Aitor Elizegi “Gaizka Doesn’t Just Give Someone A Place In The Lineup”
Although Athletic President Aitor Elizegi was never a footballer he’s been very close to the players since winning the election nearly one year ago. Always willing to offer his support, Elizegi has regularly backed the squad and managers. During a recent social gathering with Beti Zurekin, the President was asked about the criticism of Iñigo Córdoba over the past few weeks and was quick to defend the 22-year-old.
“Every player is different and Gaizka doesn’t just give someone a place in the lineup,” he said firmly. “Those who start do so because they have worked very hard during the week, if not then you won’t have a place in Gaizka’s team. Córdoba earns his place every week and I attest that he earns it with multiple things: with work, with commitment, with knowing how to be, and with concern with the position he plays.”
Furthermore, Elizegi commented that Córdoba has been able to win the confidence of manager Gaizka Garitano. “Iñigo has responded to the commitment that Garitano demands from the players he calls up for each match,” he continued. “Playing on the left wing at San Mamés is very serious and comes with complex responsibilities because we all have great left-footed players in our memories.”
The conversation then turned to defender Unai Núñez who has made just four appearances so far this season. Recent reports suggest that clubs such as Bayern Munich could be interested in signing the 22-year-old but Elizegi believes the best thing is for Núñez to fight for his place at San Mamés.
“It’s difficult to gain a foothold in one of the best defenses in Europe. When you have one of the defenses that concedes the fewest goals and, in addition, aren’t carded often, it means that the system is working. The two center-backs are having a brilliant season and so are the two fullbacks. It’s not easy for Unai, or any defender at Athletic, to get into the lineup. You have to learn to live on the bench and work to take the starter’s position. That the most difficult and most beautiful thing about football.”
Elizegi would go on to praise the likes of Ander Capa, Yuri Berchiche and Dani García who all arrived at the club last summer and have become very important players in the team.
“The work of Capa and Yuri to get to Athletic as well as Unai Simón to become the starter in goal, or Dani García who has become an undisputed starter, is very impressive. Players don’t want to lose their place so the important thing is to knock not he door because you have the opportunity to wear the mythical shirt of Athletic.”
While reports continue to suggest that Núñez could possibly leave Athletic over his lack of minutes, Elizegi hopes that isn’t the case. “The first thing Unai must consider is taking over that position and, if he does, hopefully he won’t give it up,” said the President. “That’s life at Athletic, players knocking on the door wanting one of the starting positions. Of course, Unai has the quality to do it. Gaizka is the one who will decide.”
Over the summer Garitano had a squad of 33 players and several had to leave on loan or return to Bilbao Athletic. That wasn’t the case for Cristian Ganea and Asier Villalibre, though Elizegi explained that the club hopes to lighten the squad next summer.
“Gaizka took over a team with 11 points and Rafa (Alkorta) arrived at a club with 16 points. From there the team stayed in competition to qualify for Europe. Within that transition from May to September several of the players stayed and didn’t leave on loan. Ganea and Villalibre had opportunities where they could play a little more. Cristian is working well.”
Of course, the President was also asked about Javi Martinez’s reported interest in returning to Athletic. “If Javi wanted to return it would be a good sign that Athletic is still attractive to great European players,” answered Elizegi. “It would be important that these players who, for one reason or another, left the club would like to return.” Several reports claim that it’s very likely Martinez will return to Athletic in the summer, but for now Aitor Elizegi is unwilling to divulge more information.