Iago Herrerín Is Finally Living His Childhood Dream Of Starting For Athletic Club
Iago Herrerín may have grown up at Lezama, but it took leaving Athletic three times to get to where he is today. At 31 years old he’s finally the starting goalkeeper at San Mamés and he’s living his childhood dream. This season he’s been one of the best goalkeepers in La Liga, conceding just 0.83 goals per game, and recently took the time to discuss his career in an interview with DEIA. From the life of a goalkeeper to his passion for Athletic, Herrerín held nothing back
First of all, to attend to the present, what is your opinion of the Kepa Arrizabalaga incident?
“It was something strange. It was my day off and I had thought about going to London to watch the game, but I stayed at home and I was watching Betis vs Valladolid. I think what happened is a misunderstanding. Some people think it is a lack of respect. Everyone will have their own opinion. Of course, Kepa’s manner of gesturing was not good, but City recently put 6 goals past him and that for a goalkeeper is a thorn in the side It was a final, at Wembley, a game of great repercussions. I know Kepa well and I knew he was going to apologize, especially to his teammate Caballero, who is the most unfortunate person in this story.”
Well, maybe the most unfortunate is Sarri, right?
“What happens is that with the coach you can talk about it later, instead it is an ugly gesture towards the substitute goalkeeper and it is he who could take it the worst.”
Let’s go to what really interests us. You have never had a season like this one. You are a starter for Athletic.
“It has taken many turns within a short time to get here. Kepa left, I injured myself the next day, Remiro had come into the team, and Simón returned from Elche. It took me a few weeks to recover and Berizzo gave me the opportunity to play and that has continued. Every game I feel better and I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do, starting for Athletic. I’m still aware that every game that I play is an exam that I have to overcome.”
Thirty years have passed and you are finally a starter. It hasn’t been an easy road has it?
“I was with Bilbao Athletic for several years. I was playing a lot but Caparrós was the first team coach and he didn’t trust me. Although the club offered me a renewal I made the decision to leave Lezama and it’s the best thing I did. Being young, getting out of here is the only way to see different things. I spent two years at Atlético Madrid and that helped me get called back to Athletic. Then I spent a year at Numancia where I was very comfortable.”
Going to Numancia helped you earn a place at Athletic.
“Bielsa’s second year is when I was sent on loan to Numancia and the end of the year Athletic told me they were going to count on me. I thought my dream was going to be fulfilled then. I have all of the Athletic shirts since I was a child and I returned delighted, although I knew that in principle it was to be a substitute. I spent four or five years playing an average of 20 games per season, basically in the Cup and in the Europa League. Logically I would have liked to play every weekend, but it wasn’t like that. Of course, I competed as best I could each time I was called on.”
For any footballer it isn’t easy to play every three weeks, but for a goalkeeper is it even more complicated?
“It goes with my character to accept challenges like this, to assume things as they come, for better or for worse. In this situation, playing in the Cup or in Europe, I set myself the goal of reaching the final. I worked daily as if I was playing in the league. That’s the only way to be active and respond well when it’s your turn. The one who decides who plays is the coach and the truth is that I think I did very well even though it isn’t easy to play without continuity. I managed to be in a Cup final and today I value being able to play every weekend even more.
There was always someone ahead of you.
“For one reason or another I’ve never had the approval, not from the club, but from the fans. I’m not talking about anyone in particular, but that thought existed. I noticed it. It always seemed like there was someone ahead of me. Each performance was a test in which I couldn’t make a single mistake or couldn’t lose that day. Somehow it was as if I had to prove myself more than others, but I knew that if I was able to respond it would make me stronger and help me earn the starting role. Now I have much better criticism, but for a long time it seemed that if the team won it was because of the team and if the team lost it was because of me.”
You say you’ve got better reviews now.
“There came a moment when I told myself that the only thing that should matter to me was what the coach, my teammates, and my family said. Sometimes people are very toxic: one day they put their hands on your back and the next they put it in your hand. These things affected me. I couldn’t remain silent, keeping everything in, and that’s why I decided to focus on my work and only pay attention to the people I have around me. Last year, for example, with Kepa injured I played in the Europa League and also did well in La Liga. When he returned I stopped playing and the focus was on Kepa. Looks, social media is something that I am aware of, but now I clearly understand that they are bad. You don’t get anything positive from them so it’s better to try to enjoy each game as if it were the last.”
You extended your contract without knowing what Kepa would do and then he also renewed. You were a starter when you signed, but there was uncertainly. If he left it would be great for you, but if he stayed your options were minimal again.
