Andoni Goikoetxea “Gaizka’s Career Has Been Excellent”
Andoni Goikoetxea is very happy to be back at Athletic. The legendary defender has dreamed of working for the club since retiring from football and was hired in August to serve as a Representative and Foundation Ambassador, while he is also responsible for relations with former players. On Monday the 63-year-old presented his new biography, Goiko 5: Corazón de león, and has since weighed in on several topics surrounding the club.
“I don’t speak of numbers, although in the end a coach is judged by numbers,” Goikoetxea answered when asked about Gaizka Garitano’s success in an interview with El Futbolín on Radio Popular. “Apart from that, Gaizka’s career has been excellent. After taking over in a difficult situation when Berizzo left, he had a great responsibility and to do what he did to lift the team and create hope will always be remembered.”
Goikoetxea is confident that Garitano is the right coach to lead the club forward and believes the Mister has done well since taking over just over one year ago. “If I had to choose a score from 1 to 10 I would say 8, an 8 that is going up,” said the mythical defender. “Gaizka knows the house, knows all the players, and creates hope.”
Garitano’s defensive style of football has been subject to constant criticism but Goikoetxea says it’s a natural thing that happens whenever a team loses a game or doesn’t get a positive result. “The criticism of the style is something we’ve heard for a lifetime when you don’t win, but you have to trust it because I think Athletic has a good team, a good coach, and great fans,” he said. “Little more can be asked.”
Goikoetxea may not have a problem with the way Athletic play football, but he isn’t blind to poor performances. He was quick to highlight last weekend’s scoreless draw against Eibar as a disappointing showing from the Lions and says the team must win games to stay in the race for Europe.
“The game against Eibar the other day was, in my point of view, the worst game that Athletic has played this season at San Mamés. There were no chances, no rhythm, and not a lot of precision with passes. The best chance of the game was Ibai’s but he failed because the goalkeeper make a save. The draw was a bittersweet feeling because adding three points would have taken the team to higher positions. Now what you have to do is keep winning.”
Athletic will travel to face Real Madrid on Sunday in what will be one of the most difficult games of the season. “Visiting Real Madrid is always complicated,” admitted Goikoetxea. “It’s never easy to play against Madrid at the Bernabéu, but Athletic is capable of everything. Every Madrid player is an international, they are stars, but you have to go play with confidence. Whether win or lose, you have to have that winning mentality.”
Widely considered to be the greatest defender to ever step on the grass at the Cathedral, Goikoetxea knows what it takes to be a successful center-back at Athletic. The legend praised the three stars currently in the team, as well as the fullbacks, who have helped the Zurigorri become one of the strongest defensive sides in all of Europe.
“The center-backs are doing a phenomenal job and I’m not just talking about the two because there are three. Unai Núñez is a great player. I’m not going to go into the debate of if he should or shouldn’t be playing because that’s the coach’s opinion, but all three are great players. The two fullbacks, Capa and Yuri, are also very good. Balenziaga is as well. Yuri has taken minutes from him but when he has played he has frankly done very well.”
While Goikoetxea doesn’t see as many similarities between himself and Iñigo Martinez as others claim, he does rate the 28-year-old very highly. “Iñigo is a wonderful left-footed defender. He’s strong in the air and can score goals, although he hasn’t done so with Athletic yet. We are often compared because we have many coincidences, but we don’t look very similar in the way we play.”
Goikoetxea also had words of praise for Unai López who he says reminds him of former midfielder Ander Herrera. The pairing with Dani García has yielded great results this season and Goikoetxea believes that López has finally found his role in the team.
“Dani García is the axis in the center of the field and is playing every game, but I like (Unai) López very much. He has good passes and reminds be of Ander Herrera because he has a lot of talent. He thinks fast and whatever happens he’s always willing to have the ball. He never hides, he’s a daring player.”
As a product of Athletic’s youth academy, Goikoetxea was asked his thoughts on the upcoming stars of Lezama. “It’s the same for everyone, you have to prove it,” he said directly. “You have to give yourself opportunities and those are earned in training every day at Lezama. No one gives anything to a player for free. You have to respond to that opportunity when it’s given by the coach.”
Lezama products such as Oihan Sancet, Unai Vencedor, Dani Vivian, and others have the potential to become key players for Athletic in the years ahead and being able to learn from Andoni Goikoetxea is a limitless asset. Having legends like Goikoetxea, Rafa Alkorta, and José Ángel Iribar around the club on a daily basis is extraordinary and more evidence of the family aspect at Athletic.