Rafa Alkorta Defends Gaizka Garitano And Rules Out Summer Transfers
The work never stops for Rafa Alkorta. Even during the football stoppage the Athletic Sporting Director was busy preparing for the future and with the season now over the attention has quickly turned to the upcoming campaign. On Tuesday Alkorta addressed the media where he answered questions honestly and was quick to defend Gaizka Garitano when asked about the manager’s standing with the club after missing out on Europe once again.
“We have renewed him because we want continue to believe in Gaizka and we continue to believe that the work he does is impeccable. The only pity is that we have stayed out of Europe which is what we all wanted these last two seasons. Gaizka is the ideal coach, the best coach we can have right now for our team. I have no doubt. You have to respect the opinions of others and not everyone has to like it. What he has done so far for Athletic is very important to me.”
A large group of fans have called for Athletic to make a coaching change this summer, but the club has no intentions of doing so. Looking back at the past season, Alkorta believes that the team did well and greatly values reaching the Copa del Rey final.
“It has been a good but irregular season. We had a very good start, but then we went through that phase with the League and Cup where we lost many points. After the confinement, despite the tremendous disadvantage of points that we had, we we’re in seventh for two days. That’s why we were sorry to have missed out on Europe after doing a great job. I think we deserve to be in the Cup final. Having got there, I would say that it’s been a good season with the Cup final and fighting for Europe until the end.”
Having missed out on Europe for three consecutive seasons, Alkorta wants to see the time in the fight for a top seven finish. La Liga may be more competitive than ever before, but the Sporting Director is confident in the quality of players coming through Lezama.
“Next year I plan to be fighting for 5th, 6th, or 7th place. We have been close for two seasons. We want to be fighting with the teams on our level and those that we have been one step behind these last two years. You know who they are.”
Preseason training will officially begin on 13 August and five players have been called up from Bilbao Athletic. Not all will be able to earn a place in the squad, though this will be a big step towards becoming a first team player.
“Vivian, Vencedor, Areso, Morcillo, and Zarraga will train with the first team this preseason, in addition to Sancet who is already a first team player. They have all had a great year. Bilbao Athletic is where we have to look to the most. There are several players who have first team projections. They have to go up and spend the preseason with the first team. From there the jump isn’t easy, but we are sure that these players will give us joy in the future. All of the loaned players will start with us and then we will see if there are moves.”
When asked about possibly signing new players to the team, Alkorta seemingly ruled out making any moves. “If they have a valid contract with other clubs, we can’t do anything,” he said in reference to Alex Berenguer, Javi Martínez, and Martín Merquelanz. “There are players who have a contract and we’re not going to get involved. When those contracts end then we will talk.”
A recent name to be linked with Athletic is Valencia defender Hugo Guillamón. The 20-year-old just signed a new contract through 2023 which contains an €80 million release clause.
“I have seen him all year. We have been watching him because, in the end, he’s a boy who could play for us, but he’s signed a new contract with Valencia and I think he wanted to stay there. He’s a boy who plays football very well and we have players in that position.
Instead of new signings, Athletic will once again turn to Lezama for reinforcements. Trusting the young players coming up could be the key to success in the yeas ahead.
“We have to look to our own because we have players with a great future and you know it’s increasingly more difficult for us to sign players, so we keep looking at home which is our strength. We have a great Bilbao Athletic and a great Basconia. We have great players coming through.”
On the topic of youth football, Alkorta praised Athletic’s recent partnership agreement with Antiguoko. As one of the Basque Country’s most prestigious youth academies, Antiguoko will provide more talented players for Lezama.
“It’s a club that will help us a lot in these ten years. It’s one of the best youth clubs in the Basque country. It’s been an impeccable negotiation on the part of Athletic and Antiguoko, a great opportunity. There have been other times where Antiguoko partnered with us and we’re delighted to have a ten-year relationship with them. We hope it will go well for both parties, both for them and for us. It’s very good news for Athletic.”
Alkorta has made just two signings since taking over as Sporting Director. In January of last year the club brought in Ibai Gómez and Kenan Kodro, though neither have been key contributors in the team. When asked if the transfers have been failures, Alkorta quickly explained that he doesn’t see it that way.
“When we signed them we had a very great need. It is impossible to say that they have failed. They have brought professionalism out of the ordinary. Ibai is our player. He has a contract and has been a professional for 10 years. It’s evident that he hasn’t played the minutes he thought, but the coach is the one who decides. All I want is that next year we see him more on the field and that he gives us all that he has, which is why we signed him. Kenan is a professional. He knows his role in the team. He does nothing but train har and never complains.”
Additions to the first team will almost certainly have to come from Lezama, but there will also be departures. Mikel San José and Beñat have left the club after not being offers contract renewals, while Aritz Aduriz announced his retirement several months ago. These exits come one year after Markel Susaeta, Ander Iturraspe, and Mikel Rico left the club.
“We’re talking about six heavyweights who had a lot of influence in the dressing room, but Williams, Muniain, and others are already taking command because they’re getting older. In that sense, there is no problem. We are in good hands and I’m not worried. It hurt me a lot to inform Beñat and Mikel that they wouldn’t continue because they have given everything for this shirt.”
Iago Herrerín is also likely on his way out as well. The goalkeeper recently revealed in an interview with El Correo that he’s asked to leave the club this summer as he is unhappy with the treatment he’s received from fans. Alkorta assured that Athletic will help facilitate a move, but only if an offer is made from another club.
“Iago already asked us to leave in January. He’s not happy and he has been treated very unfairly. This world of social networks is doing tremendous damage. He’s a great goalkeeper and Unai Simón has improved, among other things, by having Iago behind him and pushing him. We can facilitate his departure whenever an offer comes. I spoke with him and told him that he has one year left on his contract and is a competitive goalkeeper. As long as he brings us an offer we can negotiate a departure. He’s a good goalkeeper and is valuable in the market, so let’s hope that we can reach an agreement that’s good for everyone. Speaking with the goalkeeping coach, they said that Ezkieta is ready for the first team. I’ve given him the chance to leave as long as there is an offer and we negotiate his departure. Let’s not forget that he has a one-year contract and is a valued goalkeeper in the market. Hopefully we can reach an agreement that is good for both parties.”
Transfers may be unlikely, but the club is currently working on new contracts for current players. Unai Simón and Raúl García are in talks to renew their deals and Alkorta promised that agreements are just around the corner. “It’s very close, the renewals will come sooner rather than later,” he said.
Speaking of contracts, Alkorta once again shared that Unai Núñez has yet to agree to a renewal. The defender currently has a third offer on the table but has yet to give an answer. On the other hand, Alkorta confirmed that the club will speak to Cristian Ganea about possibly terminating the Romanian’s contract as he isn’t part of the plans moving forward.
The pandemic had a serious financial impact on Athletic which was worsened by missing out on Europe. Still, Alkorta is encouraged about the club’s situation. “In spite of all the problems there have been and the great economic loss, I think the club can maintain its salary level,” he said. “I have no doubt that in that sense there is no problem right now.” Fighting for Europe will be the goal again next season, along with lifting the Copa del Rey title.