Iñigo Córdoba “Our Focus Is Getting Away From The Bottom Of The Table”
Iñigo Córdoba is one of the most genuine people you could ever meet. He loves football, loves Athletic, and loves life. Always with a smile on his face the 21-year-old is enjoying living out his childhood dream of playing at the San Mamés and wearing the Zurigorri shirt. He recently sat down for an interview with DEIA where he opened up about this season, but the conversation started with making his debut last year.
“I have a nice memory of my first season in the Primera. Debuting with Athletic is something you want ever since you see that you have the chance to reach the top. Many people play football, but few manage to do so at Athletic. There is a moment when you think about it because you are getting closer. Once you are playing for Basconia or Bilbao Athletic you think ‘why not?’ I will always remember that season. At the team level things didn’t go well, but personally it was a beautiful experience.”
Córdoba had already worked under Kuko Ziganda at Bilbao Athletic before the two were at the first team together. The familiarity helped the winger get acclimated much quicker and, despite the poor campaign as a team, he enjoyed his debut season.
“Ziganda being the manager helped me. He had already coached me, I knew him, and I knew how he worked which made me feel more comfortable. He was a new coach for most of my teammates, but not for me. We all worked a lot, but the objectives weren’t reached. Things didn’t always go well, and with Eduardo the same things happened. It’s not always good and sometimes there is no other option but to keep working.”
Going into this season Córdoba set a goal for himself to become a more reliable player and settle into a role in the team. Too often players have an impressive first season but fail to continue at the same level. The season didn’t start well for him as Eduardo Berizzo gave minutes to other players, but for Córdoba it was a reminder that you have to work for everything.
“My goal this year was to settle into the team. There are always players who have a great year and then no continuity. I don’t know if my first year was a great one, but I think I would have accepted it if asked in advance. So my goal was to stop being a young player who had just debuted and to be one who was more important and established. The truth is the season did not start the best way for me. Because of moments like that you realize that no everything is easy. I didn’t give up. I kept working and now I’m playing more which is a reward for my hard work.”
Things may not have gone well under Berizzo, but the players loved the coach and were sad to see him leave. Even Córdoba, who wasn’t given many chances at the time, says he had a good relationship with the Argentine and that the only issue was the lack of positive results.
“The players and Eduardo fit together very well. I didn’t play much, but I’m fond of him. The training sessions were very good and entertaining. We were comfortable during the week but that wasn’t reflected in the games. We connected with him and the other coaches because they had an idea of great football, of exciting football, but it went badly and that can be very dangerous as we saw. He was a coach who understood what Athletic is. He realized that football is lived in a different way here. The only problem was that the results didn’t come.”
There’s no denying the fact that things are much better under Gaizka Garitano. After the manager took over in early December the team has made vast improvements and have only lost one league game. Córdoba says that the players have a good relationship with Garitano as well and feel more at ease during the week.
“The club made the decision to change and with Garitano we have rectified our situation. It’s going well. It was not a decision of the players and the dismissal hurt us because we worked great together and the relationship was very good. We have a good relationship with Garitano too. During the week there are usually two or three harder days of training, with more physical demand, and as the match approaches the intensity decreases and we are more at ease.”
Córdoba may be the player who has benefited the most from the arrival of Garitano. The 21-year-old went from being relatively unused to starting almost every game. He doesn’t see a big difference in how he approaches games this season, but even the difficult times can help a player grow.
“Since Garitano came I have had more opportunities. He has shown confidence in me and I understand clearly what he asks of me. I don’t see a big difference from last year to this year. Every time I go out to play I have to be clear about what I need to do in the match. Every situation is different and they all help you mature as a person and as a footballer. There was also a time with Ziganda that I didn’t play regularly.”
The differences between the two managers is clear. With Berizzo defending was all about individual marking, whereas under Garitano the focus is on organization and zones. Offensively Córdoba isn’t really doing anything different, but he’s much stronger in Garitano’s system when defending.
“With Berizzo everything was based on the one on one. It was a very physical job. Offensively he was going to look for lateral attacks and defensively I had to follow my man wherever he went. With Garitano we are more organized and more compact. He wants us to be direct and put in crosses, but if my opponent goes to the other side of the field I don’t have to follow him. The defensive scheme is very different.”
Athletic have done well enough to move clear of the relegation zone, but they still aren’t far away. That being said, the players still recognize the difficulty they will face throughout the remainder of the season and understand that every single game is important.
