Joseba Etxeberria “I’m Really Enjoying This Stage Of Coaching”
The remaining matches in Segunda B may be over, but the promotional playoffs will still take place. Joseba Etxeberria’s Bilbao Athletic team have qualified for the playoffs by being in the top four of the table and the manager is excited about the opportunity to compete for promotion.
“We have the merit to play the playoffs,” Etxeberria told Telebilbao. “It’s a reward that’s deserved. We’re going to go for everything, there are only three games. Soon we will return to Lezama and will start preparing for the playoffs.”
Etxeberria’s first season as Bilbao Athletic manager has been a resounding success. Along with being one of the top teams in Group II, the Kumeak have also scored more goals than anyone else in Segunda B.
“It’s been very easy. From the first moment that Rafa Alkorta told me about his project for Lezama there was a perfect understanding. We know each other and what we want. I’m enjoying it a lot. I knew the squad that I was going to have, even with half of it being new. Maybe we didn’t think we were going to be as good on the scoring side of things, but the attackers have performed as a great level. We’re the top scoring team of the 80 that are in Segunda B.”
Before the season began not many expected Bilbao Athletic to play so well. Several key players had been promoted and many new faces had come up from Basconia, but Etxeberria quickly found a balance and praised three players specifically.
“(Unai) Vencedor is a born competitor, he has a very good mindset for that. He seems like a veteran because we knows how to handle the moments in each game very well. Technically he’s very good and above all he has the ability to create chances. He’s very clear on how to play.”
The manager also spoke highly of wingers Juan Artola and Jon Morcillo who combined for 25 goals and assists. As a result, Morcillo recently signed a new contract and has been promoted to the first team.
“This year, unlike last year, Artola has played on the right. We tell the wings to think like forwards. He’s had a lot of goals and assists. He’s having a great season. Last year Morcillo hardly played. He’s grown a lot, it’s no secret. If you train hard every day it’s much easier to perform well. He’s achieved so much and has showed his quality from the very beginning with great confidence. The goals that he’s scored have been great goals.”
Looking past the current season, Etxeberria is eagerly anticipating the Copa del Rey final which has been postponed until next year. Above all the club legend agrees that waiting until fans can attend is the right thing to do.
“The postponement is a great shame because it would have been a party, but it will come. It’s been decided that it will only be played with fans, it couldn’t have been otherwise because the fans are essential in every match. Surely it will come after so many years. We will bring the Cup back here.”
This will be the first time that Athletic and Real Sociedad have met in the Cup final. It will be historic and a very special game for Etxeberria who grew up at La Real before making the move to San Mamés when he was 17-years-old.
“I spent good years at Real and I have absolutely nothing against the club. I trained there as a player. A lot of controversy was created with my signing, but I always wanted to stay out of it. It’s understandable that people get angry. I’ve always said that the same thing has happened to us.”
Etxeberria doesn’t see his move as controversial, but understands why others do. In the end, he hopes that Athletic lift the Cup.
“I have been and I am happy because I’m valued. I’m really enjoying this stage of coaching. I played nine games for Real and 514 for Athletic. Obviously I want Athletic to win and I also think that will be the case.”
Coaching Bilbao Athletic is one step closer for Etxeberria to realize his ultimate goal of managing the first team. When asked about it he admitted that’s his dream, but he isn’t really thinking about it right now.
“That goes without saying, but I’m don’t wearing myself out because of it. We’ll see what happens, football is always changing. My contract and my commitment is with Bilbao Athletic. The fluidity that we have with Gaizka and Patxi (Salinas) is a joy. I don’t think about it because I have enough to prepare for with training and matches. I just started this project. I’ve spent a few years coaching in different levels and I hope I have many years of coaching left.”
Bilbao Athletic will need to win three straight games in the playoffs to earn promotion to the Segunda. Based on this season the Kumeak have the quality to achieve that special goal, but it will take a full team effort. Whatever happens, Joseba Etxeberria’s first season with Bilbao Athletic has been incredible and already exceeds expectations.