going back to Athletic.”
And how did they respond?
“They understood. Your people always support you. They are real, when they have to press you, they squeeze you, and when you make a decision, they accompany you. It was clear that I was not going to return, but the time has come and…there has been more heart in the decision.”
What did your father say?
“Whatever my decision there was going to be support. My Aitas have been Athletic all their life and they hoped that I would decide to come back here. I swear by my daughter that I did not know what I was going to do.”
Remember that months ago you said that you knew what you wanted and that the people who had to know already knew it?
“Perfectly. I wanted to renew with the Alavés. Last year, at the end of the season, I went to Sergio (The Alavés Sporting Director) to tell him that I wanted to renew. They told us that we were going to meet. In the summer I returned because my priority was to renew with the Alavés. But, of course, the offer comes to you and…I consider myself a very sentimental and passionate person.”
Athletic had accumulated positive reports for some time and even Berizzo validated your signing. You had been living with the possibility of returning for months. How did you manage it emotionally?
“I tried to evade it. Why? Because I am a professional; with feelings, yes, but a professional. What I had to do was defend the Alavés shield to the fullest. I knew that if I thought about it I could be hurting the team and I waited until January to decide as soon as possible.”
Has fear stopped being your travel companion?
“Yes, a time ago. In every sense. The greatest growth comes from living experiences. I’ve had them bad and over time they’ve made me grow.”
You went through a depression and left Alavés stronger. Have you met more players who have suffered the same and who, however, have not dared to go public?
“You know what? When you go through those moments, the difficult thing is to realize it. It is difficult to accept it. We are afraid to consult with professionals and the most important thing is that you know that you are going through a bad psychological moment, that you have to take a step forward and meet people who will help you.”
With your arrival at Athletic and the way you have done it you have given an example of how to leave a club. Do you put your hands on your head when you see how some of your colleagues work?
“Every one does it their own way. I have always said that if it is time to leave Alavés I wanted it to go well. Here I did it too. Doing things right seems essential because the important thing is to go to bed at night. I am proud of how I have done things.”
Llorente did it wrong and the club wants to bring him back. As a member, how would you like the return?
“I will not speak of names, but as a member of Athletic. As a member I want the best for the club. If the best thing is to bring back Llorente, I do not know, I would bring him. I always want the best for the club. Look, there is something that we do not realize and it seems important to me. We all want the same things, for the club to do well. When you criticize a player and whistle him, you hurt him. And if you hurt him indirectly, you also hurt the team and the club. Many times we don’t realize that.”
That is asking a lot of the crowd.
“It’s not asking much. You know what? I will speak to you as a fan. I understand that players have to hope and that we are the main culprits of what the stands do. But I want to convey the importance of the fans. The game of the other day against Sevilla is no accident.
Fans knew it was vital.
“No, I mean that victory is not a coincidence. It seems that the team was good, right? The team was fine because the stands were good, and that’s vital. I have lived in Mendizorroza. Mendi is spectacular and San Mamés has been spectacular and has to be again.”
Do fans earn points?
“Definitely. The footballer is very confident that his people will support him. I understand that there are people who do not like football, but if you criticize me, if you whistle me, if every time I miss a pass there is a rumble you are hurting me and indirectly you are hurting the club.”
How have you found the team?
“I always say that there are no better or worse coaches, but it is about fitting in. It is obvious that the change has been good for Athletic, the results are there. It is a more compact team and has earned 11 of the last 15 points available. We are hopeful. The match against Villarreal seems vital to me because if we win we can look at other types of objectives. I am convinced and excited about it. Why? Because you are seeing a compact team, which does not surrender chances and that has players who make a difference.”
You’ve been away for two and a half years. Have things changed a lot at Lezama?
“The Bilbao Athletic field (laughs). We know that this is a different and familiar club.
Another novelty is being able to see Iñigo Vicente in the first team locker room. He is a player that the club likes.
“Yes, I like him, because he is a player with many qualities. In addition, I suffered as a coach because when I was at Santutxu he played for Danok Bat and in Cadete he scored a hat trick against us.”
You wanted to take him to Santutxu!
“I wanted to sign him, yes, and he went to Danok instead of Santutxu. I remembered it the other day (laughs). He is a player with many qualities, but I always say that you have to be calm. The moment you go up, it has to be to stay. Let’s be calm. He is a player who has something different.”
Fans want to see him on the field.
“Yes, but you can not accelerate the moment, it will come. He has a very good head on his shoulder and it will come. He will be important.”
What do you think when you see Iñaki Williams running?
“Well, I wish I ran like that too. What can I think! The speed he has gives you an advantage. The goal he scored the other day is something only a few players can do.”
How will the year end?
“I’m excited. Let’s see what happens in Villarreal because it is a fundamental game to see the future of the team.”
Winning would be…
“With our feet on the ground and starting to look at other objectives.”
You won’t say them?
“The table is all very close, but we could fight for Europe.”
You have a phrase on your social media profiles that says ‘Make your life a dream and your dream a reality’. What does Ibai Gómez dream of?
“Ibai Gómez dreams right now of being someone very important at Athletic, and I will work for it.”