“We’ve turned things around. It was quite a complicated Christmas because we were in the relegation zone, but little by little we have had positive results. There is a lot of season left to play and every game is important. You have to keep playing and stay focused. We say that because we want to express that we know where we are. It’s a way of understanding the situation.”
The Lions have only loss one league game under Garitano, a 2-1 defeat to Real Sociedad two weeks ago. Despite that result Córdoba believes that the team has played great football and could eventually enter the discussion for European qualification. However, no one is thinking about that at the moment.
“I think we have always come out to play the same game, but not every game goes well. Against Real Sociedad we weren’t able to capture what we wanted on the field and they did very well, but in the rest of the games I think we have transmitted good feelings as a team. There will still be complicated matches. The team is very aware of what the situation is right now. Each match is vital. The risk will continue until three teams below us are confirmed as being relegated, but if we continue like this it is possible that in the end our objective may be something else. There are many games left and we are only looking at the next one. All I want to say is that if we continue like this we could eventually look at better things, but at the moment our focus is getting away from the bottom of the table.”
Córdoba is happy with his performances this season, but still wants to do more offensively. He would like to be more involved in plays that lead to goals and score a few times before the campaign ends. He recognizes this as an area in which he needs to improve his game.
“I am satisfied with my contribution in Garitano’s system, but I would like to participate more with the scoring side of things. At the lower levels I didn’t score much, about five times per season. It wouldn’t be bad if I scored five this season, right now I have zero. But I’m not just talking about scoring, I’d also like to participate more in the plays that end in goals. I have to improve in both of those areas and take a step forward.”
As far as his strengths are concerned, Córdoba knows that he ca push the ball up the field and that his work rate defensively is very good. He tries to leave everything he has on the field in each game. As a left-footed player it is a bit odd that he plays on the left wing, but he’s done it his entire career and is always trying to learn from others.
“Running with the ball is one of my strengths, but I need to improve in the final meters. I can explode and try to exploit defenders when I drive the ball. Each player has something that differentiates him from others. I also like to work without the ball. I understand football as leaving your soul on the field and that’s what I try to do. I’m willing to play where the coach wants, even as a goalkeeper. Normally I have always played on the left, as if I were specific to that position. There are some wingers that can alternate sides like Susaeta and Ibai.”
The Lezama product doesn’t have an idol that he models his game after, but instead admires many players who can learn from. Athletic legend Joseba Etxeberria is someone he really looks up to, as well as others currently in the team and Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben.
“Right now I’m focused on enjoying the day to day. I prefer not to set long-term goals because I realize that in football everything can change very fast. I don’t have any specific player that is my reference because there are so many to learn from, starting with ones on my own team, but there are others also. I like those who play my position, for example Arjen Robben. I have also seen a lot of Joseba Etxeberria, who later became my coach. I look up to him a lot.”
Those who know Iñigo Córdoba know that he is very quiet and humble. He doesn’t talk a lot and many aren’t even aware that he has been going to college for the past two years. Football makes it hard to continue his studies, but he believes it will make him a better person and he hopes to graduate one day.
“I’m not very verbal, I’m quite introverted. I would say it’s hard for me to open up. I do consider myself why, then when I’m on the field my personality is a little more shameless. I’m still studying and I’m enrolled in college from a distance. I’m studying Administration and Business Management. Two years ago I enrolled in Sarriko and I would like to graduate. I think that keeping an active mind helps me as a person and also as a player. Football can be a bubble and in the end I like to be active. At home I open my eyes a bit more in the sense that there are more things apart from football.”
Iñigo Córdoba comes from a family enthralled with football. His older brother Aitor is a captain for Leioa and his little sister is in an academy. His younger brother Asier currently plays for Bilbao Athletic and the two have had the chance to train together a few times this season. Iñigo hopes that they will one day be on the field together and has said on a few occasions that his brother could be the best player in the family.
“At home there are four of us, three boys and one girl, and we all play football. We have always had a ball with us and that has influenced us. We see matches together and we have a football atmosphere in our family. It’s been special to share some training sessions with my brother Asier who plays for Bilbao Athletic. I’m the one who has reached the highest level, but I don’t know if I’m the best player or not. I hope that one day we can share a locker room together and that we could play in a game at the same time.”
As Athletic prepare for Monday night’s game against Huesca they are aware that a victory is needed. Three points would see them climb as high as 11th in the La Liga table, but a defeat puts them right back in the battle against relegation. Iñigo Córdoba could be in the starting lineup once again and, if that is the case, he will give everything he’s got for the Lions to be successful, like he always does.