Iker Muniain “We Are Ready To Compete Against Barcelona”
This will be Iker Muniain’s first season as the Athletic captain and the 26-year-old is excited to get the campaign started. After an intense summer of training, the Lions will open the season at home against Barcelona. Muniain understands just how difficult it will be to get a good result but told Fuera de Juego on Tuesday night that he’s confident the team is ready for the challenge.
“I see the team very well, very strong. We’ve had a great preseason. It’s been very good to start this preseason with the coach, to be able to work with him from the start. We are ready to compete against Barcelona. We know that the fans will be there for us and hopefully we can celebrate a beautiful night together. It’s going to be a very special season. Wearing the armband, being the first captain, representing the club. It’s another incentive to enjoy a great season.”
Barcelona are expected to be without Lionel Messi who is dealing with an injury and could also see new signing Frenkie de Jong miss out as well. No matter who is on the field, Muniain says that Athletic will play their style of football. Qualifying for Europe is the ultimate goal this season but the Lions will take it one game at a time.
“We all know the importance of Messi. He’s the best player in the world. We don’t know if he will play or not, but it’s not something that worries us. We prefer to worry about ourselves. Whether Messi plays or not we will follow our plan. For teams like Barcelona, with big stars, it doesn’t matter when you face them if it’s the first game, the 20th, or the last. They will demand a lot so you have to be prepared for what’s coming. Europe? We will go little by little. We are ambitious and we want to fight for beautiful things, but our only goal is this Friday’s game. It’s the only thing we have in mind.”
Athletic are looking to build on the success that Gaizka Garitano brought last year after taking over as manager in December. Muniain explained that having the entire summer to prepare has strengthened the squad’s understanding of the Mister’s system.
“Our plan to win is to continue doing what we already demonstrated in the second half of last season. We have to play as a team, be solid and organized, have good control of the ball, look for space, and be direct in attack. Garitano has more or less the same idea, but this year he’s here at the beginning with time to clarify everything we did. Reinforcing everything we already did will come in handy.”
Muniain may be 26 years old, but it’s been over 10 years since he made his first team debut. The Lezama product has experienced more than most players his age and believes that he is ready to be the captain. That being said, he knows that there are other great leaders in the squad and that everyone must work together.
“When I arrived at the 1st team I saw references wearing the captain’s armband and it seems so far away. But the years go by and it’s getting closer. I’m excited to be able to represent the club in this way because it’s what every boy dreams of when he’s young. I feel like the captain and I want to be an example and a leader in many things, but in there isn’t a single leader at Athletic. There are players who have been here for many years and we all have to lead this great team.”
Muniain went on to praise his best friend Iñaki Williams who recently signed a new contract which will run through 2028 and contains an improved €135 million. He believes that the striker should be a reference for every young player and still has room to continue improving.
“I am doubly happy for the extension of Williams’ contract, for my teammate and friend. I am very happy, from my heart. It is important that players of the weight and quality of Williams decide to stay at Athletic because of their love for the club. He’s a mirror in which young players should look. Williams made his debut when he was very young, has worked hard, and deserves everything he has achieved. He still has a long way to go and has a lot of room for improvement. I hope he will be a legend of this great club.”
In closing, Muniain also took the time to praise Aritz Aduriz who has announced that he will be retiring at the end of the season. The captain hopes to achieve great things in the striker’s final year and wants to send him off in the proper way.
“Aduriz is a reference for everyone. He has scored goals so many goals. He’s given everything for this team and will continue to do so. We will try to enjoy what is left of him and when the time comes we will say goodbye as he deserves. Hopefully this is a good season for Aduriz and that he can bring us many great things.”
Athletic know what a poor start to the season can bring after last year’s struggles. The Lions are determined to get a positive result against Barcelona on Friday night and start adding points as quickly as possible as they chase a top-six finish. Iker Muniain and Iñaki Williams will be extremely important but it’s going to take the entire team to qualify for Europe.