Joseba Etxeberria “I’m A Coach Who Likes Fast Football”
Joseba Etxeberria has enjoyed immense success in his first season as manager of Bilbao Athletic. Despite a plethora of injuries throughout the squad, the club legend has managed to keep the team in the top four of the table with aspirations of promotion. On Thursday Etxeberria took part in a virtual press conference conducted by Athletic where he discussed a myriad of topics, including his issues with the possibility of starting a reserve team league.
“I’m not a supporter of the idea,” he said firmly. “I understand that there are people who want it, but I don’t. It would suppress that last step towards elite football. The higher the quality and requirement the better it is for the players, not only at a football level, but also with facing more experienced players. The jump from a reserve league to the elite would be too abrupt. I don’t think it would be good for a player’s initial experience with footballers 10 or 15 years older than them to come in the Primera.”
The manager argues that separating reserve teams wold significantly impact player growth and development. Competing against strong opponents is the best thing for young footballers.
“It’s important that they have the feeling and experience of facing much more mature players. The better the level in the league, the better it is for the players because the requirement is also going to be much higher. I think that helps them get a little more prepared for the Primera.”
Because of Athletic’s unique player policy the club relies heavily on Lezama. When asked if there’s pressure to promoted players before they’re ready, Etxeberria said it’s the exact opposite.
“Precisely because of our philosophy and because we trust Lezama a lot, we have more patience than the rest. The demand has to be very big, but each player goes through a different process in their formative stages. There are some who are further along as younger ages and there are others who need a little more time, but Athletic is a club that takes good care of its young players.”
Etxeberria took a moment to mention several Bilbao Athletic players who have shown impressive growth this season. Some will have the chance to train with the first team during the preseason and are ready for the next level of football.
“Zarraga, Artola, Morcillo, and Ewan Urain, before his injury, were having great seasons and improving a lot. Sancet, Vencedor, and Ezkieta have already made their first team debuts and look good. They are going to have the possibility of being able to take the step up. They have to earn it, prove it, and be consistent. Staying in the Primera is more complicated.”
Outside of Lezama, there’s one young player that gets talked about quite a bit. Julen Jon Guerrero, the son of Athletic legend Julen Guerrero, is currently enrolled in Real Madrid’s academy and Etxeberria hopes that he will one day come to his father’s club.
“I only know a little about Julen Jon, only what I’ve seen in videos. I know that he’s left-footed and has a lot of quality. We’ll see how it all evolves. Hopefully he will continue his improvement in the future with the level he’s giving. Hopefully, like his Aita, he can mark an era at Athletic.”
Julen Jon plays for Real Madrid right now because his family lives in the area due to his father coaching the Spain U16 team. “He’s doing a great job and is achieving great things,” Etxeberria said of his former teammate. Guerrero has always left the door open for a possible return to Athletic.
Looking at the current team, Etxeberria was full of praise for Iñaki Williams. The striker has overcome many challenges in life and has become a key figure at the club.
“He’s different from everyone else. Nobody has that explosiveness. I have followed him from CD Pamplona and he’s improved a lot. He’s always had that hunger to be better, to take advantage of every match and training session, which is why he’s found success. I’m glad for his triumph.”
Etxeberria is eagerly looking forward to the Copa del Rey final which will be a historic Basque Derby. After growing up at Real Sociedad, Etxeberria joined Athletic as a teenager and says that it was a move that changed his life.
“I was only 17 years old and had not shown anything. Then I came to Athletic and played 15 years for a club that has impacted me on a sporting and professional level. I have settled here. My two daughters are from Bilbao and I’m very grateful. My favorite memory was my debut and I savor those nerves of walking up the stairs of the old San Mamés. I also really enjoyed the year of the Centennial. It was a special season.”
Naturally, Etxeberria was asked to predict the final score of the Cup final. He was careful not to upset anyone, but said that Aritz Aduriz scoring the winner would be very special and deserved.
“It will be a very exciting and very close match. I don’t want to get out of hand with the score, but it will be close. I will say 1-0 for Athletic, but I don’t know who will score the goal. To put the icing on the cake and the finishing touch to his sports career, if Aduriz scored it then that would be the best.”
Etxeberria has known Aduriz for many years and says the football stoppage has been very unfortunate for the striker who planned to retire at the end of the season. In the end, Aduriz is expected to renew his contract until the Cup final takes place.
“Knowing him, with all the strength and energy that he has, he’s surely having a bad time. He will be willing to wait for it to take place. I hope that everything is fixed, that it can be played and that he can be part of the final. It’s a complicated situation knowing that this is his last season and this misfortune has happened.”
It came as no surprise when Etxeberria pursued coaching after retiring as a player. The 42-year-old always had the passion to lead a team and was heavily inspired by a former teammate and Athletic manager.
“The coach who has impacted me the most is Ernesto Valverde. First I was lucky to be a teammate. My first season at Athletic was his last as a player here. Then he was my coach and then I was able to work alongside him on a day-to-day basis as part of the coaching staff.”
Valverde aside, Etxeberria also shared that former Boca Juniors manager Carlos Bianchi and current Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp have inspired him as well.
“I’ve observed many coaches. A coach I looked at a lot in my earlier stages was Carlos Bianchi. I really liked how Boca Juniors played, with Schelotto and Palermo, with players with a lot of quality. In this recent period the one I like the most is Jürgen Klopp. Despite the fact that he is achieving more success now, I liked the way he had his Borussia Dortmund team play more than this Liverpool team, which is also a spectacle.”
Etxeberria knows what he wants as a coach and has already developed his own clear and distinct style of football. He admits that he can ask for too much from the team at times, but that it’s necessary to demand a lot to get the best out of each player.
“I’m a coach who likes fast football. I’m a very impatient coach and my footballers have to play at full speed. It’s the most difficult thing, to be precise at high speeds, but it’s what I ask from my team. I bet on moving the ball quickly and very intense pressure. You have to adapt to the players you have, but the system I use the most is the 4-2-3-1. Sometimes we play a 4-3-3 and sometimes 4-4-2. In the vast majority of the time we play with four defenders and the in the rest of the lines we tend to vary a little.”
In just a short time Etxeberria has already shown the potential to become a top coach in world football. Returning to the club to coach Bilbao Athletic this season has proven to be the right decision and Joseba Etxeberria’s dream of one day managing the first team looks very promising.