Rafa Alkorta Is Waiting Until Athletic Is Stable Before Making Longterm Decisions
Aitor Elizegi may have won the Athletic Club Presidency at the end of December, but he’s been put in a difficult situation. The new Board of Directors, along with Sporting Director Rafa Alkorta, are unable to make any serious changes at the moment and are instead analyzing everything to put together their ideas for the summer. Alkorta has already stated that he wants to renew the contract fo manager Gaizka Garitano as soon as possible, although he told Iñaki Ugalde in an interview with Mundo Deportivo that the only thing they can focus on right now is moving away from the relegation zone.
“I said that I want to renew Gaizka sooner rather than later, nothing more. We are going to wait until we are stable here. We also have a month of February that will be important in terms of what may happen at the football level. Our feeling is that the coach has hit the right keys and we have no doubt that the team will move forward. Now, in the context in which we are in, we don’t think that messing with renewals is the best thing to do. After the elections were over we told both Gaizka and Patxi that they would train the team until at least July.”
Alkorta has already revealed that he is waiting to negotiate expiring contracts until Garitano’s future is settled. That being the case, he has yet to starts negotiations with players like Markel Susaeta because the only focus right now is improving the team’s place in the La Liga table. That being said, the Sporting Director has complete faith in the team and believes that Athletic could possible challenge for European qualification.
“We haven’t sat down with Susaeta, or with Iturraspe, or with anyone. Now is the time to talk about the team, not individuals. Not even Aduriz. Everyone has to think about the team because we are four points above the relegation zone. That’s more important than anything else. I don’t have any doubts about this team. I could see Athletic aspiring to qualify for Europe, this is a very good squad. We also know that when players like Ganea come back we will have 27 or 28 players in the squad. That is one of the things that I want to sit down and talk about with the coach sooner rather than later. We need to make a squad, but when the context is favorable for everyone.”
While a few players are still in need of contract extensions, one is certainly going to be leaving at the end of the season. Alkorta openly stated that Alex Remiro has rejected a renewal offer, however he is available to the manager to use this season.
“Alex Remiro has a proposal from Athletic and he said no. It was a great proposal to which his representatives have declined. There’s nothing else. Of course he can be used by Garitano. He is our players, he is a professional , he is an Athletic goalkeeper. We don’t see why we have to veto the kid. What I do know is that the offer was a good offer and maybe he considered it not so good. I respect his decision and nothing more.”
Alkorta isn’t upset with Alex Remiro for choosing to leave Athletic. The former player turned Sporting Director respects the fact that every player has the right to decide what to do with their career. Athletic must be more attentive to those who are interested in leaving, but even then some will still choose to leave the club.
“The player has the ability to decide where they want to go. We have seen that in recent years. Football is much more open than it was in my time, when people moved much less than they do now. It happens a lot more now, there are more agents involved. All of this is a great business. You may want to leave for personal reasons, because you think that you will do better at another club, you might even want to go abroad. I respect the decisions of the players. I would say that we have to be attentive and sometimes things don’t go well even then you are attentive. Sometimes you make a good offer for a renewal and they are still going to leave. We have to try to convince players to stay, especially those that are most important to us.”
When asked about the possibility of Fernando Llorente returning to the club Alkorta provided a simple answer. He said that anyone who is able to play for Athletic is a realistic transfer target and the club will monitor the situations of those who could make the team better.
“Fernando Llorente is in the same situation as Javi Martinez, Ander Herrera, Ibai and all those who can wear the red and white shirt. We are attentive to everyone who can play here. Alain Oyarzun is also someone that we have good reports about. He’s having a good year at Numancia, is a good age, he’s left-handed, and even played with Kenan Kodro at Real. He’s an intersting player, but we also have Córdoba, Ibai, and others. There are other players around the world who can also play for Athletic. Kenan Kodro was a good choice.”
Garitano’s promotion to the first team has had a negative impact on Bilbao Athletic with the team unable to continue at the same level under Aritz Solabarrieta. Alkorta said that Solabarrieta will continue in the role for now and that the club won’t entertain the idea of another coach until the season is over.
“Aritz Solabarrieta is the coach of Bilbao Athletic. At the moment there are no other ideas and it will stay like this until June. In the past the club has had coaches with experience in the Primera managing Bilbao Athletic and that is a luxury. It’s a good strategy, but I don’t know if there are many of those around.”
Alkorta has a good relationship with former Athletic manager Kuko Ziganda as the two were teammates during their careers. The Sporting Director expresses his sadness over seeing Ziganda’s struggle to lead the team last season. It was clear that injuries played a significant role in the poor performances, but Alkorta won’t close the door on Ziganda returning to the club in some capacity.
“Kuko Ziganda had an idea for the first team that didn’t go well for different circumstances, especially because of the four or five injuries he had in the first few months. I was very surprised with how hard the San Mamés was with Kuko, I didn’t expect it. He didn’t either. He tried to fix a situation that was very complicated. He endured the year and I felt sorry for him, he’d spent all his life waiting to coach Athletic and it caught him at a bad moment. He also made some mistakes, but injuries hurt them a lot. Kuko is always going to be a reference here and for Bilbao Athletic where he did a great job. I don’t know what plans he has for the future.”
Eduardo Berizzo was the man who took over for Ziganda in the summer and things didn’t improve. Alkorta remarked that the Argentine’s style of play was difficult for the team and that it caused a lot of stress. Still, he believes that Berizzo is a good coach, but the fit wasn’t right.
“Berizzo had a very difficult idea of how to play football. If you got it right it was a joy to watch, but it was not usually very successful. He was modifying his idea in the end because he needed results. He was unlucky because there were games that he had to win. For the players it was very stressful to play while individually marking someone. He did well at Celta and at Sevilla there were struggles. He’s a good coach, but he had an idea that didn’t work here.”
For Rafa Alkorta the next few months will be all about learning, analyzing, and gathering information. He and President Aitor Elizegi will look to introduce their new plans and systems once the season has ended. The Board is already certain that Gaizka Garitano will be the manager moving forward and as soon as the team moves further away from the relegation zone they can start negotiating renewals and planning for the future.