A Summer Of Changes, A Summer Of Goodbyes
“Build your life on your dreams; because dreams never have bad endings.”
Many young Katxorros dream of playing at San Mamés. For some, being accepted to Lezama is the closest they will ever get. A select few will make it to CD Basconia, and even less will earn promotion to Bilbao Athletic. There is a lot of competition at every age level, but making it to the Athletic first team is nearly impossible. It takes quality, hard work, dedication, and often the right timing.
Markel Susaeta, Ander Iturraspe, and Mikel Rico all made their dreams a reality, but their paths were vastly different. Susaeta joined Lezama when he was just 9 years old and everyone knew he was special from the start. He’d made his first team debut on 2 September, 2007 where he also scored his first goal in a 3-1 loss to Barcelona. It was the beginning of a legendary career.
Iturraspe enrolled at Lezama when he was 10 and, although he didn’t stand out quite as much as Susaeta, he was always one of the best players in his age group. The midfielder would make his debut, also at 19 years old, in a scoreless draw against Malaga back in 2008. Once Marcelo Bielsa took over as manager Iturraspe flourished, though he would never quite be the same player after the coach’s departure.
Mikel Rico’s path was even more difficult. The midfielder was never able to attend Lezama although he did play for Basconia from 2000-2003. Unfortunately, he wasn’t promoted to Bilbao Athletic but his dream never faded. In 2013, roughly ten years after leaving Basconia, he was signed by Athletic and immediately earned a very important place in the team.
It feels as though the three have been at Athletic forever. Counting the time at Lezama, Susaeta has now worn the Zurigorri shirt for 22 years, making 506 appearances for the first team. Iturraspe has spent 19 years with Athletic, amassing 320 appearances, and Rico 9 years with 176 appearances. A total of 50 years, 1,002 matches, and two captains is truly something special.
All three realized their dream of playing for Athletic at San Mamés, but all good things must come to an end. Last week the club announced that Iturraspe and Rico would not be offered contract renewals and Monday night it was announced that Susaeta would be leaving the club this summer. In just one summer three players who have given their all for the club will say goodbye.
While saying goodbye is always hard, their departures are not a surprise. Susaeta and Iturraspe have seen their form drop over the past few years while Rico has struggled with injuries. Now all over 30, the trio have had limited roles in the team. The writing has been on the wall all season, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch them leave Athletic in just a few weeks. In fact, they may also be joined by Aritz Aduriz who has yet to decide his future.
This summer will be a time for goodbyes, but also a time for change. New Sporting Director Rafa Alkorta is ready to put his plan for Lezama into action and has also been working with manager Gaizka Garitano to prepare the squad for next season. Susaeta, Iturraspe, and Rico were lucky and proud to realize their dreams and now that time will come for some players from the next generation.
Susaeta’s departure brings the opportunity for Gaizka Larrazabal and Iñigo Vicente to fight for their place in the first team. Both wingers have been excellent for Bilbao Athletic and the club believes they have the quality to earn permanent promotion. Likewise, Iturraspe and Rico will make way for the likes of Oihan Sancet and Unai Vencedor. The midfielders are seen as two of the most promising talents to come through Lezama in recent memory and will also train with the first team this summer.
It’s been said that a sunset is just the back side of a sunrise. When it comes to Athletic and Lezama that is undeniably true. Susaeta, Iturraspe, and Rico made their childhood dreams a reality and will now bid an emotional farewell, but others will take their place. The time has come to close this special chapter in the history of Athletic Club and turn the page to the next part of the unique story.