Iñigo Córdoba “I Don’t Think Negative Comments Have To Affect Me”
It’s been a rollercoaster of a season so far for Athletic. The Lions started very strong then went five straight games without a win before finally turning things around in the last three matches. Iñigo Córdoba has been on of the players most trusted by Gaizka Garitano and the winger believes that the Lions have played well over the first opening 13 games of the campaign.
“In general we are having a good year,” Córdoba said in an interview with DEIA. “There was a phase in which we didn’t have the ideal results and it seemed that we were getting worse, but the team has been working well and we’ve turned it around in these last games. We have reached the break with our heads fully in Europe, which is what we like.”
Through the five-game winless streak, Cordoba says that players weren’t worried. The team was confident in what they were doing and knew that they would be able to turn things around if they continued working.
“There wasn’t much concern. We were aware of the situation but we were calm. Although the results weren’t what we wanted, we were working well and playing good matches. We continued along the same lines and the good results came again. There was no worry because we knew that we were on the right track.”
A lack of consistency has prevented Athletic from reaching their potential, though Córdoba believes that the competition in La Liga has made it more difficult for every team. The Basques know that they have to be better away from home and are working on improving in that area.
“The points that we have are what we have. If we had been more consistent we would have more, but this is a very complicated competition and there are games that don’t go your way. We have to continue as we have before. It’s true that we haven’t been out best away from home and that is where we have to take a step forward. If we do that it will help us compete for beautiful things, but we are very solid at San Mamés.”
When asked why it’s been hard to win games on the road, Córdoba answered by sharing that every team tries to control matches at home. That being said, the Lions have been better outside of San Mamés in recent weeks and are hoping that better results will follow.
“Teams try to impose themselves more at home and that makes it more difficult. It seems that we have two versions, at home and outside, but it’s also true that these we’ve been better in these last few games away from San Mamés. We couldn’t win at Villarreal but we were very good. That’s the line we have to follow, trying to be as strong away from home as we are at home.”
Some fans have criticized the team with statements that Athletic play more defensively on the road. “The coach transmits the same idea at home and away,” Córdoba shared in response. “The idea is to press, to try to steal the ball as high as possible, and to be strong in defense and keep a clean sheet. To earn more points we have to create more chances in attack that allow us to score more goals.”
When it comes to Garitano’s style of football, strong defending comes before everything else. Athletic’s system is built on creating chances from defending and pressing and it takes the entire team working together to have success.
“The best attack is a strong defense that helps create good chances in attack. We have very good players in defense, both those who play regularly and those who play less. Those above also help in the defensive work. My first idea is to generate attacking football. I work to contribute more, but the defensive tasks are very important. We all know that we have to work together.”
As a winger, Córdoba’s is always focused on attacking but says that he also knows the role he must play in defense as well. The game of football demands good defending and that has become the basis of Athletic’s system under Garitano.
“I’m an attacker, but I’m aware that I also have to help those behind me and even more so with Garitano’s ideas. In general, we are all very generous here. Today, if a team limits itself to defending with five players and leaves the other five up they can do very little. More emphasis is placed on the defensive work in almost every team. That makes it more difficult to create danger offensively. Football is always evolving. Defending has become fundamental. Everything starts with a good defense and from there a team grows.”
Of course, by being a defensive-minded team it’s been more challenging for Athletic to score goals. The team has been working very hard to improve in the final third and are confident that more goals will come.
“Attacking is where we have the most room for improvement. We generate many chances in San Mamés. We press well and have a lot of the ball in the opposite field. We just need to be more effective. It’s been more difficult away from home. I’m sure shots will start going in. Of course, there are players that have to contribute more in this area and I’m one of them. With confidence and work the goals will come. It’s something I can improve and I’m aware of that.”
Córdoba and Yuri Berchiche have formed a special bond by playing together so often on the left side of the field. The pair know each other’s movements very well and the 22-year-old says that having that special relationship off the field certainly helps during games.
“Yuri and I understand each other well and have a very good friendship, which is very important to perform well on the field. There is room for both of us, one moves inside and the other outside. We associate play well between the two of us. I feel comfortable anywhere on the field, but it’s true that I’m more used to playing on the left. I don’t mind playing on the right though. The important thing is to have minutes so I’m not demanding of where I play.”
This may very well be one of the deepest squads in Athletic history which has made it difficult for players like Córdoba to have consistent playing time. The winger says that he’s just trying to do what the manager asks of him and that the competition in the team makes everyone better.
