Raúl García “I Think I Have A Lot Left, I Hope That I Can Continue Here”
Since joining Athletic in the summer of 2015 Raúl García has become a leader in the team and his experience will more valuable than ever before in the month ahead. La Liga will officially return this week after a three-month stoppage due to the pandemic, but games will take place behind closed doors. García has some experience playing in closed stadiums from his time with Atlético Madrid and isn’t looking forward to doing so again.
“Things will be different, but you have to adapt,” García told Arkaitz Aramendia during an interview with DEIA. “We understand that the situation is what it is and for whatever reason it’s important to finish the competition. Every effort has been made to make it so and after training for so many days at home and now together I think we will make it to the first game well.”
Spain has been one of the countries most impacted by the health crisis, but García isn’t concerned about resuming games. However, he does recognize the possibility that he could catch the virus.
“I’m not afraid of getting sick, but I’m aware that the possibility exists. As much as we’re controlling everything by trying to be at home and La Liga testing us to be able to play, I’m not sure that all environments can be controlled such as going to hotels or taking a bus. These are situation, but hopefully it won’t happen.”
Teams have only been back in training for a few weeks now, leaving García concerned that injuries will be an issue. The midfielder would have liked to be able to play at least one exhibition game which didn’t happen.
“It would have been important to play a friendly game, not only to be able to prove ourselves, but also because of the possibilities of injury. I think a high priority is being given to finishing the competition and not so much to the injury factor. In the end, we are the ones affected and I’m convinced that there will be injuries. It’s inevitable when going from zero to one hundred and not having enough preparation.”
This weekend will be similar to the start of a new season. In García’s opinion there’s no way teams will be at their best level and it’s unlikely anyone will reach their peak before the campaign finishes.
“I’m not going to say that we will be at one hundred percent because that would be a lie. No player in the league is going to start at that level and it will be difficult to reach it by playing as often as we’re going to play. It’s going to be one of the most complicated things for any footballer to have so many goals and to try to reach a goal in just five weeks.”
Either way, García just wants to get back on the field. After returning the training the team is eager to play again.
“We want to start now and see if we can finish in the best way. The first week of training when we returned was a bit strange, with the feelings of preseason, but from then on the sensations have been getting better and better.”
Throughout the stoppage García really didn’t think that the season would return, or at least be finished completely. That belief has since changed, but the 33-year-old still isn’t looking forward to games behind closed doors.
“More than seeing it as impossible, I had doubts that it could be completed. I was hoping that everything possible would be done to return to play, but we don’t control everything and there were thoughts that the season could be over. The impression I have now is different, although I would like everything to be different because football without fans doesn’t make much sense.”
Having already played behind closed doors before, García knows very well how it changes games. In his opinion, adapting to the differences will be crucial to the team’s success.
“On the one hand I’m a little worried about the experience I have of having played two games behind closed doors during my career and knowing the feeling and how complicated it is. Everyone who is watching the German league is realizing that those games are totally different than usual and you have to try to adapt as soon as possible because it’s a factor that goes beyond the fact that there are no people in the stands. On the topic of errors and concentration everyone is very different from a normal game.”
When asked if playing without fans is similar to training, García actually responded that it’s worse. Keeping focus is much more challenging and players tend to be more willing to take unnecessary chances.
“It’s worse than any training because if you aren’t very concentrated it’s a very strange sensation that you have. It’s like a workout where you hear everything, but with more echo and with a feeling of emptiness when it comes to stadiums. You also know that the risk of failure isn’t the same in training as in a game. You take certain whims and risks that you wouldn’t take with the fans are there and you feel that pressure. I have to say it will be very complicated and we will have to adapt very soon.”
Every team will be affected by not having their fans in the stands, but García says it will hurt Athletic more than others. San Mamés has always been a fortress for the Lions and an empty Cathedral won’t be the same.
“Because of what our stadium and our fans mean for us, our handicap will be greater than that of other teams. We live from the environment that is created inside San Mamés. We are stronger because of their support and it will be a loss, but we will try to overcome it. Some of us have the experience of playing for more years and the younger players will give that freshness that veterans may not have.”
