Gaizka Garitano “I’ve Made It Clear To Them, Europe Is The Objective”
Over the weekend Gaizka Garitano signed a contract renewal with Athletic through next season, but for now the Mister must focus on the remaining eleven games of the current campaign. La Liga will officially return on 11 June and Athletic’s first game back will take place on 14 June as the Lions will host Atlético Madrid at an empty San Mamés.
“Atlético beat Liverpool twice and I don’t see any team in the world capable of doing that,” Garitano said during a press conference following training on Tuesday. “They aren’t an easy opponent, but we aren’t an easy opponent for anyone either. Last year we beat them 2-0 so why aren’t we going to dream of repeating it.”
Teams will have to play two games per week to finish the season. It will be challenging and Garitano pointed out that it’s difficult to know what to expect.
“In training it’s very difficult to simulate the situations and tension of real matches. We have no reference. We will play every three days, which is usually very demanding. We will see if we are able to achieve good results at home. No one has experienced this situation and we will have to prove ourselves day by day.”
Athletic’s style of football relies on high pressure, which Garitano says will be hard to do with games being played every few days. It will take the entire squad to reach the team’s goal of finishing in the top seven.
“We are a team that plays with a lot of intensity and that becomes difficult when you play games often. We’re a team that uses pressure and that can wear down when you play games close together. We have to have every player plugged in because we’re going to need everyone. The players were at home for two months and with the preseason that we’ve had, with an unproven methodology, everything indicates that there will be more injuries.”
With 33 points left to play for Athletic’s goal is clear. The Lions aim to finish in the top seven of the La Liga table and qualify for Europe. Normally very vague on the team’s targets, Garitano says it’s the only focus.
“I have made it very clear to them, it’s the objective. We don’t have an easy path because we are five points behind and will face very difficult opponents, but I see this team capable of anything. We must fight until the end for that seventh place and to play in Europe next season. We are going to have to play very well to get the results.”
Although some teams are used to playing midweek games in Europe or the Copa del Rey, Garitano maintains that no one can predict how these remaining fixtures will go. Those who adapt quicker will ultimately have the better results.
“No one can say what will happen because we have never played a schedule like this. The preseason and the methodology have been very different from the usual one in the summer. Everything is unknown. You have to adapt as quickly as possible to the situations and problems that come because the ones who adapt sooner will have an advantage.”
In addition to games taking place behind closed doors, managers will also be allowed five substitutes each game. “The option of making five changes will benefit the big teams because they have very good players that can change games in 20 minutes,” said Garitano. However, with fatigue a real issue for every team it will be vitally important to make the right adjustments throughout each match.
Postponing the Cup final until next season was unfortunate, but Garitano agrees with the decision. Having fans at the historic Basque Derby final has always been the top priority.
“We wanted the Cup final to come as soon as possible. We had qualified in Granada and we had won the last two league games, with one of those breaking our streak away from home. In the end, we were clear that the final had to be played with the fans. I prefer for me not to be at the final than the fans not be there. Imagine winning the final with an empty stadium and then not being able to celebrate it. Nobody considered it.”
On a personal level, Garitano explained that his contract renewal went very quickly. As a lifetime supporter of the club, Garitano was happy to sign a new deal and says he wants to earn another one.
“The renewal agreement was created quickly and without any complications. I have been here and have been an Athletic Socio since I was a child. Athletic has to have the coach they want and for there to be no contractual issues. For me, it would be even better to sign for three years, but I don’t want to be selfish. A coach is valued from one week to the next and I don’t want to condition it.”
Since day one Garitano has had the backing of the current Board and praised the relationship that he has with others at the club. As long as Athletic wants him to lead the team, he will be glad to do so.
“I’m very happy to coach the club I want to train and that I support. There is fluid communication between the sports management and the president. Because of the relationship and trust between myself and the club, and since I’ve supported Athletic since I was little, if Athletic wants to count on me I will continue to be here. It’s good that I have to earn the renewal every year and good that I have earned this renewal. Having that trust and strong relationship is very good.”
On the other hand, Garitano shared that Mikel San José and Beñat could still earn renewals as well. The midfielders are out of contract when the season ends and will be evaluated over the remaining matches. Still, the veterans are expected to leave the club with younger players ready to take their place in the first team.
“They train phenomenally and are very focused on these remaining 11 games, which goes a long way. You should have seen them train today. Eleven games will go a long way and we will speak with them again. They are two exceptional players, both tens. They will have to be evaluated at the end of the season because it’s a position in which we have San José, Beñat, Dani, Peru, Vencedor, Unai López, Vesga…”
Garitano will oversee a youth movement at Athletic that will greatly impact the club’s success over the years to come. Ultimately, the manager is confident that younger players are ready to contribute and becomes the next stars, but the biggest question is if they can become the next leaders.
“The veterans of this club have been important at a sporting and human level. What worries me the most is the human level. We are giving way to younger player who aren’t just going to have to give the same level as those who are over 30, but also achieve their level of human value. I’m more concerned that these young players who are the future know that they are at a different club.”
Several veterans have left the club over the past few years and others will soon follow. As Lezama continues to produce promising young footballers Garitano hopes that they too will recognize the magnitude of what it means to wear the Athletic shirt.
“Rico, Iturraspe, Susaeta, and now Aduriz have left. San José and Beñat have contracts that are ending and next year Raúl García, De Marcos, and Balenziaga will have contracts ending. We are concerned about the generational replacement. Right now we have to worry a lot about the current performances, but also knowing that this is a different club in terms of behavior.”
On Monday Athletic began training as a full squad instead of separated into groups. The team will now begin preparing for the upcoming match against Atlético Madrid with hopes of taking all three points and climbing the table. Europe is the goal and Gaizka Garitano will do everything to help the team finish in the top seven.