Yuri Berchiche “I’ve Had To Fight A Lot To Be Where I Am”
Yuri Berchiche is entering his second year with Athletic and is determined to show his best form. The defender struggled at the beginning of last season, but the promotion of Gaizka Garitano took Berchiche to another level. Speaking with Juanma Mallo of El Correo on Thursday, Berchiche explained that preseason has been great and the team is ready to play more friendlies.
“Things are going well and we are charging the batteries. The team has trained well and we are gathering strength for the start of the league which will be very demanding. To start against Barcelona we will have to be at our best level. We like to play and are excited about the friendlies, but each coach comes with his own schedule. Gaizka prefers that we train more than we play, especially two weeks.”
The 29-year-old has always played his best football in his second year at a club and has put the same pressure on himself this season. Berchiche aims to be more consistent and try to play a bigger role in offensively as well.
“Being in my second year has an added pressure. Historically I’ve always played my best in my second year and it was like that at Eibar and Real Sociedad. I hope it’s the same with Athletic. What can you expect from me? Definitely more consistency. Until Gaizka arrived, I didn’t get it. With the new coaching staff I found myself better physically and mentally. When my legs and my head are doing well, everything goes much better. Above all, I want to maintain consistency, provide assists, and if I can score some goals that’s even better.”
Consistency was an issue for Berchiche last year, as he readily admits himself. Defending in Eduardo Berizzo’s system was extremely difficult and things didn’t go well. Still, the team loved the coaching staff and are sorry that it didn’t work out.
“I had some good matches last year, but I didn’t have consistency. I wasn’t well physically and if I am then everything is better. Since Gaizka arrived the workload dropped significantly and we all noticed it. The demand on the defense was difficult. Marking individual players on the field isn’t easy. It’s not easy for Williams to mark his many into the box then go all the way back up to score, or for Muniain either. This doesn’t mean that we got along badly with the coaching staff, it’s the opposite. We took a lot of love, but things didn’t go well. It changed and everything was better.”
The arrival of Gaizka Garitano turned around the whole season for Athletic. Berchiche played at a much higher level and praised the Mister who originally gave him a chance at Eibar which helped him reach his potential.
“Garitano has been an important coach in my career. He took me from the lower levels of Eibar and thanks to him I am where I am today. He’s been a key piece in my career. My football path isn’t full of roses. I’ve had to fight a lot to be where I am. I’m super happy, even though it’s not over yet. When I was with Real Unión I wondered if I deserved to continue with football.”
Dani García recently admitted in an interview that he struggled with anxiety last year. Berchiche said anxiety wasn’t an issue for him, but he did face a lot of pressure knowing that he had cost the club a lot of money.
“No, I haven’t had anxiety. I had very bad times, especially when we were near the bottom of the table. When I know that Athletic paid a lot of money for me, I knew that I had certain expectations that I should fulfill on the field. It’s not easy to get out of that situation. As Dani said, we had to overcome it and we had the courage to do so. Not many teams achieve that. I had a hard time, but not to the point of having anxiety.”
Most of the pressure that Berchiche feels comes from his own personal expectations. Even when he plays well, he believes that he can do better and is committed to constantly improving.
“I felt the pressure, but I put it on myself. I want to go out on the field and show that the club wasn’t wrong in signing me. I’m a footballer that, if I play well, I’m still looking for ways to improve. I’m very critical of myself. Although I play well, I’ll never be happy with my performances because of the pressure I put on myself and wanting to be better. The first few months I had to overcome difficulty and then I ended the season happy.”
The defender struggled with a shoulder and groin injury last year and explained that fans really don’t know what players are dealing with behind the scenes. Every player has to overcome their own struggles and it’s never easy.
“Playing with pain is something that people don’t see from the outside. There are many players who have problems. For example, a very complicated groin injury was bothering me since Christmas. I had that and a shoulder problems, but I was going into every game with a spark. I wish the season had been longer. The fans don’t see the many problems that football players have behind the scenes, for example Dani’s. There are many players who have issues that people don’t know about.”
In closing, Berchiche praised Athletic for being a family. The team was able to escape relegation last season because of how close the players are and going through such a struggle makes you stronger in the long run.
“Athletic is a family, totally. There is always someone there to help, to cheer you up. We overcame the situation last year because of the team were are, the family aspect, and because we all help each other. Those bad times make you stronger, more mature. It makes you grow as a person and as a footballer. Last year was a new experience, I had never lived it. You value your work more, where you are, and understand that it’s always difficult.”
Yuri Berchiche is expected to feature yet again as the starting left-back this season. Going into his second year, expectations will be high and the Lions will be hoping to qualify for Europe after a two-year hiatus. Players like Berchiche will need to be at their best to achieve the goal and it all starts on 16 August when the Basques host Barcelona at San Mamés to kick off the season.