Gorka Pérez Reflects On His Time At Bilbao Athletic
After three seasons with Bilbao Athletic, Gorka Pérez will be moving on this summer. The center-back signed for CD Basconia in the summer of 2014 with hopes of one day reaching the first team and playing at San Mamés. Unfortunately, injuries prevented Pérez from being able to accomplish his dream. Now the 23-year-old will be forced to leave the club without a place in the first team and took the time to discuss his departure with Javier Beltrán of El Correo.
“Because of my age and other competition I wasn’t surprised by the decision. If you don’t jump to the first team it doesn’t make sense to continue another year. It was already discussed that this was going to be the decision and I understood it without any problem. Several of us are leaving, but others are coming and I’m sure they will do well. This is a high level of football and there will be no problems at the defensive position. Every time football evolves there is more demand. They ask you to play the ball and I’ve improved a lot in that area in these years at Lezama. You also have to be quick in defense because the forwards today are athletes and will take advantage of space.”
Pérez went on to admit that he had an offer from Deportivo a few years ago which would have allowed him to join their first team. Instead, the defender chose to stay at Bilbao Athletic where he was happy and has no regrets about doing so.
“It’s true that Deportivo called and showed a lot of interest in me. They told me they wanted me to spend the preseason with them, to be the fourth center-back, integrate myself into the position, and be part of the first team. I made the decision to stay here where I have always been. Amorrortu convinced me because we talked and I liked the project. I’m very proud and wouldn’t change anything. I wanted to reach the first team which didn’t happen, but I’m very calm.”
Injuries played a big part in Pérez never reaching the first team. The 23-year-old explained that it was difficult to overcome his torn ACL a few years ago, but he feels 100% again today. More injuries plagued Pérez last season though he’s already looking ahead to the new campaign.
“The ligament injury was hard. You know you have seven months to recover and it’s difficult to come back. In the end, I worked a lot at Lezama and apart on my own. All last summer was spent working to strengthen my right knee. Today I’m doing perfectly. Last season I had some shoulder and groin problems. After the game against Mirandés tests showed that the scapula was broken and I suffered two relapses with my groin that lasted up to a month. The injuries set me back. I lacked a bit of luck, but I am trying to be a complete center-back and be better with the ball. I like to defend and attack. I can play the ball out without problem. I have no fear. Yes, when I was available the managers trusted me and I finished the season very well and with very good feelings. I feel recovered and eager to start next season.”
He may have never reached the first team, but Pérez understands just how difficult that can be. At the same time, fellow Bilbao Athletic defender Dani Vivian will train with the first team this summer and Pérez believes his former teammate has all the qualities needed to earn a place in the squad.
“It’s clear that it’s very difficult to reach the first team. There are players that are doing things very well and if you want to make it you have to do even better. Vivian has been called up and we get along very well. I hope that he earns a place. He’s still young so he shouldn’t be in a hurry and I’m sure he will have the chance. If you aren’t playing for the first team it’s better to go down and have minutes there instead of not playing. You have to be prepared just in case. Many players are here for two years, or even three like Undabarrena and myself. It’s worrying and the fields are very good. Football is very demanding and it always asks for more. The level has gone up a lot.”
Reflecting on last season, Pérez knows that the goal was to qualify for the promotional playoffs. Dropping points on the road kept the Kumeak from being able to finish in the top four, though the overall performances were lacking as well.
“The truth is that the goal was to get into the playoffs. Clearly it’s not easy. We had a very good team, but injuries affected us a lot. Players went up and down, there was a change of coach too and you have to adapt to new things. If we had taken some more points away from home things could have been different. It was difficult to win on the road. We deserved more than what we earned, with very good matches against Real Union and Amorebieta. The end of games escaped us, like against Arenas, and we lost points in the final minutes. We were winning the game against Real at Zubieta and then we lost.”
Pérez may be leaving the club this summer, but six others from Bilbao Athletic will train with the first team during the preseason. The defender believes that at least one will be able to convince the manager. Meanwhile, Pérez is happy for his former teammates – Unai Bilbao and Oscar Gil – who have been successful since moving on and hopes to follow their example.
“I think at least one can stay. If they are spending the preseason with the first team it means something. They will start like the rest of the first team players and if they do well and convince Garitano they will have their options. The preseason will dictate everything. I don’t think Garitano looks at age or that they come from the reserves. I’m very happy for Unai (Bilbao) and Oscar (Gil). You want the best for them and it gives you confidence when you see what they have achieved just after leaving Athletic. I hope to play in the Segunda. For me the better team the better. I have to wait until the playoffs end and not lose hope. I will look at the projects and see if I can have minutes. There could be options to join another reserve team, but I don’t see it after so many years with Bilbao Athletic.”
Spending five years at Lezama was a special time for Pérez. The 23-year-old explained that players have everything they need at the Athletic academy, though he also learned a lot while on loan with Gernika in the 2015/2016 season.
“We are very well taken care of at Lezama, seriously. Everything is there and we have what we want. I’ve also been outside of Lezama with Barakaldo and on loan at Gernika and it was very good. I learned a lot at Gernika. Being surrounded by veteran players who support you a lot helps you the most to mature. I remember that year very well. Their relegation has hurt me a lot and I hope they will get back to the Segunda B as soon as possible.”
Bilbao Athletic will face a lot of changes this summer. Several players will leave the club, nine will be promoted from CD Basconia, and Joseba Etxeberria will take over as the new manager. “When I was with Basconia, Joseba Etxeberria was coaching the Juvenil team”, Pérez stated. “Sometimes we trained together and I have a very good relationship with him. I think he will do well at Bilbao Athletic.” Even though Gorka Pérez is leaving Athletic he will always call the club home.