Iago Herrerín “I Don’t Think I Have To Prove Myself To Anyone”
Iago Herrerín finally got his wish last year, becoming the starting goalkeeper at Athletic. The 31-year-old had spent years sitting behind Gorka Iraizoz and Kepa Arrizabalaga before getting the chance for which he had been waiting so long. Herrerín took the time to sit down with Juanma Mallo of El Correo while the team is training in Germany and shared that it was important to clear his head over the summer.
“I’m fine. I’m relaxed. I tried to forget about everything during the vacation, about football and everything. I tried to clear my head, which is the most difficult thing. I needed a break. Collectively we started last year very badly, then it seemed like we could achieve another goal but we didn’t. Personally, it wasn’t an easy year for me. It’s always important to clear your mind. It’s a new season and I have to work my best.”
Throughout his career, Herrerín has been the target of harsh criticism from many Athletic fans. When asked about the issues, the goalkeeper quickly pointed out that he isn’t going to get into that conversation this year. Hearing negativity from your own fans is very difficult and Herrerín is determined to change their minds.
“Everyone sees what they want. This year I won’t say a word about it, I won’t get into trouble. I can’t say everything I think, nor should I. Everyone uses their own words to hurt or belittle. What hurts the most is when the criticism comes from your own fans. When it comes from those outside you don’t care, but coming from the fans hurts. Out of the 50,000 fans coming to San Mamés, they all aren’t going to like me. I want the 25,000 that do like me to continue and the rest I will try to change their mind. It’s difficult. I have to do many things, try to isolate myself, although that’s not easy.”
Herrerín actually took a break from social media last to distance himself from the negativity. He explained that it was important to focus on his own mental health and expressed that fans really don’t know what all players go through.
“Everyone is brave on social media. It’s easy to create a fake name with a fake photo and insult. I don’t care if they insult me, the bad thing is when they target someone in my family or friends around me. That is the hard part. It should all be more controlled. I stepped away from social media for peace of mind. I’ve been very bad mentally and finished the season very bothered. I talked with friends who are dedicated to helping me endure it. Tension, anxiety as Dani García said, isn’t easy. Seeing that you are working every day to do well, to help the team, to be better and everything falls around you makes you sink more. In the end, you try to isolate yourself from everything because you aren’t going to be liked by everyone.”
Despite finally being the starter, Herrerín had several poor performances last season and admitted that he wasn’t in his best shape. The injury during the summer bothered him throughout the year and he never had full confidence in his body.
“Maybe I wasn’t in my best shape last year. It wasn’t my best season and I didn’t feel comfortable. I started the season with an injury and I couldn’t get well. There were matches where I was uncomfortable and others where I was fine, but I didn’t feel at ease or have confidence. This year is a new season and I come with great hope. It’s a very important season for me and I have to try to improve from last year.”
Speaking about the injury, Herrerín actually revealed that early tests showed he would miss up to six months. The goalkeeper refused to have surgery and was able to return after just two months, but it was an issue he had to deal with throughout the entire season.
“The injury made me suffer because it happened the day after the door opened for me to play, the door I had been waiting to open for a long time. Then I got injured and it was another stone on top of me that made me sink. I know it’s no use being negative when you get injured because it’s important to be strong mentally. The first day we saw the tests they told me I could be out for six months, that they had to operate, and I told the doctor to forget about it. Then he said I would miss three and a half months and I was already playing by the second.”
Due to the injury, Unai Simón started the season in goal and was impressive. Once Herrerín recovered he knew he would be giving the role, but says that he knows what it’s like to go through the disappointment that Simón faced.
“I had done well the previous year. For example, Kepa had been injured before leaving and I played eight league games. We won five and lost one and then he came back the next game. Unai (Simón) was spectacular, but I’ve also been through that situation. The coach told me that my role was clear, that since Kepa left there was no doubt that I was going to play. I wanted to recover well, but also not overwhelm myself.”
Gaizka Garitano hasn’t chosen a starting goalkeeper for the upcoming season and Herrerín explained that the players are just focused on being their best during the preseason. The 31-year-old has a great relationship with Simón and shared that he didn’t think it was right for the starlet to be taken out of the lineup last year.
