Rafa Alkorta “Garitano’s Renewal Will Be Finalized In A Short Time”
It’s been three months since Rafa Alkorta became the Sporting Director of Athletic. He’s spent that time analyzing the club and Lezama in preparation for the changes that will be made in the summer. The former Athletic star recently took the time to discuss his views on how things have gone with DEIA during which he opened up about renewals, loans, and how high the team can finish this season.
“These have been very intense months. It’s true that I don’t like offices very much, but I’m free to have this environment, to enjoy training, and to see the kids training in the afternoon. It requires more time because you have to do a lot of things. We just got here and we want to leave everything for July to have everything controlled, so you need to be in the office to put in the hours.”
As the Sporting Director, many decisions fall on the shoulders of Alkorta. He’s surrounded himself with those who can take some of that pressure off which allows him to focus more on the first team and Bilbao Athletic.
“As the Sporting Director, I have to make decisions about something I’ve been doing for thirty years, which is football. My closest team supports me in all my decisions, which in this case are Andoni Ayarza and Blas Ziarreta. We must address signings, renewals, non-renewals, loans, and see which kids can enter Lezama. You have to be a little aware of everything that surrounds Lezama, but it’s true that they take away a lot of work and I can focus on the first team and Bilbao Athletic.”
When asked to diagnose what he’s found at Lezama, Alkorta admitted that it can’t be done. The academy is what it has always been. So far the Sporting Committee has been gathering information to see what alterations need to be made after the season comes to an end.
“I don’t think there’s a diagnosis to be made. Athletic is the Athletic that we have known all our lives and Lezama keeps working because it will work all our lives. There are times when more players leave and others when there’s less. The operation has always been with different Sporting Directors, with different ideas. In that sense, I was not surprised by anything I’ve seen. We have been here for three months and we have three more months to continue gathering information and be clear about what we want for next year. We are still in that process.”
Now that Athletic have distanced themselves from the relegation battle, Alkorta believes the team can focus on trying to qualify for Europe. Every game is tough this year and finishing in the top 7 would be the best way to end what has been a difficult season.
“Once we are out of the relegation battle, the objective has to be Europe because this is a team that has suffered a lot and we have been in a very complicated situation. We all know that we have to look higher, not lower. From there, everyone interprets the goals as they want. Finishing seventh would be fantastic. It would be a brushstroke to the impressive merit of the coach and team. Playing in Europe any way would be a prize. A team that has suffered like this can’t have more pressure. I’m not going to say that the team is enjoying right now because matches are very tough, but I do think they will be much calmer from here until the end of the season.”
Gaizka Garitano changed everything when he took over as the manager. Alkorta revealed that the Mister will be signing a new contract very soon and once that happens they will be able to start planning for the team next year.
“We are going to finalize Garitano’s renewal in a short time. Not this week, as I heard and read that it would happen, but are on the right track. It’s going to be something quick. We are negotiating not because we thought that once the team had some peace of mind it was best to handle it. Gaizka and I had already spoken and we thought this was the best time to do it. Once I speak with Gaizka and make the squad for next year, we will decide who will continue and who will not.”
There’s been a lot of talk regarding Markel Susaeta’s expiring contract. Many don’t like that the captain hasn’t been offered a renewal yet, but Alkorta once again made it clear that the players must first wait for Garitano to renew before they have their own issues addressed.
“We have to wait for Garitano to talk with Susaeta, to tell me who he wants and who he doesn’t. Then I will be the one to decide. As I said on other occasions, until the coach renews I won’t talk with the players. Aritz Aduriz is the only one we have spoken with because he is the one who will decide if he wants to continue playing football or not. The others are all in the same bag to put it one way. I’m not going to talk about these matters or other players. The issue of players signing without a release clause is something that I don’t have very clear. I can’t say if it benefits the club or the player more. Each football player is different. Maybe it has to be done with certain players, but there are also doubts about the legal interpretations that may arise.”
Alkorta hopes that Aritz Aduriz will choose to keep playing football next season. The striker does have a renewal offer on the table due to his specific circumstance, but it will be up to the 38-year-old to decide whether or not to continue his career.
“I would like Aduriz to continue next season, I’d love it. He’s a special player, a player who has given a lot to the club and I would like to see him continue in the Athletic shirt. He is having a good recovery, very calmly, and is without any hurry. I hope to see him again this season very soon. Yes, he has been offered a renewal. There is no deadline to make the decision. When he sees fit, we will sit down.”
Turning his attention to players out on loan, Alkorta has been impressed with Xabi Etxeita’s performances with Huesca. The Sporting Director believes that he can help Athletic, but he and Garitano have yet to talk about the defender.
“I’m not surprised by Etxeita’s performance this season because he’s a great player. He is a Primera level football player with a lot of experience in a team that is having a bad time. He is a player with that character that is able to perform his best even though his team isn’t doing well. I see him at a good level, but we haven’t decided anything yet. Sabin Merino? Until I meet with Garitano I won’t talk about anyone’s situation.”
Alkorta made his first two signings as Sporting Director back in January, bringing in Ibai Gómez and Kenan Kodro. He is confident that both have helped the team improve over the past few months, although he’s still disappointed that he couldn’t convince Alex Remiro to reconsider his future at San Mamés.
“They are two players who arrived in January when the team was improving and, to a lesser or greater extent, have helped the team get out of a bad situation. I’m not looking for a reason to justify Kodro’s signing. We knew that he was a player who was going to work hard for the team and could provide goals. That is what he has done, for which I am very happy. Alex Remiro’s case is closed. I’m sorry about it because he is a top goalkeeper and I think that Athletic’s offer was spectacular in all aspects. Where he goes next doesn’t interest me. What I regret is that Athletic is losing a good goalkeeper.”
Cristian Ganea’s loan to Numancia has also gone well according to Alkorta. He praised the defender for being called up to Romania, while also admitted that Unai López is in a difficult situation because he hasn’t had the chance to play. Asier Villalibre is having the best season of his career at Bilbao Athletic and the Sporting Director said it’s natural for the club to want to keep the starlet.
“I think Ganea’s loan has been a success. He is playing very well and, in addition, he’s been called up by Romania. Unai López’s loan wasn’t approved because we didn’t think it was the right context for us. Obviously, this happens in football. There are players who don’t have chances to play despite being good, which is the case for Unai. Villalibre still has a contract. Logically, we want a player who is scoring goals in the Segunda B like Villalibre to stay with us.”
Athletic haven’t closed the door on anyone. Every player who meets the club’s philosophy is being monitored, including the likes of Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez. It will be difficult to sign any big names this summer, but Alkorta will worry about that after they choose to seriously pursue someone.
“All players that can play for Athletic are on the agenda including Llorente, Javi Martinez, and Herrera. Before considering the financial factors of signing players we must first ask ourselves if we are going to sign any of them. Athletic has the muscle for everything. There is also the difficulty of signing them, not only because their respective clubs will ask for a high price, but also because we know their wages are high. We are waiting for what might happen. Yes, Llorente was correct that we did not contact him in January. We are following all the players who fit the Athletic philosophy and who stand out in their leagues Alain Oyarzun is a player who is standing out this year.”
There are still a few months until the season comes to an end and the real changes begin. Alkorta and President Aitor Elizegi have been working together to introduce the new era of Athletic and they are confident that the Zurigorri can be even better. For now, all of the focus is on whether or not the first team can qualify for Europe, but the Board already have one eye fixed on this summer.