Iker Muniain “I Have Never Thought About Leaving This Magnificent Club”
Still only 26 years old Iker Muniain may be playing the best football of his career. The Lezama product is thriving in midfield and the entire team is playing at a high level since Gaizka Garitano took over as manager in early December. Muniain took to the time to speak with Radio Marca on Wednesday and admitted that the start to the season was hard but that the Lions can now start looking at competing for a place in Europe.
“We have had a bad season. Now the sun rises and we are enjoying ourselves and we are happy. It seems like a long time has passed, but in a month we have gone from being at the bottom of the table and fighting not to sink to getting enough points to look at other objectives. It’s an agonizing situation, you don’t feel like looking at the standings. We feel responsible when things go wrong. You don’t feel like going out and you perceive it in the fans. On the other hand, when you do well the fans start the week happy. Now it’s something else and we aren’t giving up on anything. We can look at what we all though at the beginning of the season.”
The team’s improved form has also brought with it great support from the fans who have created amazing atmosphere at the San Mamés in recent games. Muniain said that Athletic are always better when the fans are roaring at the stadium and that the players know the energy goes both ways.
“We always want the support of the fans but it’s the team that has to transmit that to the stands. Maybe last season wasn’t good and we didn’t broadcast what we would’ve liked. This season started badly and that discontent was felt in the fans. Now with good results we are all happier, with more enthusiasm. It shows in the last matches that the fans want to see Athletic and enjoy the games.”
There’s no denying the improvement that Athletic has made under Gaizka Garitano. The team has yet to lose a league game since the managerial change and Muniain had words of high praise for the Mister. With a clear identity and tactics the Lions are getting impressive results every week.
“Gaizka is a great coach, he’s showing it with flying colors. He has a very clear idea of football and knows how he wants his team to play. He’s hit the right keys. You can see that we are on an upward trend, but we still have a lot to do. Gaizka’s style is different from Toto’s, with which we took more risks, played from behind, and defended with man marking. Now we are a brave team. We don’t risk the ball as much and we are more organized, but we are a team that likes to play and press with a high defensive line. We are very strong in defense and above all we are doing well, which is why we are winning games.”
Athletic will have the chance to make it 8 games unbeaten under Garitano on Saturday and possibly move into 7th place in the table, but it won’t be easy. The Zurigorri are traveling to the Anoeta for the Basque Derby against Real Sociedad and Muniain already knows that emotions will be running high for both teams.
“The situation is tight because they are one point above us. There have also been recent cases of players changing teams and these Derbies tend to be played with a lot of tension. Fans will be angry and I’m sure they will make it hard for us, but we are prepared for whatever may come. The motivation is high for both teams. It’s a Derby, something special for everyone. In the first round we had the bad luck of losing, but Saturday is another story. We are in a good dynamic and will try to take advantage of it.”
It’s been just over a month since Aitor Elizegi won the Presidential election who was quick to meet with the players and give them his support. When asked about the relationship Muniain openly stated that Elizegi is still integrating into his role and that he’s been very close to the players.
“A Presidential or Director change always brings a bit of a stir, but I have never seen myself out of here, out of this magnificent club, and I am happy to have signed my renewal. We all welcomed the new President. We had a talk with him and he’s a very close person. Little by little he is integrating. Possible signings? Anyone who comes to contribute to the team is welcome. I’m not in favor of closing the doors on anyone.”
Before former President Josu Urrutia left office Muniain signed a new contract running through 2024 that also doesn’t contain a release clause. He made it clear that the decision had already been made long ago and that his only thought was to stay at Athletic, even when other clubs tried to tempt him to leave.
“When a player is a few months away from the end of his contract there are always calls from interested clubs, but I already told my representatives that I didn’t want to hear anything, that I only wanted to focus on Athletic. We started to negotiate with the club and the contract was signed. When a player does something different there are always all kinds of opinions, doubts, and people who think they know everything. For that reason we wanted to highlight my feeling towards the club and not put a clause. I had already told Urrutia about my desire. I told my representatives and we communicated it to the club and there was no problem. We are proud that there are other players who are also doing it.”
If not for two serious knee injuries Muniain would have already made over 400 appearances and would be well on his way to 500 by now. When asked about that reality he calmly said that he’s learned to take it one game at a time, while also stating that he hopes to score more goals and set a new personal record this season.
“I used to think about how many games I could’ve played if not for the injuries. The more games the better. But now I prefer to go game by game, look at the short term, and be more cautious. I want hundreds of more matches, but for now I’m fine. I’m playing well and have scored 6 league goals. It’s an important number and there are games ahead that could improve my personal record.”
It’s hard to believe that Iker Muniain is still only 26 years old. He’s been in the team for a long time and has grown into a leader and role model for others at the club. Despite what happens he has always put Athletic first and is looking forward to enjoying the rest of the season and possibly fighting for a place in Europe.