Julen Guerrero Talks EURO 2020, Youth Football, And Possibly Returning To Athletic One Day
It’s been a special week for the city of Bilbao. The capital of Bizkaia will feature as one of the 12 host cities from next summer’s EURO 2020 during which San Mamés will host a total of 4 matches. Athletic legend Julen Guerrero has been chosen as an Ambassador for Spain for the tournament and recently spoke with Robert Basic of El Correo to share his excitement about the special opportunity for the city.
“I’m excited to be the Ambassador, especially in Bilbao! Being an ambassador in your home is something to be proud of. I’m the ambassador of Bilbao, Athletic, Bizkaia, and Portugalete every day of the year. Now, doing it on such a special occasion is a pleasure and pride. I have always enjoyed football and this is a unique opportunity to continue doing so. A Eurocup is something nice, special, and I am convinced that people here will enjoy it a lot.”
Guerrero hopes that everyone who visits Bilbao will enjoy their time in the city. He’s always heard great things from those who visit for the first time and knows that it will be a unique chance for Bilbao to be open to the world.
“It’s important that everyone who comes enjoys Bilbao and its surroundings. It is a modern city, which has grown a lot, and it’s beautiful. Many people who come for the first time speak to me about the wonders of Bilbao. We have to convey that we are modern, welcoming and that we will do everything possible so that those who visit us are at ease.”
Some have protested the decision to use Bilbao as a host city which will represent Spain. When asked about those who are in disagreement, Guerrero put the focus back on football being a sport of inclusion. The Athletic legend isn’t concerned with the negativity, only the chance for the city to enjoy a great time emotionally and financially.
“I only understand the values of sport and within those values is respect. Respect on the part of everyone. Coexistence is good and so is respecting the ideas of each person. We are facing a sporting event and we don’t have to mix things. For me, sport is union and does not have ideologies. It’s universal. Everyone who wants to come and should enjoy coming and seeing the best image of Bilbao. The European Championship is very important for the city from an economic point of view. The rugby finals left almost €40 million and now there will be four games. It’s a lot of money for a lot of people in a complicated moment. It will be an important financial injection.”
The interview with El Correo took place on the sidelines of San Mamés and Guerrero was constantly smiling. He admitted that being on the field brought back memories of his playing days. Guerrero says that players will always feel like players even after they’ve retired and he’s happy to continue enjoying the game as the manager for Spain’s U15 and U16 teams.
“Being on the field brings back memories. I only played a friendly in the new stadium, but I still imagine that I’m still playing matches in San Mamés. Many times I start thinking, remembering, and I even see highlights from games. It’s something that I will always carry with me. Those of us who have been players would have liked to play forever. We feel like players all our lives, at least I do. Now I enjoy football as a coach and I’m in the same environment. The fact of being able to continue competing, in this case teaching the kids, is also beautiful. But I insist that we are players forever.”
Turning the attention to youth development, Guerrero readily admitted that life is very different today. When he was younger everyone was always playing in the streets which isn’t so common anymore. He hopes to see kids allowed the time to be kids and not have to deal with so much pressure.
“Life has changed. We had much more contact with the ball when I was younger because we left school and went to kick the ball. On weekends we were always playing. There was a lot more football in the street. Now it is more uncommon to see kids playing on the street. They also have many more technological things, which takes time away. Maybe they have less time because the demand for studies and being up to date with many things deprives them of hours of fun. It’s something to think about. It’s important that kids have time to be kids.”
It’s evident that money plays a major role in football today. Guerrero explained that it’s naturally, though he hopes enough restrictions stay in place so that the beautiful game doesn’t become a business. As a youth coach, he’s trying to teach his players that they haven’t achieved anything yet.
“Money moves a lot with transfers, agents, and everything that surrounds this world. It’s important that we continue polishing the economic controls so that football doesn’t stop being a sport. Football makes you mature. For me, the important thing is to make them see that being in the national team is a prize. They must progress and learn. If you put them on a path, they know where they need to go. Otherwise, they lose it and another one takes it. I have the luck as a manager to be able to choose and make changes if there are kids that do not convince me. The most important thing is that they know they haven’t achieved anything yet.”
As a child, Guerrero was only thinking about playing for Athletic. Now the game has expanded globally and that has changed everything.
“When I started the only thing I was thinking about was playing for Athletic. There’s everything now and life has changed. The borders have been opened. Before, when I started, there were no national players in other leagues. Now there are kids in other leagues who are 14 and 15 years old. In England, Germany, France…the market has opened up to even the smallest.”
Guerrero still doesn’t know if it’s a good thing for teenagers to travel to other countries for football. Sometimes it works out well and other times it ends badly for the player. The important thing, he says, is not treating the kids like part of a business.
“I don’t know if it’s good. You never know. Each one of us sees the world differently and many see opportunities in different places. Sometimes they will succeed and sometimes not. The important thing is the people with whom they surround themselves. At the family level, they know how to stop their feet. Sometimes it’s the family itself that wants to fly higher than it should and then there are the representatives. That they know how to take care of the kid and that it is not a business.”
As the Spain U16 coach, Guerrero has the added bonus of being able to coach his son. He explained that it isn’t difficult because he’s worked diligently to pass down lessons he’s learned. On the field they are coach and player, but at home it’s all about family. There must be a balance.
“All of this has to be carried out with a lot of normalcy and tranquility. It’s not hard for me. I intend to share the education that I received and pass it down. My son knows the way he has to go in both sports and studies. This is a long process and the goals of each stage must be met with humility, hard work, and effort. If the prize comes later, it will be welcome. My life is that of a coach and his life is a player. It’s all normal. Our attitudes aren’t different because I coach him or because he’s in the national team. The work that we have to do is done on the field. At home we are father and son and enjoy being a family. On the field sometimes you have to demand more and sometimes you have to advise.”
Guerrero recognizes that one of the most important aspects of coaching young players is identifying areas that need improvement. Coaches have to be open and honest with players which can also bring tension.
“You have to help young players in the formation, in the understanding of the game. To make progress you must analyze each kid to detect their weaknesses and work to eliminate them. It’s part of the dialogue. In the end this is a competition and there are moments of tension. It’s part of the game.”
At the end of the day, a successful coach is the one who gets the best out of the players. Guerrero isn’t really concerned with a specific style of football because in today’s game adapting to opponents is vital. He also doesn’t have a favorite coach because he wants to learn from everyone.
“Being a good coach means getting the best out of the players. If you can choose a specific style to play then choose, but most teams can’t choose. What matters is getting the best out of each player. In modern football you can and must adapt to various styles because everything is worked on, studied, and analyzed. Changing things within a game is essential if you want to surprise your opponent. If you do the same things then your opponents know it. I don’t have a favorite coach. You can learn from everyone. There are many styles and ways of playing. One must be open to everything.”
Of course, the interview ended with Guerrero being asked about potentially coaching at Athletic one day. “I don’t know”, he responded with a smile on his face. “I want to live day by day and enjoy what I do. What has to come, will come. I’ll be where I want to be and wherever I am I will try to do my best, as I’ve always done. If I can be at Athletic in the future then that would be welcome. I don’t know. I don’t think anything beyond what I have to do tomorrow.”