Carlos Gurpegui “The Cup Final Should Be Played With An Audience No Matter What”
Carlos Gurpegui has dedicated his entire life to Athletic Club. After graduating from Lezama the defender would go on to feature in 393 games for the first team, while also wearing the captain’s armband, and now works as a youth coach for the academy. Gurpegui’s career was full of highs and lows, but he’s never seen anything like the health crisis which has gripped the country.
“If they had told us three months ago that we were going to be in this situation, nobody would have believed it,” Gurpegui told Iñaki Ugalde during an exclusive interview with Mundo Deportivo. “It’s very sad what we’re seeing and living. From here the only thing we can do is stay at home, obey the orders that are given to us and, above all, appreciate those many people who are working in hospitals, shops, and other places to make our day-to-day lives much easier. Perhaps they are the people who weren’t valued enough before all of this.
Restrictions were recently lifted to allow citizens to go outside to exercise, but Gurpegui says he really has nothing to complain about because he’s been fortunate.
“I have no right to complain because I’m privileged in this regard. My family and close ones are all well, all healthy, which is the important thing. Then, in addition, I have a house with space. I’ve lived this as well as possible, but I can’t complain.”
In light of the football stoppage the Copa del Rey final was postponed and the clubs were given an ultimatum of playing the game this season behind closed doors or waiting until fans can attend. Gurpegui’s opinion is clear.
“The final should be played with an audience no matter what. From what I see, people, the fans, prefer to play a final with the fans. What a mess! The Coronavirus has turned everything around and the situation is what it is.”
Athletic and Real Sociedad have since issued a joint statement requesting that the final be postponed. However, doing so could prevent Aritz Aduriz, Mikel San José, and Beñat from taking part.
“We’ll see what happens. Right now we’re waiting to see how this season is resolved. They have to return to training individually, then little by little in a group, and then it will be decided what to do with the games.”
San José and Beñat are still waiting to see whether or not they will be offered contract renewals. Their current deals expire at the end of the season and Gurpegui hopes they won’t be made to wait much longer.
“The truth is that I feel very sorry that this situation has affected these three players. For so many years they were key players. They played a lot of games and have been very important players for the club. I feel sorry for them, but the circumstances are what they are. We have been overwhelmed by everything that’s happening. Hopefully it can be resolved for the three in the best way possible.”
Thinking about their situations, Gurpegui admits that he would prefer to know what the club is thinking if he were in their shoes.
“As a former player I can put myself in their shoes and I would like to know as soon as possible what the club wants to do. What does the club intend for me when the season ends? It’s an extraordinary situation, but it’s not an easy situation being at this point and not knowing the club’s intentions for them.”
On the other hand, Aduriz announced back in August that he would be retiring at the end of the season. With the Cup final being postponed he could be willing to extend his contract, but there’s no guarantee. “I believe whatever he decides to do will be right because it’s his career,” says Gurpegui. “His numbers are there and we have all really enjoyed him.”
Since retiring from football in 2016 Gurpegui has entered the world of coaching. It all began with joining the first team staff, but he’s not sure he ever wants to become a manager.
“The year after I retired I joined Valverde’s coaching staff and at the end of that season I starting working for my level two coaching card because I already have level one. Then I got level three. Now I’m trying to decide if I want to coach or not. The truth is that I have many doubts because I know what it takes to be a coach and it’s more complicated than it seems.”
After Ernesto Valverde left the club Gurpegui chose not to be a part of Kuko Ziganda’s staff. Instead, he needed to take some time off but says he was thankful for the option to continue with the first team.
“I said no to Kuko for many reasons. I had to leave the team for a month and a half because I was going to Madrid to take the level three coaching course and, above all, I had the feeling that I had to take a break from the day to day training and stop going to Lezama because I was a bit overwhelmed. It was a very good option for me at the time and it was difficult for me to say no to Kuko, but I needed to take a break. I thanked him for the offer.”
Gurpegui eventually returned to Athletic as a representative and ambassador, but has since taken on a coaching role at Lezama working with specific positions. He realized he preferred to be on the field with players and enjoys his new position.
“Upon arrival, Rafa (Alkorta) told me that he wanted to start doing specific workouts and that he had thought of me. I was an institutional representative, but it was something that I didn’t necessarily enjoy because I like being on the field. I train center-backs and defensive midfielders. I’m delighted. This was also an opportunity to return to Lezama and I’m happy.”
