Julen Guerrero “It’s Important To Instill In Children What It Means To Wear The Athletic Shirt”
Athletic legend Julen Guerrero may no longer be playing football but as Spain’s U15 coach the current pandemic has changed his life drastically just like everyone else. In light of the situation, Guerrero is quarantined at home with his wife, daughter, and son Julen Jon who is currently enrolled at Real Madrid’s academy. Not being able to leave home can be a challenge, but the family is facing it well.
“We try to have a routine,” Guerrero said in an exclusive interview with Robert Basic of El Correo. “We are busy because there are tasks to do. I have many videos to watch and players to analyze. I break down matches, analyze them, and look for improvements. I’m trying to make the most of this time of confinement.”
Spain’s recent decision to slowly start letting non-essential workers return to their jobs is a possible sign that things are getting better. Even still, Guerrero recognizes that it will still be a long time until life feels normal again.
“There is uncertainty of how and when all of this will end and what life we will have afterwards. It will not be easy to return to normality. They say that we will have to go out with a mask and gloves, that we won’t be able to be close to each and will have to keep distances. Let’s see when and how we will go back to our jobs, taking walks, sports, schools, restaurants, parks, shopping centers, and things like that.”
Guerrero and his family regular join others in the daily celebration of the healthcare workers. Everyone opens their windows at 8pm each night to show their gratitude.
“We come out to applaud those working every day. All four of us. It’s a way of thanking and recognizing the work of the professional who do the impossible to help others. They risk their lives to try to save the lives of others or to make our daily needs as accessible as possible.”
While all of the attention is on the professional players and their hope of finishing the season, Guerrero points out that the situation is affecting his young players as well.
“It affects everyone. The kids have a chance to recover fast. They have time and must do sports every day, but in a safe way. You have to consider what needs you have and what needs to be done.”
This unique situation will also show which young players are the most serious about their development, says Guerrero. It’s easier to slack off at home, although he also shared his opinion that youth football shouldn’t return this season.
“You will see who has the desire to work and improve and who refuses to lower their arms or think that it’s not important to do the work daily. Competitions in the lower levels must be canceled because I don’t see any logic to take risks with children. They play to train and if they can’t do it now then they will next season.”
As the Spain U15 coach Guerrero isn’t directly responsible for the players right now. Clubs must oversee the training at home and Guerrero highlighted that each player must be dedicated to getting better right now in the ways possible.
“I’m sure the clubs have sent them exercises. There are many aspects to training, especially in this situation. Each player has specific tasks, which must be strengthened and enhanced, so you have to know your body and see how it can improve. If you organize the day well you can do everything. It’s an individual challenge, a challenge to return better than you were. You have to want to be better when this is over.”
In light of the pandemic no one knows when the Copa Del Rey final will take place. Despite the magnitude of the match, Guerrero admits it’s hard look past the current situation right now.
“It’s a beautiful and historic final. We are talking about a memorable day for both clubs and groups of fans. But the mind right now it set on recovering normal life, on solving the virus problem, so that there are no more deaths. It’s about defeating the virus. That’s the key. Surely the professionals are working piece by piece in order to find medicines and vaccines that will end the virus so that we can gradually return to normal.”
In his opinion, Guerrero doesn’t think that fans will be able to attend games if the season does resume. In fact, the former Athletic captain sees many risks in even playing games behind closed doors.
“I think the rest of the season will be played behind closed doors. It’s a solution. If the competitions are resumed it will mean that normality is coming back, but within a closed game there are also risks. Those who play, the coaches, those who manage the fields, television, hotels, planes, trains, buses…it’s not only the 22 on the field.”
Playing games behind closed doors may be the only way that the season can resume, but that doesn’t mean anyone will be happy about it. “No one would like to play without fans,” said Guerrero. “It should only happen out of necessity, otherwise it would be a soulless sport. We need the support of the fans. Athletic, for example, give it all for the fans and for that feeling. For me any Athletic match is special, even a friendly. Thinking about the Cup final now we all hope it will be played with the fans.”
Unlike many other clubs, Athletic have yet to announce any form of wage reduction but it’s coming. The Board has been in contact with the players to come to an agreement and Guerrero is positive that the team will do whatever is needed to help Athletic.
“It (wage reductions) will be necessary for many. Each club will have its own conditions and will study them. The players are aware of the moment that we are in and everyone is ready to help the club, the fans, and society. I’m sure the players and president are talking. There is communication and the needs of the club and society will be discussed. I’m convinced that the issues will be addressed. Athletic has always been a club that is very close and sensitive to the needs of society.”
The football stoppage is already having a significant impact on revenue for clubs which could result in much lighter spending during the upcoming transfer windows. When asked if this could help protect Athletic from losing key players Guerrero responded by saying that the landscape of football could definitely change as a result.
“I don’t know, but many clubs will be affected. Many teams were doing well financially and building competitive squads. The level has not stopped rising and competition is becoming increasingly more difficult. The modest clubs have better equipment, better facilities, and more means. Everything was balancing out. We will see how they look after this. Athletic is settled. The squad is strong and at any time they can call up those below. The model yields many resources. We will see if the rest of the teams can keep their revenue and squads.”
Throughout his career Guerrero was offered the chance to leave Athletic for more money and the opportunity to challenge for more titles. The captain refused each time. Today’s football has made it more difficult to convince players to stay but Guerrero hopes that the current health crisis will help put everything into perspective.
“Now more than ever we will have to work to prevent them from leaving. This pandemic is showing us many faces of society and it would be good if it also showed us the way of understanding values that, at times, seem to be getting lost. We must make them aware of where they are. The kids have to know that they will be happy and that they can win. It’s essential that the team has a winning mentality and that it aspires to be on top.”
Convincing young players to turn down offers from richer clubs has to start at an early age. Loyalty is created over time but Guerrero also points out that being a successful team is also an important factor for Athletic.
“It’s important to instill in children what it means to wear the Athletic shirt. Apart from responsibility, from history, they must defend the shield because they feel it and because they want to win with it. They have to know that their team wants to be the best in all categories. Athletic wants to have good players and good players are ambitious, they want to win things. I insist on the important of having the winning mentality.”
If Athletic manage to win the Copa del Rey title it could have a massive influence on players at Lezama. In addition to qualify for Europe, it will show that Athletic can compete for trophies.
“Winning the Cup would be important. It would help young players see that it can be done. Before there were many clubs that didn’t count at all and now they are fighting to win or qualify for Europe. It’s not easy to be in the top six. The Cup finals and titles are important arguments to convince future generations.”
Of course, everyone wonders if Guerrero will ever return to the club as a coach. While he is clearly leaving the door open for that to happen one day, Guerrero is also trying to enjoy what he is doing right now as well.
“I don’t know. Life will come as it has to come. I enjoy what I do and try to be prepared for what comes. I wish the best of luck to those who are there because we have to support them and help as much as possible. If some day it’s my turn to return then I will be happy, and if not I will try to enjoy wherever I am. You have to accept it.”
Whether or not Julen Guerrero ever returns to Athletic he brings up important points for the club. Being a successful team will help prevent good players from leaving, but it’s also imperative that Athletic continues to instill the club’s values at an early age.