“No, Gaizka hasn’t told us anything. We have no idea. Unai’s work has been amazing, Jokin has a great level, and so do I. The important thing is that the three of us do well and then the Mister will decide who plays. I love the relationship I have with Unai. I talked with him about the situation the other day. I remember my first year, debuting at San Mamés in the Primera. I made a mistake and then the next game was really good. When they changed him it didn’t seem right to me because I put myself in his situation. Until that moment his preparation had been incredible. It always feels like a failure and I identified with him.”
As a goalkeeper, Herrerín says that he feels personally responsible when the team loses games. It’s important to be strong mentally and the veteran believes that playing in goal is the most difficult position in football.
“I feel responsible when there are defeats, and sometimes when there are victories. It’s the easiest thing to change the goalkeeper. Last year, luckily, I had the confidence of the Mister at times when I wasn’t my best and Unai had been playing well. It’s the most difficult position on the field, especially from a mental aspect. You need to make decisions in a very short amount of time and sooner or later we all surrender a goal or make a mistake.”
Before he was a starter, Herrerín treated every single game as a final because his opportunities were few and far between. Now that he’s playing every single weekend, his mindset has changed and it’s important to build a rhythm and not take all the blame each match.
“When I played before every single game was a final. Last year I was playing regularly and there was a different demand. I was always turning your head a lot, even more than before. I’ve worked this year with people who have helped me to express myself and relax. I can’t think that everything is my fault and that I can solve everything. The coach gives you all the peace of mind in the world when playing.”
Because of the pressure he puts on himself, Herrerín says that it’s easy for him to think every goal is his fault. However, he believes that he’s shown he can play at the highest level and doesn’t have to prove himself anymore.
“Yes, I have trouble sleeping after games. I concede a goal and I hear people say that I ate it, that it’s my fault. You go to bed and start to think that it is your fault. The mental aspect is everything. This summer I worked a lot on relaxing, reminding myself that I’ve been here before and nobody has given me anything. I’ve competed and proven myself more than anyone. I’ve shown that I can play at this level, I’ve reached a Cup final, I’ve played in the Europa League. I don’t think I have to prove myself to anyone.”
Athletic struggled last year until the coaching change was made in December. This season, the Basques are determined to fight for a place in Europe and have even more motivation because of the club’s unique identity. A top-six finish is the goal, but the players will only take it one game at a time.
“Last year wasn’t pretty for anyone. It was hard. When you don’t get into Europe it seems like a failure, but it was very hard. We have not talked about anything. We know that we have to compete very well because we are all from here, people who come up from the academy and you see the rest of the teams are signing players with a lot of money. Our strength is between us. We have a very hard start to the season and we have to do well. From there, we will see what happens.”
Because of the club’s philosophy, many players have said that there’s more pressure at Athletic than anywhere else. Herrerín agrees, but also says he’s proud to represent the club. With hard work, the goalkeeper believes that Athletic can have a great season.
“Some say that things are more complicated at Athletic, but it’s the value that we have. I’ve always said that. The day after Levante, when the coaching change happened, we all got together. We told ourselves that we had already hit bottom, that it’s our fault, and that we have to come together or we wouldn’t get anywhere. We know that if we don’t play 150% or 200% we aren’t going to beat anyone because this league is so competitive. We have to work hard because we know that we are good. We know that we can win.”
It’s been three weeks since preseason began and the Basques have played just one friendly. Herrerín admitted that it’s a weird feelings, but acknowledged that Garitano wanted more time to focus on training before putting it all into practice during games.
“Every player wants to start playing games, that’s what gives us life. This year it’s taking longer for the friendlies to arrive because the coach wanted more time to train at the start of preseason. It’s strange to go three weeks with only one game. Before we had always played more games, but each coach has his own way of doing things. He thinks the right thing is to be physically strong and then put what we have trained into practice during games.”
Athletic will kick off their La Liga season against Barcelona on 17 August at San Mamés. At this point, Garitano hasn’t decided which goalkeeper will start against the Catalans. Iago Herrerín, Unai Simón, and Jokin Ezkieta are all determined to prove themselves worthy. Regardless of who plays, the Lions need a strong start to avoid the disappointments of last year.