As a former center-back and defensive midfielder, Gurpegui is happy working specifically with the same positions at Lezama. He has the opportunity to spend time with a wide variety of ages which is helping him improve as a coach.
“I usually work with the players from the Cadet level to Basconia. I’m trying to help the boys improve and, above all, learn from them because I’ve never trained any group like this. I’m learning a lot of things too. Tiko trains the wingers and attacking midfielders. Apart from us are the coaches for the individual teams. ”
Gurpegui was slightly surprised when it was pointed out to him that the majority of former players working at the club were defenders. Along with himself, Rafa Alkorta, Andoni Ayarza, Gaizka Garitano, Patxi Ferreira, and Patxi Salinas all played defensive positions. “I had not stopped to think about it,” he said amused. “I really hadn’t noticed it, but the truth is that there are a few of us.”
Although he’s unsure whether or not he wants to pursue a managerial role at some point in the future, Gurpegui admits that it’s tempting. He’s seen just how demanding the job can be and has yet to make up his mind.
“I’m starting to get the itch, but it seems to me to be a very difficult profession. You have to lead a group of 20-22 players, each in a different way, each with a different character, and it’s not easy. The day to day of a coach is hard. It’s not the same as being a player who trains and then goes home. The coach has to keep hitting his head, thinking about what you have done well and wrong, what you have to do next, and who you are up against. It’s a profession that has a lot of wear and tear at various levels.”
On the other, his former teammate Andoni Iraola is thriving as the manager of Mirandés. Gurpegui isn’t surprised at all by Iraola’s success and says he’s really enjoyed watching Mirandés play this season.
“Andoni has always been very eager to coach. He had very clear ideas and knew what he wanted, but then you have to find a team and players to be able to do what you want. Andoni, in that regard, has always been super brave. He went to Cyprus, they threw him out, and now he’s come back and has taken over Mirandés. I feel very reflected with Iraola’s Mirandés. It’s a team that shows you something when they play. It’s been a joy to watch them play.”
As a youth coach at Lezama, Gurpegui sees it as part of his duty to teach the next generation the importance of representing Athletic. In his opinion, the question of how to get top players to stay at the club is all about instilling the right values at an early age.
“Between all of us we have to get the kids to realize that they can win titles with Athletic, reach finals, and that it’s much more beautiful to live with a teammate who you have been beside since childhood. We must also show them what Athletic is, the history the club has, and that they aren’t just at any club. Between all of us we must do this work so the players in the future are going to be like Williams, Muniain, and Aduriz, people who make a difference and, let’s say, want to continue at this club.”
The future of Unai Núñez is in doubt with the 23-year-old wanting more consistent minutes. “I understand that players wants to play and feel important, but there are many ways to feel important in a team,” answered Gurpegui when asked about the situation. The decision will ultimately be up to Núñez.
Throughout his long career Gurpegui made several close friendship, including Aritz Aduriz, but has a unique relationship with Oscar De Marcos. The former captain says that De Marcos is the best representative of the club and was proud when De Marcos chose to take his number 18 shirt.
“Demar is like a little brother to me. He’s an exceptional person, a person that Athletic has to be proud of, not only for what he has contributed on the field, and he’s one step away from making 400 appearances, but because of his way of being. He can teach these kids what it means to go up and be with the first team. There’s no better mirror than Oscar, none. In fact, he gave me the first shirt he wore with 18 on the back. It was a joy for me when he took the 18.”
Before ending the interview Gurpegui was asked to give his all-time Athletic eleven. There were certainly some surprises from the 39-year-old who included a number of former teammates.
“El Txopo in goal, without a doubt. For defense Iraola, Balenziaga, and Laporte. In the midfield Orbaiz and Yeste ahead. For the rest El Gallo (Etxeberria), Susaeta, De Marcos at mediapunta, Aduriz, without a doubt, and Ismal Urzaiz or Muniain. Ernesto for manager and the original San Mamés.”
Carlos Gurpegui enjoyed a storied career with Athletic and is now working to help bring along the next generation of stars who will bring joy and celebration to San Mamés. Whether or not he chooses to pursue a managerial role, Gurpegui’s legacy has already been written.