Dani García “The Four Games Ahead Are Four Finals”
Dani García keeps playing the moment over and over in his head. The midfielder stepped on Marcelo in the box while trying to win a ball which resulted in Real Madrid being awarded a penalty and winning Sunday’s game 1-0 at San Mamés. Everything happened so quickly and the play could have ended very difficulty. Days later and García is still frustrated about the foul.
“When he called the penalty I was hot,” Garitano said on Fuera de Juego Tuesday night. “I lost my head and applauded him so he took out a card and I asked the referee why he had whistled. He told me that he didn’t see anything, but that they told him that I had stepped on Marcelo. The bad luck is that as Marcelo hits me I didn’t drive the ball out. If I had then he would have fouled me.”
Understandably, García had trouble sleeping after the loss. He kept remembering the foul and after watching the replay several times he’s certain that he had won the challenge before every stepping on Marcelo.
“I went to bed and woke up late after the match against Madrid, but every time I woke up I thought about the penalty. I fell back asleep and woke up again thinking about it. That’s how the whole night went. When I got up I saw the penalty again and continued defending my innocence because I had won the position and had the ball. If there was no VAR I know they wouldn’t have penalized me for it.”
The real controversy came minutes later when Sergio Ramos stepped on Raúl García in the box. Unlike Dani García’s foul, the play was never even reviewed. Two weeks ago Lionel Messi stepped on Yeray’s ankle and VAR didn’t intervene then either.
“I saw the play. Muniain looked up and saw Raúl on the ground so he didn’t cross the ball. There have also been other moments that weren’t reviewed, like the game against Barcelona. It’s not clear how VAR is being used. It can’t be that we have a tool to make sure there’s no mistakes, but after every game we’re talking about mistakes.”
García has a real problem with VAR and the way it’s been used in La Liga this season. Inconsistency is the biggest issue with the technology and the midfielder thinks VAR is now hurting the game more than helping.
“I respect the referees very much and I understand that they have ben wrong before, but shame is being called for everything. There are many things to correct with VAR. I think it’s taking over football because it’s not being used well. I think it should be used when something is black or white so the referee can see what happened, not having to wait while each play is analyzed.”
Apart from Sunday’s loss to Real Madrid, García is very happy with how the team has played since the restart. Athletic adapted to the changes very quickly and are now just three points off of Europe.
“We’re in one of our best moments. Nobody gave us a chance. We had nothing to lose and we’re playing with confidence. We’ve made up many points and we have to continue on this path. The four games ahead are four finals.”
Before the Real Madrid defeat, Athletic’s win over Valencia put the Lions in position to challenge for Europe. At the time it was the biggest game of the season and now García says the same thing about Thursday night’s visit from Sevilla.
“Our key match was in Valencia. We went there and we won, and now I think our key match is against Sevilla. We must look at ourselves and not at others. If we win three of the four matches we will be in the top seven. In Valencia we had to win and we did it. Now we all know the importance of the match against Sevilla. We’re going to be at our best. The team is confident and we can beat them.”
On a personal level García is pleased with his performances since the restart. Playing so many games close together is taxing, but fighting for Europe has given the players extra motivation.
“Even if you’re tired it helps when you see the team is doing well. It makes you think you aren’t as tired as you really are. Physically the team is fine, the legs are responding well for all of us. I’m managing this new situation well. I’m watching football every day, whether the Primera or Segunda. We’re living it as if it were a World Cup with matches every three days.”
While Athletic are chasing a top seven finish Eibar are still in a relegation battle. García keeps a close eye on his former club and is happy to see them so close to safety.
“Clearly, Eibar will achieve their objective. It’s a pit they have to be like this until the last moment, but Mendi will know how to get along in these four finals they have. If they beat Leganés they will be more calm.”
Since joining Athletic, García has become a key player in the team. He’s quickly learned what it means to wear the Zurigorri shirt and has had the privilege of learning from club legends. The squad will look somewhat different next year and he will be sad to goodbye to those leaving.
“I have a great relationship with Beñat and will have him as a friend for life. Losing players like Beñat, San José, or Aduriz is very noticeable in the locker room, in the day by day, because we are a very close team. These types of players should be shown a huge thank you. Internally we show it to them and I think the fans also show it.”
Beñat and San José made the decision to finish the season with Athletic despite their contracts expiring on 30 June. Their teammates couldn’t be more thankful and García praised the pair for what they have meant to the club.
“We pay a daily tribute to Beñat and San José. We thank them to the death for being with us because they could have taken a vacation and not risk injury, but they’re giving everything until the end. We’re going to miss them a lot. Beñat and San José are the history of this club, they’ve taken Athletic to the top. They deserve all the best because of everything they’ve given for the team. We must wish them all the best for the future.”
García also spoke highly of Aritz Aduriz who announced his retirement during the pandemic but has stayed around the team. Although not able to play, Aduriz is helping the team in so many ways.
“Aduriz keeps coming every day and we thank him to the death. He can’t go to the game against Levante and I will miss not having those conversations I always have with him before games. The advice he gives me before and after games helps me a lot. You can only learn good things from people like him.”
Younger players will come into the team next season to replace the veterans who are on the way out. “We have a fairly young team and the important thing is that the players coming from below see what Athletic’s locker room is like and never miss that essence,” said García. “I think we have good captains for it.”
García has already made 68 appearances for Athletic since joining the club last season. The 30-year-old has established himself as a key piece in Gaizka Garitano’s team and will play a significant role in the last four games of the season. Dani García has never played European football, but that could finally change if Athletic can manage a top seven finish.