Mikel Balenziaga “The First Day Susaeta Wasn’t Here And It Felt Like Something Was Missing”
Athletic are currently training in Germany as part of their preseason with the goal of getting stronger before the start of La Liga. Defender Mikel Balenziaga took the time in between sessions to talk to the media on Tuesday and shared why he believes the trip abroad is good for the team, as well as his excitement to play in friendlies this weekend.
“A week away from home is good to disconnect and continue training hard with multiple sessions”, said the 31-year-old. “A week passes quickly and becomes short, but we are at ease. We like to play and we have two games over the weekend. They are getting closer.”
Looking back to last year, Balenziaga admitted that the team suffered a lot while battling relegation. He had never faced such intense pressure and explained that the players were upset that things didn’t work out with Eduardo Berizzo.
“Last season we suffered a lot, I hadn’t suffered like that for years. We had a coach that we greatly appreciated and we were very sorry that things didn’t go as well as we all would have liked. Those were difficult moments. The team met many times and we reflected a lot on the situation. It was the most I’ve suffered in terms of the standings and the pressure we were under until December.”
Gaizka Gartano’s promotion to first team manager changed the season. The Lions improved quickly and were able to enter the race for Europe. Balenziaga shared that the first thing that needed to be fixed was the defense and Garitano did it well.
“In the end, Gaizka was able to transmit his system to us and brought positive energy. He got us organized on the field and put us in a position to respond well. It’s true that we had an incredible second half of the season. We were able to go out and almost got what we wanted. When Gaizka came we were not well defensively. We surrendered a lot of goals and were unorganized. The first thing he wanted was to establish defensive order so that every defender and every position knew their responsibility and what to do at each moment of the game.”
Taking over in the middle of the season prevented Garitano from truly being able to introduce his own system. Still, the manager was able to share ideas with the players and this summer the team has plenty of time to adapt to the Mister’s style of play.
“Gaizka came at a delicate moment and didn’t have the time to give us much information or change the dynamics. We had to play a game in two or three days. He immediately transmitted what we wanted on the field and from us. Now he has more time. He’s been with the whole team since the start of preseason and it’s easier for him. It’s a bit of a rest and a chance to start over. Now he’s giving us instruction on what he really wants, although we already had a good idea of what he wants. The training is a reminder.”
The arrival of Yuri Berchiche saw Balenziaga play fewer minutes than ever before. However, the 31-year-old understands that it’s all a part of football and he has to be ready for anything.
“I’ve always said that a player has to be prepared to play every Sunday, from time to time, or to not play at all. There are at least 25 players and only 11 starters. Every week I try to be in the 11. Sometimes I play and sometimes I don’t. Last year I had fewer chances than others, but we all want to help the team.”
Balenziaga says that he had to compete for his place even before Berchiche arrived. It’s his goal to always give his best and try to convince the manager that he deserves to be on the field. The most important thing is always helping the team.
“There is always competition, especially last year when I played less than others. But two years ago it was also complicated. I will try to give my best to play and the coach will decide. I plan to continue working as always and trying to get the coach to give me minutes and opportunities. When you are given the chance, it’s on you to take the opportunity and give your best to help the team.”
This year, Balenziaga knows that he has to continue playing well in order to have minutes. He must make the decision difficult for Garitano and realize that it’s the coach who will make the decision every week.
“To play I must give my best. It’s always the coach’s decision, but I have to make it difficult for him. If you give your best, give what you can, you have to be happy. Everyone has their own strengths. You have to be available and the coach chooses who plays. I don’t see it as fair or unfair, it’s part of football. The coach is only going to put those on the field what he believes makes the team better.”
Despite the competition, Balenziaga says that he is very close with Berchiche. The two offer different styles of playing left-back and have shown that they can even play together successfully.
“We already know that Yuri is a more offensive player than me, that I’m more defensive. In that aspect, we can play together and we have. There will be matches for him, for me, and for both of us. I think we have good competition. Personally, I like him a lot and we get along well. The competition makes us and the team better.”
Yesterday, midfielder Dani García also addressed the media and opened up about his battle with anxiety. García revealed that Balenziaga and Markel Susaeta helped him a lot last year and was thankful for their friendship. When asked about it, Balenziaga explained that everyone needs help sometimes and that everyone at Athletic are there for each other.
“As Dani said, football seems one way especially when you are on the outside. If you see it from the inside, it changes a lot. There is a lot of pressure at all the Primera clubs, there are hard times, and last year was difficult for us. When someone comes to ask for advice or help we are there for each other. Those things are easier at this club. Another day I will be the one asking for help. You always have a teammate, a friend, here to help you and give advice. At that moment it was Susaeta and me, but surely tomorrow or next week Dani will be the one helping.”
In closing, Balenziaga shared that the team doesn’t feel the same without Markel Susaeta. The two have known each other since they were kids and Susaeta’s departure has been really hard on the team.
“The first day he wasn’t here and it felt like something was missing. I’ve been with Markel for eight years and I’ve known him since childhood. We all know that it’s a big loss in the locker room, on the field, and for the coach. He’s my friend. Thank God I can continue to maintain the friendship that we have. Although he can’t be here we miss him and we have him close.”
Mikel Balenziaga extended his contract with Athletic through 2021 and agreed to eliminate a release clause. The defender hopes to continue contributing to the team this season as the Lions aim to qualify for Europe after a two-year absence.