Yuri Berchiche “We Know What It Means To Play Against These Teams”
Yuri Berchiche’s move to Athletic two years ago has been a massive success. Since trading PSG for San Mamés the left-back has made 72 appearances while scoring 8 goals and registering 5 assists. Berchiche has not only been a top player in the team, he’s been one of the best in Europe at his position. Given his level of performance in recent seasons it’s hard to believe that Berchiche almost gave up on football in the past.
“It’s an usual path compared to most players,” Berchiche told Juanma Velasco during an interview with Marca. “I made my debut in the Primera at a very young age and then I had to go back down because things didn’t go well for me and then my current coach gave me all the confidence when I was at Eibar. Right now I’m at my best and enjoying what I like to do the most.”
After graduating from Antiguoko, Berchiche joined Real Sociedad’s academy for one year before leaving for Lezama. Two years later he would make the switch to Tottenham following off-field issues. Berchiche would soon find himself back in Spain on loan with Real Valladolid before permanently joining Real Unión in 2010.
“I had a critical moment at Real Unión. I thought being young and having already debuted in the Primera that I would be at a better club. That first year I began as a starter and in the second or third game against Bilbao Athletic I didn’t play well and disappeared from the lineups. It can be said that’s where my decline started.”
A new manager gave Berchiche the chance to sign. Following an impressive two years with Real Unión he was signed by Real Sociedad. La Real immediately sent Berchiche on loan to Eibar where he would be coached by none other than Gaizka Garitano.
“I wasn’t playing, sometimes not even called up for games, and I asked myself if I should continue trying, if it was worth it. Another coach came and I started to come back into the team. My second train arrived when I was signed by La Real. They loaned me to Eibar, I returned to La Real, and then PSG and Athletic.”
Berchiche is very happy with life in Bilbao and has become a key player for Athletic. “It’s true that I’m playing almost everything and I’m happy about it,” he said. “But there are many other players in my same situation because this is a team effort and we’re all trying to do our best.”
In fact, Berchiche has played so well that he was possibly in line to be called up to the Spain National Team for EURO2020 until it was postponed. When asked about it the 30-year-old repeated the same answer he’s given on other occasions.
“I’ve always said that if it comes I will be happy, but my job is to do well for my club. It would be amazing, but I’m not looking for it. There are very good players in my position for Spain who are at a very high level. I don’t think I will be called, although I will say that it would be incredible to be able to play the European Championship at San Mamés, at home.”
Berchiche sustained a dislocated shoulder earlier this season that gave him problems, but recovery has gone well. For now, it doesn’t look like he will he will be needing surgery when the campaign is over.
“I’m knocking on wood, but for now it’s been resolved. I’m very happy about it because it’s given me life. As soon as we came back I noticed improvement in throw-ins where for two or three months I wasn’t even able to take them and had to let Iñigo Martinez do it. Hopefully it continues like this because it bothered me.”
The entire squad has been in great shape and form since the season resumed. Berchiche was quick to praise the coaches for the work they’ve done to make sure the team came back strong.
“Many times we scold Juan (Iribarren, the strength and conditioning coach) because he makes us run, but the work he’s doing with the rest of the coaching staff is very good. You see it in the results. We had to return with the maximum possible desire to achieve the objective we had in mind. We’ve all done our bit during the confinement.”
Even with being in proper shape, teams are playing games essentially every three days. Berchiche admits he’s never experienced anything like it before.
“No, not like this. Not even when I was in Paris where there are two cup competitions, but we also didn’t play with the same intensity and demand that we are competing with now. Here every team is playing for a something. There’s a lot of stress and it’s very demanding.”
Athletic have won two straight games, but will face a difficult test on Sunday when Real Madrid visit San Mamés. If he plays, Berchiche will likely line up opposite of Isco, Rodrigo, of Vinicius Jr. When asked who he would rather defend, Berchiche responded that it doesn’t really matter.
“I discussed this with a friend while watching their game against Getafe. You can value many things in that game, but I think without a doubt Real Madrid has the best squad in the world. Every player is very good and when one comes on it seems that he’s better than the other. But hey, we have our weapons and we’re in a very positive streak that we want to continue.”
As Athletic prepare to face Real Madrid and Sevilla in a matter of days the team knows this will be a crucial point in the season. The Lions must get something positive going into the final three games to stay in the race for Europe.
“We know what it means to play against these teams and with a full San Mamés which gives us tremendous energy. We won’t have it and each of us seeks different motivation. It will be a very nice game to watch because we’re both playing well.”
In closing, Berchiche was asked about loss of Aritz Aduriz who announced his retirement before the season resumed. Although the legendary striker isn’t playing anymore he’s still around the team to give support and has attended every single game.
Regardless of how the season ends, Mikel San José and Beñat will be leaving the club. The midfielders will finish the campaign, but were not offered renewals. During their careers San José and Beñat have been key players both on and off the field.
“We greatly appreciate them both and they’ve earned the appreciation of the entire squad. We know that they’re going through an unpleasant situation, but we always highlight the strength they give us. it’s very important that they stay because all of us who started this work have to finish it. That’s what we feel is right. It’s a pity that they won’t continue after the season and when they finish we will say goodbye with all the good luck we can give them.”
“Aduriz is with us, but not playing. It’s a shame because even though he was playing very little lately you always saw that he could hunt down a goal. That’s how the game against Barcelona went with him scoring the goal. What a goal that was! We know that we have his support, which is very important and always helps us.”
With Aduriz leaving a big hole in the attack Raúl García seems to have stepped up. The Osasuna product scored twice in Wednesday’s win over Valencia and Berchiche is confident that he can be the one to lead the attack.
“Now we have Raúl who is taking the role of Aduriz and is doing it in an outstanding way. We saw it at Mestalla. We all know what he brings to the team. The day he leaves it will be felt a lot, just like with what happened with Aduriz.”
Sunday’s game isn’t a must-win match for Athletic, but a positive result would go a long way. The Basques currently trail seventh place by just two points with five games left to play. A victory, or even a draw, against Real Madrid could give Athletic the momentum to finish the season strong and possibly qualify for Europe.