José Ángel Iribar “Winning The Cup Would Reinforce The Philosophy”
Athletic legend José Ángel Iribar just celebrated his 77th birthday and was surprised by fans who sang to him at San Mamés during the win over Villarreal. Universally regarded as the greatest player in club history, Iribar has experienced it all but it’s been nearly 36 years since he’s seen Athletic lift the Copa del Rey title. That could finally change this season.
El Txopo won a number of titles throughout his career with the 1969 Cup victory over Elche being one of the most significant. At the time, Athletic had gone 11 years without a Cup championship and breaking the streak was cause for an incredible celebration. Ironically, Athletic defeated Granada to book their place in the final just like today’s team will have to do on Thursday night.
“They (Granada) were a good team and the tie looked like it could be evenly matched,” Iribar recalled in an interview with Alfonso Herrán of AS. “First we played there and they got ahead. We tied the score through Javi Clemente. Back then the away goals were not worth double. It was a promising result and at San Mamés we were stronger and won 2-0.”
Athletic would go on to beat Elche 1-0 in the final with Antón Arieta scoring the only goal. It’s a match that Iribar will never forget and one of the biggest victories in the history of the club.
“The memories of the final against Elche are fresh because it was a final. We had a great responsibility because we had not won it for eleven years. Before we had played two finals, against Zaragoza and Valencia, and we couldn’t beat them. We were eager. Elche gave us a lot of work to do and we didn’t win it until the end with a great goal from Antón Arieta. That team was good, very good, and we worked well together.”
Looking ahead to Thursday’s trip to Granada, Iribar is encouraged by Athletic’s 1-0 lead following the first leg win at San Mamés. Even still, the legendary goalkeeper says that the team must face the final 90 minutes without trusting in their one-goal advantage.
“We have a good result from the first game, but they are playing at home and have that advantage. You always like the second game to be at home if there are two legs. We will have to be very focused because they also have a very good team at the moment. We have a very good defense and that can give us a lot, but we must have respect and be successful in front of goal.”
Iribar helped Athletic end an eleven year Cup drought, but today’s team is facing an even bigger challenge. The Basques haven’t won the title since 1984 and this season may be the best chance with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid eliminated.
“There can be pressure. This is a great opportunity. We are all aware of what it means to be back in a final. In the last ten years we have been in a few and our fans like to be in Cup finals. Due to the fact that the great teams are not there, this Cup is different. It’s normal to think that we have a better chance to win the Cup, but in football everything is hypothetical.”
Despite holding a 1-0 lead going into the second leg, Iribar believes that team should try to score more goals. Simply playing to defend the lead could backfire and would put the team under constant pressure
“It’s always important to score. You always try to do it away from home because a goal give you much more life. Scoring would give us many possibilities. If not, you will be very tense trying to not concede. It’s not convenient to have too much uncertainty. The game will be complicated, but we have a good result from the first one.”
The changes to the Cup format this season has certainly brought more excitement to the competition as well as chances for the smaller clubs. Iribar is a big fan of the adjustments and says it’s been good for football in the country.
“I love this format. In football you have to give everyone a chance. Giving more opportunities to teams, especially the more humble ones, is the essence of football. The smaller clubs should be strengthened. There have been smaller teams that have been able to eliminate Primera teams. It’s nice, exciting, and positive to see those teams doing well.”
If Athletic manage to advance to the final and are able to win the Cup it would be a truly historic moment for the club. Iribar says lifting the trophy would strengthen Athletic’s unique philosophy and would be monumental for the next generation.
“Winning the Cup would reinforce the philosophy. We are a team that can beat Barcelona in the league and the Cup. Those matches stay in the minds of the fans forever and it adds to the children and young players. Whenever you win something it reinforces that you are doing things well, but even without it I think that everything is very well established.”
José Ángel Iribar is Athletic and has been waiting patiently for another Cup title along with countless other fans. La Gabarra has been docked for far too long and the legend hopes that the club will be able to take it out this season and celebrate a historic championship.