Athletic struggled to win games away from home this season, but without fans there is hope that the Basques will fair better. It could help, though García isn’t convinced.
“In the last game we won in Valladolid doing things very well and in the previous games there was something of a facelift in terms of performances. I can’t say that it will be easier to score away from home, but it’s true that it will be different.”
As part of the measures to finish the season, teams will be allowed to make five substitutions instead of the usual three. Many believe this will only help the stronger teams and García agrees.
“I think it benefits the bigger teams. There are teams when you look at the bench you see players who could be starting for most of the clubs in the league, but in the end it’s another aspect that we have to adapt to as well and we can’t do much more.”
When Athletic do take the field again García will be facing his former club Atlético Madrid. It’s always weird to compete against the Colchoneros, but the veteran is only thinking about winning.
“It will be strange because I will play against a former team and it will be behind closed doors, which worries me the most. This game is what I’m most focused on, we all are so that we can be at the best possible level under the circumstances.”
Ultimately, Athletic have one goal for the remaining eleven games. The Lions want to qualify for Europe and will have have to make up a five point gap for the top seven.
“We want to aim for Europe and we must have that mentality of winning and knowing that 30 percent of the league is going to be played in five weeks. If you have a good week you can add nine points and that puts you in the fight.”
Athletic would have qualified for Europe by winning the Cup title, but with the final being postponed until next season the Lions must now finish in the top seven. As a whole, the pandemic has brought many unfortunate consequences.
“It twisted everything. It’s a beautiful title and with this format we knew from the first game that we could reach the final if we took it seriously. Of course we would have liked to be able to play it this year with Aduriz in the team, but circumstances have changed and both we and La Real have prioritized that our fans be able to enjoy the game that they deserve so much.”
Aritz Aduriz’s recent retirement weighs heavily on the team. The club legend should have had the chance to play in the Cup final, but his body said it was time to walk away. Although his time as a player has come to an end, García explained that he’s still been around to support the team.
“We won’t be able to count on him outside the dressing room, but we can inside. We all know that he had been suffering for a while. Because he’s always been a very competitive person it was difficult for him, but we have to adapt. Others will be on the field and he will continue to contribute to us from within.”
Aduriz said goodbye in an emotional press conference at San Mamés. Fans weren’t able to attend, but it was the best option given the circumstances.
“I think his farewell lived up to what could be done. We were sorry that he had to leave and that he couldn’t say goodbye to the fans. We know that he’s not a typical player who needs spotlight, but it’s always good to wrap things up in those moments for someone who have always proven to be close to everyone.”
On a personal level, García hopes to continue playing for several more years but isn’t looking too far into the future. For now he’s content and that’s all that matters.
“I’m going year by year. I always say that in football you can’t look at the long term even when you’re young because things are always changing. Injuries can happen and sensations can become different, although today I’m very happy. Physically I feel very well and at the moment I think that I have a lot left.”
García’s contract with Athletic is set to expire at the end of next season and he would like to extend it. For that to happen he believes that he has to prove he deserves a new deal and wants to do just that.
“A renewal won’t just depend on me. It will also depend on the club deciding that I can continue and have the qualities to contribute. I’m calm and happy because to date my performances have been like those of previous years and I hope I can continue like this so that it’s not such a difficult decision for the club. I hope it’s a reality that I can continue here.”
To finish the interview García was asked about the recent renewal of manager Gaizka Garitano. Like many of his teammates, García reiterated that the Mister has earned a new deal.
“It’s more than deserved, the data is there. He came in during a situation where the team was very bad, with very bad feelings, but the numbers are what they are. He’s put us in the Cup final and last year we were fighting to get into Europe until the end. This year we’re fighting for Europe too.”
This year Raúl García has scored 9 goals in 32 appearances while splitting time between midfield and striker. The 33-year-old has continued to be a leader both on and off the field and will need to be at his best as the Zurigorri fight for a top seven finish over the final stretch of the season.