“Garitano asks me put crosses in and feed the attacking players. He also wants me to finish plays and emphasizes it. What I’m trying to do is have consistency on the field so that the Mister trusts me. There’s a very deep squad and different options depending on the game. Garitano has rotated more on the left wing with Ibai, Muniain, and myself. We all try to fight for the position with a very healthy rivalry that benefits the team.”
Throughout the season Córdoba has been in and out of the team, sometimes starting an sometimes left out of the squad altogether. It’s the manager’s job to decide who plays and Córdoba shared that his goal is to convince the Mister that he deserves to be on the field as much as possible.
“I always prepare myself to be call and to not be called. It’s not a very normal situation to be called up and then to not be. It can be frustrating in the moment to see that I’m not on the list, but the next day there is another opportunity to prove yourself in training. It’s about having a good face and doing your best. I don’t ask for explanations. The coach is paid to make these decisions. We are professionals and we know how this works.”
While Córdoba may have the trust of the manager, it hasn’t been the same with fans. The winger was whistled during a match against Espanyol a few weeks ago and was asked about the situation. Córdoba admitted that the fans have the right to their own opinions and that it’s his job to change their perception.
“We are always exposed to public opinion. When we do things well we are pleased to be applauded and cheered, which is a way of recognizing our work. When they fans aren’t happy, they have every right to express their emotions and what they think. I was aware of the whistles, but I have no choice but to work and improve. It’s not something you like, but it’s a normal part of football. You have to work so that it doesn’t happen again. I’ve felt the support from my people, from my family, from my friends, and from my teammates.”
Córdoba went on to explain that when a young player comes into the team the fans are quick to be excited, but that can change very quickly. It’s important for each player to not let themselves be influenced by public opinion, says the Lezama product.
“When you arrive everyone puts you on a cloud because you are new to the team. At that moment you have to be aware that you have just arrived and that you are nobody. Then, when fans think you aren’t giving the best level, they have the right to voice their opinions. You don’t have to let yourself be influenced by it. It doesn’t have to be a roller coaster where you are on a cloud when you first arrive then everything changes, it has to be more linear.”
No matter how the fans feel, Córdoba says that the negativity can only affect him if he lets it. He also spoke openly about the role of psychologists at Lezama who help prepare players for life as professionally footballers and the mental aspect that comes with it.
“I don’t read the press. I don’t think people’s negative comments have to affect me. I have to be aware of the ideas of the Mister and what he asks of me. That’s my focus. Here in Lezama we have worked with psychologists who work with the emotional part of things. It’s important to prepare a player for the emotional aspect so that you know how to handle it when you first arrive and you don’t sink you when you suffer an injury or a drop in form.”
Córdoba knows better than most how fortunate he is to have reached the first team. “Every young player here wants to reach the top and that generates illusion, but you have to keep your feet on the ground,” he explained. “In the end there are many kids with the same aspirations, but maybe only four make it to the first team.”
Looking back several years, Córdoba remembers the Lezama psychologist talking to the players at the academy about expectations. That talk helped him understand that most players won’t be able to reach the first team, but he’s been one of the lucky ones to make that dream a reality.
“I remember they gave us a talk, I think at Ibaigane, with the psychologist. He helped us see that in a game the ball is touched only a few times because there’s only one ball. There are many players in Lezama with the same dream, but we all think we will make it. Maybe only two or three will. That put our feet on the ground. They made us see that the normal thing would be to not make it. I’ve had that luck and I’m delighted with life.”
Córdoba shared that he tries to help his little brother Asier, who currently plays with Bilbao Athletic, with the pressure and expectations. When asked what it takes to reach the first team, timing was highlighted as the most important factor.
“I try to help Asier see that it’s complicated, that he has to work hard to get here. Of course, we hope that we can share the field at Athletic in the future. The line between those who make it and those who don’t is a cluster of things. Work is essential, talent and quality are also needed, but above all it’s being at the right place in the right time. You have to be ready to take the opportunity when the first teams counts on you.”
With plenty of football ahead Córdoba has very clear objectives in the months to come. The 22-year-old aims to earn a more consistent place in the starting lineup and become a stronger factor in the final third.
“For the remainder of the season my goal is to become strong and consolidate my place in the lineup. I want to contribute more in attack with goals and assists. As for the team, we want to stay on the same line at home and get more points in the games away from San Mamés.”
Athletic currently sit sixth in the La Liga table, but the standings are as tight as ever. When the international break comes to an end Iñigo Córdoba and the rest of the team will travel to El Sadar for a huge Basque Derby with Osasuna who haven’t lost at home in over a year. Three important points will be on the line and both sides will be ready to fight until the final whistle.