Rafa Alkorta “It Doesn’t Look Like There Will Be Any Signings This Summer”
Since taking over as the Athletic Sporting Director in December, Rafa Alkorta has been completely transparent when talking about the club. The Athletic legend has given regular interviews with the media in Bilbao during which he’s been willing to answer even the toughest questions. On Monday night Alkorta was a special guest on TeleBilbao where he discussed the transfer window, the importance of promoting young players, and a few other important topics.
“We want people to enjoy watching us play football”, he began. “That’s very difficult. We can’t forget where we come from in our history and how we have played. You have to be excited about the turnaround the team had under Gaizka. What they did was impressive, he has done an incredible job.”
Alkorta has experienced it all through his football career which he believes will make him successful in his current role. “I’ve been in football for 30 years”, he explained. “Some of this I know, more than the titles, because of what I’ve lived. I’ve been a player, a very good one, a coach, sports commentator, and a Sporting Director. I know how to move in all situations.”
Before the Presidential election in December, Alkorta had spent the past two years planning his own project for Lezama. When asked about his favorite part of the job so far, the former player admitted that he’s loved working with former teammates and friends. “The best thing since we took office is being able to work hand in hand with Andoni Ayarza and Patxi Ferreira, the first team assistant coach, because we have known each other since we were 16 years old. The good atmosphere at Lezama, the day to day with the coaches, the players, and the kids have been wonderful as well.”
Turning the attention to the transfer window, Alkorta stated that it’s very likely that Athletic won’t be signing any players this summer. Money isn’t an issue for the Lions, he explained. The problem is that there aren’t many realistic options that would make the team better.
“It doesn’t look like there will be any signings this summer, but you never know. There is money, but not many possibilities to sign because our market is what it is and we don’t have many options. That is why the young players coming up have to contribute. We have a good team and a good coach. They will take the leap and we all have to help them. They are quality players, very young players.”
Ander Herrera, Javi Martinez, and Fernando Llorente were viewed as the top targets going into the summer, but Alkorta shared that none of them will be coming to San Mamés. Iñigo Ruiz De Galarreta has also been linked with a return to Athletic, though the club isn’t interested in signing the 25-year-old.
“I have a good relationship with Pedro Herrera, Ander’s father. I’ve contacted him and it appears as though he’s going to PSG. It would difficult to sign him. We haven’t called Javi Martinez or Fernando Llorente. Galarreta is a good player, but we aren’t interested because he wouldn’t be an improvement. There isn’t a place because we already have a lot of players in that positions. Our midfielders were excellent last year. You can’t close the door on anyone who can wear the Athletic shirt. I just don’t understand the way some people talk about Fernando. In the end, we have to give chances to those who have proven themselves at Lezama, as always.”
For years there have been debates about whether or not Marco Asensio could play for Athletic. His father, Gilberto, played in the Basque regional league and raised his sons as Athletic fans, but Marco was neither born nor formed in the Basque Country. “Fans would react well if we signed him because he’s a high-quality player, but you have to ask the President if he can play with us”, Alkorta answered when asked about the subject. “He wouldn’t come cheap. He’s a great player with a great future and although this year he will have more competition, Madrid can’t get rid of Marco. Let’s see if we can afford him, you never know”, said Alkorta jokingly.
Truth be told, the club will be making one signing. Alkorta confirmed that Barcelona B goalkeeper, Jokin Ezkieta, will sign with the Lions once his contract expires at the end of this month. “Jokin Ezkieta will be joining Athletic and will spend the preseason with the first team”, Alkorta revealed. “The club has been following him for some time and Peio Agirreoa (one of the goalkeeping coaches from Lezama) watched him closely before his injury. I haven’t seen him personally, but the reports have been very good.”
A number of Athletic stars have attracted the interest of other clubs, namely Iñaki Williams and Yeray. However, Alkorta proudly stated that the club pays the players well and will continue to do so as long as possible. He’s also not concerned about Yeray’s relatively low release clause while renewal negotiations are ongoing.
“Our players are well paid, but we are a club that’s handcuffed because of our philosophy because there are players that we can’t lose. But we will pay them as well as we think we can and if it’s not enough and they want more they will have to leave. Yeray has a contract and his €30 million clause doesn’t worry me. Saying it’s a small clause depends on who is paying it. It’s low for PSG but a lot for Getafe. I see him at Athletic, which is where he has to be.”
When preseason training begins on 4 July Gaizka Garitano will have 33 players at his disposal. Alkorta agrees that the squad will have to be trimmed, but there will be no hurry. Garitano will be given as long as needed to put together the strongest team possible.
“I agree with the coach that the squad must be cut, but those decisions will be made as days go by. I must give the coach all the tools to have a good year and for his work to be as simple as possible. Leaving behind 8 players every week is complicated which is why we’ve talked about a smaller squad. There are several clubs waiting for our cuts. Many clubs are already asking for our players on loan.”
Signing Aritz Aduriz to a renewal was a big deal for the club and Alkorta thinks the 38-year-old still has a lot to offer the team. “With a good preseason, Aduriz still has a few goals to score for Athletic”, said the Sporting Director. “We need players like him in our locker room because that’s also important. We are close to reaching a renewal with Raúl García as well. He’s a professional and a good player who gives us a lot. Raúl would be a key player on any team.”
While Aduriz’s renewal was a great success, Markel Susaeta’s decision to leave the club was met with sadness. Alkorta went on to reveal that he made an offer to the captain, but can’t dwell on the fact that Susaeta chose not to renew.
“It can’t bother me. It’s hard when a player sees that his time is ending. I would have liked for myself, or Larrazabal, or Urrutia to have a tribute like Susa, Rico, and Itu. In football, everything comes to an end. I haven’t done anything wrong. I made an offer to renew. In that sense, we wanted to convince him because he’s a good player. The coach agreed to renew him.”
In closing, Alkorta defended the decision to hire Patxi Salinas as the new manager of CD Basconia. “Patxi is key in this story”, he began. “The training stage at Basconia is important because the players have to arrive at Bilbao Athletic prepared. He’s a former League Champion. He would die for Athletic and has a lot of experience coaching at this level. It’s true that we also wanted Bingen Arsotegi with us, but he told us that he preferred to stay with Ziganda where he is the assistant coach.”
The new Lezama project is in full swing and the focus, as always, is on developing young players for the first team. There’s still plenty of time for Athletic to make a signing, but at this point the club is content on giving chances to the players called up from Bilbao Athletic. This summer will be one of the most important in recent history and Athletic are confident that the club’s unique values and philosophy will continue to bring success.