Ibai Gómez “The Best Ibai Is Still To Come”
The return of Ibai Gómez in January was massive for Athletic. After leaving San Mamés in the summer of 2016, the winger had found the best form of his career and made the decision to come back home. Right now the 29-year-old is enjoying preseason with the rest of his teammates and recently sat down with Aitor Martínez of DEIA to discuss the importance of preparing the right way.
“It’s going very well. Both the personal and collective work has been good and the sensations are good as well. We already know how preseasons work in which the most important thing is physical preparation so our legs are ready for the season. We are doing it all very well. I really haven’t stopped this summer, it suits me. I did some complementary work that I have been doing for a long time. I’m surrounded by people who have shown me that they have the knowledge to do it and I feel so much better.”
Looking back at his decision to leave Athletic in 2016, Gómez once again said that joining Alavés was the best choice he could have made. The winger loved his time in Gasteiz and believes that the move helped make him a much stronger player.
“Going to Alavés was the best decision I’ve made in football. It was complicated because it was a risky decision, but it was the best decision and I don’t regret it. I will always carry Alavés in my heart. I consider myself and Alaveista because my two and a half years at the club were incredible. Of all the options I had it was perhaps the most risky, but I was prepared. Life is about making decisions. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it goes badly. In this case it went well. When you make a decision you have to blindly trust it.”
Gómez played sensational football with Alavés, but wouldn’t say that he was better than when he was with Athletic. For the winger, he was simply different and learned how to be more physical which was a big improvement.
“I can’t say that I was better at Alavés than I was previously with Athletic. I had very good seasons with Athletic. I think the first six months of Ernesto and the two years of Marcelo were quite good, but the best Ibai is yet to come and I’m preparing for that. I have to keep growing. I proved at Alavés that I can be a very different player physically which was a step that I had to take.”
Throughout his career, Gómez has dealt with several injuries but appears to have put them behind him. Thanks to a healthy lifestyle, the 29-year-old believes that he is in much better condition to prevent injuries.
“I have practically not been injured in three years. Living a healthier life gives you more security with injuries. Obviously the ankle injury that I had wasn’t a muscular one which can be avoided. When you have a problem like the one I had with my ankle you have to view it as a new opportunity to show that you can recover well and as soon as possible.”
Gómez has never liked the label of being injury-prone or the claims that he can’t defend well. He’s committed to getting rid of those negative labels and is confident that he’s shown great improvement over the past few years.
“In football, labels are put on you and it’s difficult to take them off. I think that on a defensive level I’ve grown a lot, but I still have to improve more things too. I’m trying to remove those negative labels. I think I’ve already removed the injury label because people don’t think that I’m always injured anymore, but my goal is to also remove the label that I don’t defend. I’m not the typical fast winger, I think I have other qualities. Even if I don’t have speed I can still beat defenders and create chances. I’m comfortable on either side. As long as I’m on the field I don’t care where I play.”
Discussing his return to Athletic, Gómez admitted that he had other offers for much more money. However, it was impossible to say no to the club he loves so much and has no regrets about the decision to return home.
“There was a lot of talk for a long time, but I was very sincere. I had many more options, not only this winter. I had options to leave since the first summer with Alavés. I was clear that I wanted to stay in Gasteiz. I had superior proposals in economic terms than Athletic, both earlier and last winter, but when the team of your life calls you it’s very difficult to say no. That’s why I made the decision. When I returned I found the family that I had left. It’s a totally different group than you can find anywhere else. Although we’ve said it a hundred thousand times, it’s still the truth. The cohesion that exists among everyone is very important here.”
This season Gómez will be competing with Gaizka Larrazabal, Oscar De Marcos, and others for minutes on the right-wing. He believes that the competition is good for the team and will make every player better. Fighting for your place is important and Gómez welcomes the challenge.
“All competition is good. Athletic has to have the best Basque players and I know that every year I’m here there will be a lot of competition. It’s good for the team. I will do everything in my power so that I can bee available for every single game and show Gaizka that he can trust me. The preseason is an important time to adapt. In that sense, it’s important to have a strong preseason on a personal level.”
Despite his excellent form with Alavés, Gómez wasn’t handed a starting role at Athletic. The winger split time with others and admitted that he wants to have more minutes this year. He’s focused on having the best season of his career and wants to improve every facet of his game.
“Obviously I’m not satisfied. Every player wants to play more. That’s what I’m working for, to play 90 minutes every weekend. When I returned I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I’ve been a coach and know how they think. The best Ibai is still to come. I want to be better in every facet of the game and contribute a lot to the team with goals and assists, but also defensively and physically.”
This summer the Athletic players have followed the direction of manager Gaizka Garitano when discussing goals. No one will say that qualifying for Europe has been set as a goal for the upcoming season and Gómez followed the trend by explaining the importance of taking it one game at a time.
“I read recently that Gaizka didn’t set goals. I think we set more goals than if we simply say Europe. That’s not so long term, but there are many more short term goals. Winning the first game, the second…those are micro-goals that are much more important than thinking about the end of the season. What Athletic has to do every season is try to finish as high as possible. The hope, which is vital, leads us to want to qualify for Europe every year…for history, for our people, for what Athletic is. We will fight for it every year, but our first goal is to start well against Barça and, before that, having a good preseason and preparing well.”
Gómez had known Garitano for years before joining the team in January. He played against Garitano’s Eibar and has always admired his great accomplishments. As someone who hopes to continue coaching once he retires, Gómez says that he’s trying to learn a lot from the Mister.
“I remember seeing Gaizka in the stands when I played for Santutxu and he was coaching Eibar. If you like football you are aware of his achievements at Eibar. I have followed his trajectory quite closely. I talked with him when we met at Mendizorrotza as well. He’s someone to learn from. I have a coaching license and I really like to coach, although I can’t right now due to lack of time. Coaching is one thing that I would like to continue doing in the future at some level.”
In closing, Gómez was asked about Sendoa Aguirre being hired as Athletic’s new Delegate. Aguirre was named La Liga’s best Delegate twice while working for Alavés and Gómez says that Athletic couldn’t have hired anybody better for the job.
“I’m very excited because I have been fortunate to have both Andoni Imaz with Athletic and Sendoa Aguirre with Alavés, two great workers in the shadows that bring us a lot. We are with them every day and having them is important. Andoni decided to take another path and I think we have signed the one who could best replace him. We have the best, who has twice been named the best delegate of the First Division. I am very, very happy on a personal level because I know him from Alavés. It’s a joy to have him here.”
Whether or not the players will admit it, qualifying for Europe is vitally important this season. The Lions have all the quality needed to challenge for a top-six finish and will need players like Ibai Gómez to step up in a big way. With the new season set to kick off in less than a month, Athletic will need every single day to continue preparing for another competitive year in La Liga.