Gaizka Garitano “This Match Is Very Important For Us”
Less than 48 hours ago Athletic booked their place in the Copa del Rey final and fans are dreaming about lifting the title for the first time since 1984. However, the team have other concerns. The time to celebrate didn’t last long as Gaizka Garitano’s side had to quickly start preparing for Sunday’s trip to Real Valladolid with hopes of picking up a vital three points to continue climbing the table.
“I’m happy for the people,” Garitano said during Saturday’s press conference. “In the end we have created hope and we see the support we’ve had from the fans. We achieved union among all in this year and a half that we’ve been here and it’s been very great. Being able to reach the final is good, but right now I’m living for the Valladolid match and then the next one.”
Regardless of the result, Athletic have had little time to reflect on recent matches. The Lions have played a grueling scheduling since January and Garitano explained that he was already thinking about Sunday’s match as soon as the Cup semifinal against Granada ended.
“From a coach’s point of view I will always tell you the same thing. When you lose you have little time to be sad and we when things are going well you have little time to enjoy it. You are always thinking about the next game and more so when you play three days later like this one. Since the referee blew the whistle on Thursday the Valladolid game has been the only thing in my head and we have been preparing for it.”
Last weekend the Lions beat Villarreal 1-0 at San Mamés to snap a ten-game winless streak in La Liga. Cup success aside, Garitano has no desire to fall back into the same poor run of form and is determined to improve the league campaign moving forward.
“My main task now is to convince the players and everyone about the league. We would be wrong to think that reaching the final is everything because we haven’t won anything. We have to give the league our full focus. I see things from a totally different point of view. For me the league is paramount. I’m not going to talk about the Cup or think about the Cup. Right now I only care about the league and that’s how I’ve done it with the players. What matters right now is the league and we have to face a league game tomorrow.”
Garitano admitted that Athletic’s Cup run has had a negative impact on the league campaign. Fatigue has been an issue for the players, but the Mister also refuses to use that as an excuse for the string of poor results.
“The league is important. It’s what I’ve been telling the players for a long time. It’s true that the success in the Cup has taken points away in the league, not only because of mental issues, but also because of physical. When you play on Wednesday or Thursday it’s normal to arrive on Sunday with more fatigue. It’s affected us, but at the same time we must do the mental exercise of focusing only on today and the next game. If we don’t we would be wrong.”
Having just played the Cup semifinal second leg, fatigue could be a problem for Athletic. “We have to give some freshness,” said Garitano. “We have two hard games this week, first against Granada and now Valladolid, and we are sure to make some changes but the players have to be prepared to make an effort. This match is very important for us.”
After ending the bad run last weekend Garitano wants to build on the momentum with a victory against Valladolid. “We come from two key games, one which ended the bad streak in the league and the other has taken us to the Cup final,” he said. “Those games have to push us to finish this week well. We will try to get a victory away from home because that’s something the team needs for self-esteem. Winning away from home has been a challenge.”
Before the press conference ended Garitano was once again asked about his future with the manager’s contract set to expire in June. “My focus right now is on the matches we have to play,” he responded in frustration. “We still have work to do, the work isn’t finished. The work ends in May and when it’s over those who have to decide will decide.”
Fans have been highly critical of Gaizka Garitano’s style of football, especially during the winless streak. However, the club has routinely backed the manager with president Aitor Elizegi regularly praising Garitano. Winning the Cup title would almost certainly guarantee Garitano’s future at Athletic.