Gaizka Larrazabal “Last Names Don’t Open Doors, Everyone Has To Open Their Own Door”
Gaizka Larrazabal is ready to write his own legacy at Athletic. The son of club legend Aitor Larrazabal was called up to train with the first team this summer and came into preseason in fantastic shape. The 21-year-old recently spoke with Aitor Martínez of DEIA and explained that he has to be at his best to earn a place in the team this year.
“When you know that you are going to spend the preseason with the first team you better arrive in better conditions than those that have been in the squad for years and show your best as much as possible in the preseason. Last year was my second year at Bilbao Athletic. I already had certain expectations, but when they tell you that you’re going to train every day with top players the least you can do is be strong physically.”
Making the transition to the first team is never easy, but Larrazabal has grown close to Iñigo Córdoba who has helped him with the process. The winger already knew several players in the team and is impressed with the unity in the squad.
“I’ve trained with Iñigo Córdoba and I’ve been very happy. He’s been in the first team for two years and has instructed me in that regard. He’s been a teacher, more or less. Some of the players here I met two years ago at Bilbao Athletic. I have met very nice people, with very good vibes. The truth is that it’s an extraordinary group.”
Growing up, Larrazabal always looked up to Aritz Aduriz and Iker Muniain. Now he is training alongside them every single day and wants to learn as much as possible from the legends.
“Of course. Aritz Aduriz played with Father and I remember the 2002-03 season in which they were both on the first team. There’s also Muniain, for example, who I have been following since he came to the first team and has done a lot in a short ten years. They have always been idols for me.”
Larrazabal has always been a very outgoing person and thinks that will help him gain confidence in the team. Having already played for Gaizka Garitano at Bilbao Athletic gives the winger a level of stability and the ability to show his best this summer.
“I’m not a shy person, but it also helps that I already know many from the first team. It’s a very loos environment and that helps you let go too. It fits my personality. I think having character helps you in football. On the field it’s important to trust yourself and not get down. I have character and personality and I think that’s what characterizes me. It’s important that Garitano knows me, of course. He’s the one who knows me best. We were together for a year and a half at Bilbao Athletic. He knows me very well and he’s told me what I have to do to be here. I’ll continue doing what he’s told me, he’s a great help for me.”
Before renewing his contract with Athletic back in May, several other clubs had shown interest in signing Larrazabal. However, the starlet had no plans to leave Athletic because it’s always been his dream to play at San Mamés.
“My dream has always been to play for Athletic. When the club renewed my contract it was tremendous news. At that moment you already start thinking about how your life is going to change. It brought incredible happiness. Yes, there were other clubs who were interested but when Athletic, which is where I’ve always wanted to be, told me they wanted me to renew I had doubt’s about staying.”
Larrazabal noted a big improvement in his performances during his second season with Bilbao Athletic, though he didn’t play consistently after Aritz Solabarrieta took over as manager. Still, he was dedicated to working hard and knew that he would get his chance if he continued to show his best.
“I have to say that last year I saw an improvement in my game compared to the first year at Bilbao Athletic. I was very comfortable with Gaizka and the change of coach hurt me. Because of my character it was hard to approach the coach, but I also did well for Aritz. He believed that I shouldn’t start in some games, but I had to respect the decision and keep working. It wasn’t complicated. I knew that I was doing a good job and every time I was on the field I gave my best. I had good numbers and something told me that if I kept doing well then better things would come. That’s what happened.”
Always confident, Larrazabal never doubted himself even though his chances were limited. The winger has already been told that he will stay with the first team this season, which takes the pressure off and allows him to just focus on improving.
“I didn’t doubt myself, quite the opposite. My family told me that my name was heard and I was being talked about in different places and that makes you think you are doing something right. I was calm. I did things well and knew that something would come. Not starting the preseason with the pressure of having to do everything well just to stay makes me more calm, more loose. When someone has that peace they are confident to play better. Not having the pressure doesn’t mean you can relax. Taking the pressure off helps because it’s not in my head as much, but I trust my ability and that mentality has brought me here.”
Larrazabal agrees with the assessment of others that speed and power are his strongest attributes. Pure wingers who can run the entire sideline and create chances are disappearing in modern football and Larrazabal takes pride in being just that.
“Yes, I think I’ve shown in many games that my best qualities are speed and strength. I’m a player who likes to run into space, who wants the ball at my feet, but who can also cross the ball. I scored a lot last year and feel comfortable in front of goal. I’ve heard that in today’s football the pure winger is being lost and I believe that I am a pure winger. I can contribute a lot to the team.”
Strengths aside, Larrazabal knows that he has to get better defensively. Garitano pointed that out two years ago at Bilbao Athletic and the 21-year-old has been working to improve that part of his game ever since.
“I need to improve in the defensive aspects of the game. Coming back to defend isn’t what forwards like to do, but it’s what I have to improve. Garitano has always emphasized it too from the first day we were together at Bilbao Athletic. I have improved in this area but I still have much to improve and I will.”
Looking back on his time with Bilbao Athletic, the winger admitted that he was too passive in his first season and didn’t take as many chances on goal as he could have. Last year he played with more confidence and was able to show that he can also be a goalscorer.
“I remember my first year with Bilbao Athletic Garitano said that forwards could play a lot of games, but they had to score goals. I changed my mindset. I was able to score goals and didn’t stop. I was too generous at times in my first year. Last year every time I had the ball, of course I had that last pass in mind, but I also looked more at the goal. That led me to score so many goals.”
Being the son of a club legend isn’t easy. Larrazabal knows just how great his father was, but is only focused on his own career at San Mamés. He doesn’t feel the pressure and actually believes that it pushes him to be better instead of needing to live up to any expectations.
“My Father played 445 games for Athletic but I don’t dream of breaking his records. I want to play football on my team. If I can break any record, then I will fight for it, but first things first. I have to go year by year and get the best results that I can. With my character and personality, my last name doesn’t carry too much pressure. I know that my Father has been an important person for the club and that can help me more than hurt me. Last names don’t open doors, everyone has to open their own doors with their performances.”
Aitor Larrazabal is considered by many to be the best left-back in Athletic history. Playing a different position has helped Gaizka distance himself from comparisons, but knows he has a lot of his father in his own game.
“I think the fact that we play different positions has helped free me from comparisons, although there will always be some. But my Father and I are very different. He was a pure defender and I’m an attacker, but that gene and cold blood that he had, I have it too. I will prove it.”
In closing, the 21-year-old shared that he is thankful for all the advice his father has given him over the years. Now Larrazabal has the opportunity to learn from other great players in the first team and wants to soak up as much as he can.
“He always tells me to be consistent and never stop working. When I finish one play and I have to continue the next one and not stop. His advice is very helpful because he’s achieved everything at this level. I appreciate the advice, although I don’t really ask for it. He gives me advice a lot and I’m thankful fo it. Now that I’m here I have others like Raúl García and Aduriz, who have been in the Primera for years, who can tell me more things that they know and that will help my game too.”
The departure of Markel Susaeta has given Gaizka Larrazabal a path to the first team. This season he will compete with Ibai Gómez and Oscar De Marcos for minutes on the right-wing and has already looked strong in preseason. Still just 21 years old, Larrazabal is stepping out of his father’s shadow and is ready to make his own name at Athletic Club.