Iker Muniain “We Have Ambition To Fight For Those European Places”
On Monday, Athletic president Aitor Elizegi and captain Iker Muniain attended the El Desmarque Bizkaiagala in Seville for the 2019 DEX Awards Ceremony where the club was honored with the Formación Award. As recipients, the club was recognized for the incredible work done in the area youth development as well as the highly respected values at Athletic.
“It’s a privilege to receive this award,” said Muniain who accepted the honor on behalf of the club. “Every award is an honor, but this one in particular is special for me because it’s an award for formation, development, and the work done with the young boys at the academy. For me, as a player and captain of Athletic, I’m proud to be here with the president representing the club and receiving an award that represents the training of young boys. This is what has been feeding the club through its history, that these guys can reach the first team and represent our unique philosophy.”
Elizegi also highlighted the club’s commitment to youth development which has long been the foundation of Athletic. “The goal is to continue playing sports with the values that are recognized tonight,” said the president. “It’s important that the dream of a kid who was born near his team, near his stadium, near his shirt, near his shield, comes true.”
Muniain knows better than most what it takes to come up through the academy and reach the first team. “With the passing of years, since I debuted as a 16 year old, I see things with another perspective and I’m impressed every time I think about it,” said the captain. “It’s a clear example for our boys, for those who play at the academy, that this kind of thing can come true for them.”
As always, Lezama is currently full of talented young players who dream of one day taking the field at San Mamés. “My advice is to have hope, to continue working, to persevere in what you want and, above all, to have discipline to achieve the goals that you have set,” said Muniain when asked what advice he would give the players at the academy. “With that and a little luck, which is always needed, the success will come.”
One young player who has a bright future ahead is 19-year-old Oihan Sancet who has stepped up in Muniain’s absence during the captain’s hamstring injury. “Oihan is a player with a lot of quality and technique,” insisted Muniain. “There are many expectations that have been placed on him. We will see how he manages everything that comes. Hopefully he will be a great player for Athletic. I’m improving. I’m working to recover and return.”
Elizegi shares the same hopes for Sancet’s career with the club. “It’s a dream for us,” said the president referring to Sancet making his first start at San Mamés over the weekend. “This is how we understand this sport and we are proud to share it with all of you.”
Athletic have won their last two games with Sancet in the lineup and have now gone five straight matches without a loss. Currently tied for 4th in the La Liga table, Muniain shared that the team is excited about the way the campaign has gone to this point but are fully aware that they haven’t achieved anything yet.
“We are very happy with this first stage of the season. It seems that things are going well. We are getting a lot of points which is important at the beginning. We went through a streak of about five games with a win but managed to turn it around. Hopefully we can go into the Christmas break with good feelings.”
The Lions will have the opportunity to build on their winning streak this Sunday in Seville when they travel to face Real Betis at the Benito Villamarín. Muniain admitted that it will be a very difficult game for the Basques who have every intention of playing for all three points.
“Betis are a great team with magnificent players. It’s an opportunity that we respect. They have chained two consecutive victories which they needed because they had some bad results and that always creates nervousness in the environment. Betis are always a dangerous opponent but we are going with everything to win at a very difficult field. Surely it will be a beautiful game to watch.”
A win on Sunday could put Athletic within striking distance of the top three and the Zurigorri believe that they can compete for European qualification. It’s certainly been one of the most competitive years in La Liga in recent memory which Muniain believes is good for the league.
“We have ambition to finish as high as possible, to fight for those European places. The season is very long and we still have to fight a lot. We have won three straight games but you can’t get away from the teams behind you. It’s nice that La Liga has been like this, that it’s been so competitive.”
In closing, Elizegi once again addressed the fact that the Spain National Team will play at San Mamés during EURO 2020. “Again, San Mamés is the Cathedral,” said Elizegi. “It’s one of the places where there is more respect for the footballer, where the effort is more respected and where, of course, the team is more respected than what they do with the effort. We are people who are passionate about football. San Mamés loves football and Spain are welcome at San Mamés.”
A large number of Athletic supporters have openly disagreed with Elizegi’s statements about opening San Mamés as a home to the Spanish Selection. Regardless, La Rojo will play at least two games in Bilbao during EURO 2020 and Athletic legend Julen Guerrero, currently the Spain U16 coach, will act as the ambassador for the city during the tournament.