Gaizka Larrazabal “I Want To Show That I Can Play Here At Athletic”
One week after returning to training the Athletic players are in much better spirits. Being able to see each other again and kick the ball is another step towards normality and starting Monday the players will be allowed to train in small groups. La Liga hopes to resume the season by 12 June but health is still the top priority.
“The first and most important thing is health, ours and that of those who work with us and those that we are around,” said Gaizka Larrazabal during an interview with Iñaki Ugalde of Mundo Deportivo. “I’m in favor of playing the rest of the season, but only when it’s possible.”
From a health standpoint Larrazabal says that things have to be done with more caution because of the pandemic. No one can afford to take the situation lightly.
“It’s a situation that caught society by surprise. We’re experience something that no one has ever experienced before. It’s something that we will remember forever, unfortunately because of the level of lives lost. It’s something that makes you think. We have to be more serious than ever and be completely rigorous in keeping distance from each other. Just because you aren’t at risk doesn’t guarantee you anything.”
Whether or not the season returns, Larrazabal is just happy to be back at Lezama with his teammates.
“I really wanted to get the routine started again and go to Lezama with everyone, even if we aren’t training together. It’s good to see people again with whom you normally spend a lot of hours every day and haven’t seen in a while. I’m happy to see everyone again and to train which, in the end, is what fills us with happiness because it’s what we like to do.”
Players have been forced to follow strict guidelines since returning to training. Along with not having access to the changing room, gloves must be worn and everyone has had to work separately form each other.
“The feeling of wearing gloves is a bit strange, but fortunately we aren’t forced to train with masks because that would be hell. There is a series of rules we have to follow to avoid infections and we have to comply with them. Not being able to greet or hug a teammate after two months of not seeing him was weird. I don’t know, but once you start working it gets better.”
During the lock down players were given specific training plans to follow at home. It helped to keep everyone in shape, but there’s no substitute to actually being on the field.
“The first few days were difficult because running on the grass isn’t the same as running on the treadmill. You feel the difference after two months of not competing. Let’s say this is a mini preseason. The workouts are generating a lot of fatigue, but we’re overflowing with happiness just coming back and being able to see each other and kick the ball.”
When the season does return, Athletic will need to secure a top seven finish to qualify for Europe. “If the situation allows us to finish the season the goal is clear,” says Larrazabal. “We have to be mentally strong to get all the possible points and finish as high as possible because we aren’t going to get anything for being Cup finalists.”
On the other hand, the Copa del Rey final has been postponed until fans can safely attend the match. Reaching the Cup final in his debut season with the first team was special for the 22-year-old.
“We really wanted to play the final. It was so close and then one day everything was postponed. The Cup has very important meaning for this club and when it comes we will all be psyched. It’s a Derby and you know what that means. For me, it’s amazing because we reached the final in my first year.”
Athletic’s path to the Cup final was challenging. Twice the Lions had to win a penalty shootout followed by defeating Barcelona and scoring a late goal to eliminate Granada in the semifinals.
“Every time we went through agony like that I remember Aduriz telling us, “if we can get through this we will win the Cup this year for sure.’ The Cup is like that and with this single match format anything can happen.”
On a personal level, Larrazabal is pleased with his contributions this season. Although he admits that he would like to have had more minutes, he’s doing much better than he thought he would in his first season.
“Evaluating my performance in training and in matches, every time I have competed I think I have done things well. Yes, I would have liked to play more, like every player, but we have a coach who has to choose who is in the eleven and who comes off the bench, which isn’t easy at all. I didn’t expect to find myself doing so well either and I value that very much. I’m happy.”
Larrazabal revealed that he did have a chance to leave on loan in January but made the decision to stay at Athletic. In his opinion, staying gave him the best chance to prove himself and he was determined to fight for more minutes.
“There was talk in the winter of possibly going out in search of more minutes, but in the end I made the decision to stay because I was confident that I would finish the second half of the season with more minutes and demonstrating that I can play here. It wasn’t possible because of the coronavirus, but if I left I wouldn’t have been at home during this. These aren’t decisions to be made overnight. Here, I can show that I have the level. Being at home gives you more opportunities and I want to play and show that I can play here at Athletic. It’s what I’m going to fight for.”
To end the interview, Larrazabal was asked about his close friendship with Iñigo Córdoba. The two have been close long before Larrazabal joined Bilbao Athletic in 2017 and they hope to share the field for years to come.
“I’ve known him for years. When I came to Lezama and he had just gone up with Kuko we talked about how cool it would be to be in the same team and now, well look. We are both enjoying the moment a lot. Hopefully we’ll be together for many more seasons.”
Larrazabal was then asked about his thoughts on fans whistling Córdoba at San Mamés on a few occasions this season. The winger explained that doing so can only make things worse for players.
“I felt bad. In the world of football, beyond Athletic as well, it’s very easy to criticize when someone doesn’t do what the fans want. You may not like that player or maybe he hasn’t had a good game, but the last thing you should do is whistle because you’re going to lower his confidence and make him feel uncomfortable playing at home. I don’t think it’s something that should every be done because he’s one of your players, from your team, and you should always encourage players when things are going wrong.”
As the son of club legend Aitor Larrazabal, Gaizka has a great understanding of what it means to be Athletic. No matter the situation, he believes that fans should always support the players, especially in moments of difficulty.
“I will always say that we are all Athletic. The players, coaching staff, Lezama workers, and the fans. In the end, if a teammate of mine does something wrong I’m not going to whistle him. I think that fans have to treat you as if you were their partner. That criticism doesn’t help anything and it would be much better if it didn’t happen.”
Larrazabal has made 10 appearances for Athletic so far this season and could have more chances when football returns. Games will be played every few days and rotations will be more important than ever. With a very bright future ahead, Gaizka Larrazabal is determined to earn his place at San Mamés.