Iker Muniain “We Are Very Strong And Confident”
Athletic’s season has been one big rollercoaster. The Lions started poorly and were drowning in the relegation zone before Gaizka Garitano took over as manager and everything changed. Now, Athletic will be playing for European qualification on the final day of the campaign against Sevilla. Speaking to the media on Thursday, Iker Muniain explained just what this game means to the team.
“We have a lot of ambition. We are facing this game with great enthusiasm and intensity because of what we are playing for, a great prize. After the way the season started we reach the last day of the season with options to qualify for Europe and we depend on ourselves which is even more incentive. It doesn’t matter if we have a shorter vacation. The pressure is always there, it’s something that we put ourselves in. We also demand this kind of beautiful and complicated objective seeing the equality in the league. We have the goal in hand, within our reach.”
A draw would be enough to secure a 7th place finish for Athletic and a place in Europe, but there’s even more on the line. If the Basques take all three points they would finish 6th and avoid the preliminary rounds of the Europa League. Muniain admitted that he would happily take a draw right now, though Athletic will play to win.
“We have to go to Sevilla with everything and try to get three points or at least one which guarantees qualification. Of course I would sign right now for the draw. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to go for the three points which is even better, but a bird in the hand is better than a hundred flying. A draw would get us 7th place, but we go will the mentality of winning. We’ll see what happens. Sevilla is playing for something too because they don’t want to be 7th. Everyone has their own interests.”
Garitano’s arrival changed everything for the team. Muniain believes that, at this point, the players can look back and appreciate the hard work they put in the overcome a tough situation. The comeback has filled them with confidence.
“The comeback under Garitano gives us a lot of strength. You value the work that has been done more after the initial stretch of difficult moments. It drives you, it strengthens you to have reversed a complicated situation. Now, when we see that we are fighting for an exciting goal, we are very strong and confident. Hopefully we can achieve our goal.”
Saturday will be the last time Markel Susaeta puts on an Athletic shirt. The captain will leave the club this summer after choosing not to see Athletic’s renewal offer and Muniain firmly believes that the situation wasn’t handled right. For Susaeta to leave this way, the 25-year-old thinks that there must be self reflection.
“I admire Susaeta. He’s been a reference for me since I got to the first eam. I’m very sorry that this time has come. Maybe things weren’t done well if a player who has spent his entire life here leaves like this, without wanting to see the offer. It’s sad for us and has to make us all think that someone who has been here since he was 10 years old hasn’t been valued as much as he deserved. Everyone already knows that Aduriz is very important to us and we have always said that. I don’t know first hand what he is going to do. He’s been thinking about his future and when there is something to say he will be the one to communicate it or the club.”
With Susaeta leaving the club Muniain will become the new captain of Athletic. The Lezama product understands the importance of wearing the armband and says that he will do everything in his power to serve the role well and be an example to those who will follow.
“Being the captain is a maximum responsibility. Thank God I have been fortunate to be with a magnificent captain all these years, from whom I have learned a lot. I have absorbed everything for myself and I will demonstrate all that it entails. Here the captaincy is done by seniority, it’s sacred. The one who takes the responsibility must be prepared. I will demonstrate that I can be the captain in all areas and hopefully be an example for the future.”
Everything truly comes down to Saurday’s trip to Sevilla. A win or draw woul guarantee European qualification, but a loss would put Athletic in danger of finishing outside the top 7. It’s going to a very challenging match and the Zurigorri have made it clear that they will go to the Ramon Sánchez Pizjuán with absolutely everything.