Yuri Berchiche “We Will Have To Be Very Competitive From The First Minute”
La Liga is closer than ever to returning and there is already a date set to resume matches. On 11 June teams will take the field again, but that leaves little time to finish preparing. Athletic will begin training as a full team on Monday in preparation for the next game against Atlético Madrid and left-back Yuri Berchiche explained to Iñaki Ugalde of Mundo Deportivo that one of the biggest challenges is getting used to the heat this time of year.
“We’ve been picking up pace and getting our legs back after the break. The last few days have been complicated because of the heat. We’re not used to training at these high temperatures, but you have to get used to it and adapt because in two weeks the league begins and we will have to be very competitive from the first minute.”
The training restrictions have been loosening over the past few weeks, but so far players still haven’t been able to fully use the locker rooms. “We’ve been told that possibly this Monday we will be able to start showering there,” Berchiche revealed. “Hopefully so because it’s much more comfortable for everyone. So far we change clothes and go home.”
Berchiche went on to share that the football stoppage came at the worst possible time for Athletic. Along with the Cup final being postponed, the Lions had also put together a few impressive performances before the season abruptly came to a halt.
“The confinement wasn’t a pleasant thing for anyone. We had caught a good wave and chained good results because this came. It’s been detrimental to everyone, not just us. The important thing is that it seems that everything is already improving and now we’re looking forward to the league starting and finishing and then disconnecting a bit.”
As a result of the health crisis that gripped the country, Berchiche says that everyone should have learned the value of what really matters in life. He also made it clear that those who helped fight the pandemic and keep others safe should be celebrated far above athletes.
“Before we didn’t value things the way we should. I often went home angry because of nonsense, but now you realize the things that are really important in life. This will help us to look at the future with a different perspective and give importance to small things. We must thank everyone who has made it possible to return to normal. Footballers aren’t the important ones, but rather those who have given their lives for other people. You have to applaud them.”
On a personal level, Berchiche touched on his shoulder that was dislocated earlier in the season. The defender dealt with ongoing issues for several weeks but says that he’s doing well now and that surgery might not be needed down the road.
“I’m doing okay, I’m fine. After the Valencia game, which is when it happened, I had a couple of mishaps in the following games but since then it’s been good. I have good feelings and I’m happy because I thought it would give me more problems. After the injury it was very bad for two or three weeks, but it’s fine now. No, I won’t have to undergo surgery, not yet. It hasn’t even been brought up, in fact. Nobody has told me anything.”
Of course, even with the shoulder injury Berchiche continued to play at a high level and has arguably been the best left-back in La Liga this season. When asked about his historic goal against Granada that sent Athletic to the Cup final, Berchiche admitted that he’s seen the replay plenty of times since.
“I’ve seen it many times. My son is now into technology and doesn’t stop. These kids are smarter than anyone and they learn quickly. He likes to watch everything related to Athletic; the anthem, the goals, and sometimes the video of the goal against Granada. I’ve seen it many times with my son. Those are sensations that I will never experience again. It was incredible. It remains a great memory.”
With the Cup final postponed until fans can safely attend the match, Athletic only have one goal for the remainder of the season. The Lions aim to finish in the top seven to qualify for Europe, but it won’t be easy.
“Europe is still possible, obviously. If we were ten points away I might say it was impossible, but it’s only five points. Two games. We have to recognize that it will be a long road, that it won’t be easy, and that we will have to play Valencia at Mestalla. First we want to beat Atlético at San Mamés which will be very difficult. The goal is qualifying for Europe.”
Unfortunately, the remaining games this season will take place behind closed doors. Berchiche agrees that it will hurt Athletic at San Mamés, but says that the players still have a responsibility to play their best at home.
“It will be very difficult, but everyone must adjust. We’re going to have to get used to the stadium being empty and we’re going to have to motivate ourselves. We’re professionals. We have to do our job well and no doubts that we will go for it from the first minute.”
Berchiche’s career has ultimately been tied to that of Gaizka Garitano. The pair worked together at Eibar several years ago and Berchiche has played his best football since being reunited with the Mister. Garitano renewed his contract with the club on Sunday, before Berchiche’s interview was conducted, but the defender was still asked about the manager likely continuing at Athletic.
“It will be very positive. Gaizka came at a very, very difficult time for the club and the players. We were in a critical situation, worse than impossible, and he brought a little order and balanced the team. We gradually got out of the danger zone and were even a minute away from qualify for the Europa League at the end of the season. This year’s we’re in the Cup final. Gaizka’s balance is very positive. He’s known how to make the team strong and in general we’re all very happy with him.”
Berchiche explained that Garitano really hasn’t changed much since his days with Eibar. He’s a demanding coach, but has a special gift to get the very best out of each player.
“He’s practically the same since we met at Eibar. He demands a lot and he demands it first of himself. We’re all very happy because he makes us all better players. Gaizka never gives you anything and that makes him different. There’s still a lot of work to do, but he has already made the team very recognizable.”
Looking back, Berchiche recognizes that his time in Eibar was a turning point in his career. His time at Ipurua helped him take a massive step forward as a footballer and today Berchiche is one of the best in Europe at his position.
“Eibar was a crucial time for me. The train had passed me once and it was clear that I had to take the second chance. I met Gaizka on that road and he knew how to make me a better person and a better player. Little by little I began to realize things and we were lucky to have a great season in Segunda B. With the positive inertia we were able to win the Segunda title and then I made the jump to Real Sociedad. I owe a lot to Eibar.”
When the season resumes in less than two weeks Athletic will have a very clear goal. The Lions will have eleven games to climb back into the top seven and qualify for Europe. The remaining fixtures will be challenging, but Yuri Berchiche and Athletic are determined to finish the season well before looking ahead to the Copa del Rey final.