Yuri Berchiche Is Excited To Return To The Anoeta In Saturday’s Basque Derby
Since joining Athletic from PSG over the summer Yuri Berchiche has quickly become one of the most important players in the team. He’s adapted to life very well in Bilbao and on Saturday he will return to the Anoeta where he spent three years with Real Sociedad. At lot has changed since he left Donosti, but he’s definitely looking forward to returning as he told El Correo in a recent interview.
“I feel good. For me it’s a special return because I have many good memories of my time at Real. Those were three fantastic years during which I became a Primera player and the fans showed me all their affection. I know the stadium isn’t the same as when I left. I keep in touch with former teammates like Zurutuza, Zaldua, Aritz, and Juanmi. They’ve all said it’s very good and I want to see how it feels from the grass, although I will be a rival.”
Despite Athletic’s fantastic turn of form under Gaizka Garitano, Berchiche still thinks that La Real are the favorites because they will be playing at home. The left-back knows what these Derbies are like and is expecting a close game.
“Real are the favorites because they are playing at home with the fans closer than ever. Maybe we are going into it in a more positive dynamic, because they are coming from two draws, but they have one more point than us. I’ve played the Derby on both sides and Derbies are the same for both teams.”
Speaking of Garitano, Berchiche highlighted the manager’s demand for better defense as the biggest factor in the team’s improvement over the last two months. When Garitano took over things were terrible and the players really believed that relegation was a possibility, but now they are full of confidence.
“As soon as Garitano arrived he told us that we had to improve the defense and that’s what we did. We have conceded three goals in seven games so the defensive improvement has been brutal. There was no other alternative because there was a time when we saw ourselves very badly. The situation was very bad. We were worse than Villarreal and look where they are now. It couldn’t have been worse. Every time an opponent scored it was difficult to goal ourselves. The only thing we could do was pull together and take confidence from winning matches. The basis of our comeback has been our strength defensively.”
Berchiche doesn’t know what to expect from the Real fans at the Anoeta, but he knows that he won’t be welcomed back in an overly positive manner. He understands that he is a rival now although he was sold by Real before joining Athletic.
“I don’t know what reception I will received. I know what it means to come to Anoeta wearing the Athletic shirt and, logically, I don’t expect the fans to applaud me. The pressure of being the rival is maximum, but my situation isn’t the same as other who went straight from Real to Athletic. In my case I was sold by Real two years ago and in June I left PSG for Athletic.”
Looking back at his exit from Real two years ago Berchiche admitted that he wanted to stay at the club. He wanted an improved contract to reflect his status in the team but three days after sharing his thoughts with the club he found himself sold and on the way to Paris to sign with PSG.
“I had a good season before I left Real and I wanted the club to at least look at my situation. I cam to the Primera at 25 and the contract I had signed a year and a half earlier did not correspond to my current situation, especially with good offers from PSG and Napoli. My agent spoke to the club and what I wanted was to stay. PSG had wanted me in the winter market butI couldn’t leave my teammates in the middle of the season. I was happy playing in the team and the only think I asked was to sit down in June and talk about my situation. Three days later I was on my way to Paris.”
Berchiche still doesn’t know why he was sold, but thinks it could have just been good business by Real to make money. He didn’t want to leave at the time but he adapted to life quickly at PSG where he got close to many of the South American players. However, one year later Unai Emery left, as did others, and Berchiche thought it would be best to do the same.
“I don’t know if it was a communication issue or something else. I know I wanted to stay. I’m from here. I was going to get married the following year, to have a family, and I wanted to sign the contract of my career with Real. It didn’t happen. Maybe the club though it was good business to sell me. I had my reservations about PSG because I didn’t know how I was going to fit in. I had a lot of help from the South Americans. They didn’t want to sell me but I went to talk to the Sporting Director. I thought that my role would decline without Emery and many of my close teammates were leaving. I decided that I should leave.”
The decision to join Athletic was due to several factors, mainly the fact that the Lions had pursued Berchiche from the moment he left Real Sociedad. When the time came to leave PSG the Basques put the best offer on the table and, even though Real tried to bring him back, he had already committed himself to Athletic.
“When I decided to leave Paris I had two offers on the table, Athletic and Atlético. Athletic had already called me in the winter to tell me that if I was every uncomfortable that they would love to sign me. That was important in my decision. PSG were having problems with Financial Fair Play and they sold me to the club with the best offer. I appreciated that Athletic bet on me at this time in my career. Real called as well, but I had already given my word to Athletic. I had already committed myself.”
Saturday’s Basque Derby is going to be an exciting match and a special occasion for many players. Berchiche won’t be the only one returning to his former club as Iñigo Martinez left last January, albeit in a more controversial manner. All of the drama and intrigue aside, the most important thing will be what happens on the field and Athletic won’t be satisfied with anything other than three points.