Rafa Alkorta “I’m Counting On Gaizka Garitano”
The return of football in Spain appears to be just around the corner. After nearly two months of quarantine, plans are being made for teams to begin training again in early May with hopes of finishing the season behind closed doors. However, uncertainty remains as everything is dependent on whether or not the government allows for football to resume.
“There’s nothing official,” Athletic Sporting Director Rafa Alkorta told Telebilbao on Monday. “We don’t know if the league will be played or if the Cup will be played. That creates discomfort for me, but it’s not something that depends on us. I understand that it’s because we are under the Ministry of Health and the government who set the guidelines.”
As other leagues across Europe have already begun making decisions Alkorta warns that Spain cannot simply follow someone else. The country must analyze its own unique status.
“The most important thing above all else is people’s health because we all have friends who have lost family members. Each country has different situations and figures. We can’t go by what they do in Germany or Italy. The most important thing is us, who are the ones that must restore society in all aspects.”
In light of the football stoppage the Athletic first team recently agreed to reduce wages so that others at the club wouldn’t have to do the same. If the remainder of the season is canceled the squad will take a 17% reduction that would drop to just 6% if the campaign is complete behind closed doors.
“What had to be done has been done to protect the club’s workers. I think it will be enough for the many employees who work at the club. We all came to an agreement very quickly because what prevailed was common sense. The first team and the management positions have always been there for the club and protect the workers. When the club asked for help they were there. It’s about helping the rest of the club.”
Looking back, Alkorta highlighted that the football stoppage came at a time when Athletic were starting to get better results. If the season returns games will be played behind closed doors and it will be a challenge for the players to adjust.
“The team had taken a breath and was in a good moment again. We must keep that going in the eleven games left if the league resumes and I’m sure we will continue that positive form. Playing in closed stadiums favors those who think least about it. These are extraordinary measures that must be adapted to and accepted. The players will have to not think about it.”
Athletic were also looking forward to playing the Copa del Rey final before football was brought to a halt. Both clubs prefer to postpone the math until fans can safely attend, but there’s also a possibility that it will have to take place behind closed doors.
“It’s unthinkable to play a historic Cup final, a Basque final, without the fans. I can’t imagine it, I couldn’t believe it. We value all the and who support us and they have given us many points in the league. They encourage us. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be here.”
The status of the Cup final also presents a dilemma for the squad. Aritz Aduriz planned to retire at the end of the season but is said to be willing to extend his contract until the final takes place.
“Aduriz is annoyed because he wants to finish this year playing the league and the Cup final, but nobody knows what will happen. He has the same uncertainty or even more uncertainty than others. It (renewing his contract) would be a chore if the league doesn’t resume and the Cup isn’t played.”
On the other hand, the futures of Beñat and Mikel San José are still in the air with both midfielders set to see their contracts expire at the end of the season. “No decisions have been made,” said Alkorta. “I have already spoken with Beñat and San José and we will meet at Lezama. We will resolve their situations quickly and the decisions will be made in agreement with the coach.”
Manager Gaizka Garitano is also out of contract when the season finishes but plans to continue at the club. The football stoppage interrupted negotiations but the two sides will come together once restrictions are lifted. “With Gaizka we’re continuing with the same steps and I’m sure that when we come back we will solve what needs to be solved. I’m counting on him and I hope he will count on me too.”
Given everything that has happened around the world Alkorta is hopeful that everyone will come out of this situation with a better appreciation for the important things. He doubts that life will really change all that much in the long run, but believes that it’s something from which everyone can learn.
“Football players have never been heroes. Heroes are other people who do more important things. We can give happiness, passion, and emotion but those who are truly heroes are the ones on the front lines. I hope this really changes us, but I have many doubts that we’re going to change our behaviors and way of thinking. Keep in mind that there is going to be a transition. Thanks to the work of a lot of people who are trying to find a vaccine all this will end we will go back to normal life. It seems that nature is teaching us something we should be aware of. The world is not ours.”
Alkorta and president Aitor Elizegi have fully backed Garitano since taking office and are hopeful that he will continue as manager for years to come. Garitano has already informed the club that he has no plans to leave and a renewal agreement is expected by the end of May.