“The day after renewing, at a press conference, the first question they asked me was whether Kepa was going to stay or not. I will always say that he is the best goalkeeper I have ever been with, but at the time I had a better save percentage than him and that was not taken into account. When he signed a new contract I knew what would happen, but I wanted to succeed here. If, after the circumstances, I could not do it, at least it would be clear that my intention was to stay at Athletic.”
You had offers and you didn’t leave?
“I didn’t know what would happen at the end of last year. Kepa had renewed and I had the option to go on loan to clubs here and also in England. I thought some of the options would be good, but I am where I can be my best. I spoke with the club and even knowing that my role was as an alternate, I stayed. There is nowhere like here. I always say that to Unai (Simón), who has a character similar to mine, that he should value every day here.”
Being a goalkeeper at Athletic isn’t easy, according to legend. Is there a big demand because of Iribar?
“I have friends at many teams and I can tell you that of all the clubs in the Primera, being a goalkeeper at Athletic is the most difficult. At other big clubs like Barcelona or Madrid, if they win 4-2, no one talks about the goalkeeper. Here with that same result it is immediately said that you didn’t give security or that you made a mistake on this play or that play. It all affects you a lot.”
You can attest to that.
“I’ve had a bit of everything. It’s been said of me that I have a lot of danger with my feet and no one has ever taken the ball from me, but in the end all those criticisms have helped me. Praise relaxes you, but criticism makes you watchful.”
Reviewing his career, how important is self-esteem?
“I don’t give it importance, but I’ve already said that every game is a challenge for me. I want to show that if I’m here it’s because I deserve it. I say this knowing that one day I will make a mistake and that day they will say again that I’m bad until I do something right again. You have to live with that.”
Just before Christmas of 2016 you went to Leganés. Was there more frustration?
“I had a bad time. I cried and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I just argued with the walls at my house, but I turned everything around and tried to use that feeling of frustration to make me aware that I should continue. In a race that’s everything. The half-season that I had at Leganés was very beautiful. They treated me great. I wanted to prove that I can be a goalkeeper in the Primera. Asier Garitano wanted me to improve the team and he gave me responsibility. I felt very comfortable. When you feel important your performances are better, at least it’s like that in my case. The fans there were happy with my contributions.”
You are close to playing 100 games for Athletic. Many players reach that number when they are younger.
“That’s true, but for other players being on the field for five minutes counts as one game. For a goalkeeper you have to start every game unless there is an injury or red card. I would have liked to get 100 games earlier and I hope that I have many more left in me. It’s a tremendous dream, especially because it’s this club there I have lived the best experiences and also the most difficult ones.”
Let’s talk about the team.
“The team is fine. This couldn’t be said during Berizzo’s stage because, although we were comfortable with him, the results were missing. Before Christmas we were sunk. Then we got together, we looked each other in the face, we were self-critical, we knew that each one of us was not giving what we could give and then Gaizka came. We started to get results and to build courage. Playing with pressure is good for us.”
Did the team not feel pressure when things weren’t doing well with Berizzo?
“There was pressure. We had good feelings in the daily work, but we didn’t get the results. They didn’t bother us as much until the loss against Levante. We knew that if we didn’t give 100% we wouldn’t beat anyone.
Now opponents aren’t scoring goals against you. That speaks well of the whole team and the goalkeeper, of course.
“If you concede goals or the other teams has chances you look at the goalkeeper and if it’s like now the team gets the merit. We are competing well and I want to do my job well and be invisible, nothing more. I don’t value being praised or not. Oblak, who is the best, despite everything he does, is as if he were invisible and he isn’t spoken of. Against Real Sociedad we conceded two goals but the first came from a mistake on the field. I made several good plays and I had more work than other days. I did well, but I was criticized. That’s why I prefer to be invisible. Then there are also days when I almost do nothing and I get praise.
You believe Oblak is the best?
“Today, yes. Goalkeepers have to make saves and he does it well. Ter Stegen does too and he’s also very good with his feet. They are where they need to be.”
Can Herrerín be there?
“I am not among the best not among the least. I can do quite well in the air and with the ball at my feet as well.”
What do you have to improve?
“Looking at the two I just mentioned, I have to improve in the one on one moments. I’m working hard and I’m going to get it.”
Would you say the Athletic goal is well covered?
“I wouldn’t say that just because I’m there. I’ve thought the same thing in previous year as well as right now. You have to look at the one who plays, who doesn’t play as much, and who comes next.”
Did you always want to be a goalkeeper?
“No way. I played elsewhere until one day, as a child, the two goalkeepers were struggling and they put me on. I played several games without conceding a goal.”
Sometimes you wouldn’t put up with either and put yourself forward.
“At Bilbao Athletic, yes. When the season finished I was the top scorer in a tournament. The club found out and they fined me. I just can’t stand still.”