Gaizka Garitano “We Have Always Been Competitive And We Will Be Prepared”
Athletic will travel to Las Gaunas on Saturday for the team’s first friendly of the summer against newly promoted Logroñés. It will be a nice opportunity for the Lions to stretch their legs as they continue preparing for the upcoming season, though with injuries and illnesses Gaizka Garitano will be without eleven first team players. The manager addressed the media on Thursday and acknowledged the ongoing challenge.
“We have the difficulties of positive tests and injuries. We have to adapt to our responsibilities and hope that those who aren’t here will recover. It is what it is, we cannot choose. We have many casualties and we have to adapt, try to get them back as soon as possible, and work with the young players.”
With just three weeks until La Liga kicks off Athletic could be without a number of key players to start the season. “It doesn’t depend on us,” said Garitano. “We will try to build a competitive team. We have to be prepared to start with those who are available and try to have a good start in our first league game.”
When asked about his initial thoughts when six players tested positive for COVID-19 Garitano responded that it’s part of life at this point. Not having the players for training was a setback, but all six underwent further testing on Thursday and could return to training on Friday depending on the results.
“We are part of society and many people are being affected. It’s within society so it can touch us. I thought that they would all be in good health again and in training. Today they took another test. If they have a negative result they can be incorporated. We hope to have them shortly. We aren’t taking showers here and neither after friendlies. We are taking care of everything possible to preserve health.”
Garitano normally prefers to carry a squad of roughly 24 players, but given the ongoing health crisis he’s altered his plans. Having a deep team could be crucial to success for every team this season.
“There’s no specific number. With COVID-19 and possible positive tests that we can have it’s important to have everyone. You have to have players in all positions and a balanced squad. We are waiting for the six positives to be incorporated as soon as possible. I hope they will be able to play a friendly game, but they have to get a base first when they come back. They have all the means at home, although they lack a field and a ball.”
Apart from those who tested positive, five players are currently dealing with injuries. Garitano hopes to have them all ready when the season starts aside from Ibai Gómez who will still be recovering from a fractured clavicle.
“Those who are injured are doing well. Everyone is training separated and Iñigo (Martínez) has done half of the session today. We will recover them shortly, at their own pace, said from Ibai who has a more serious injury. We hope that they can be there for the start of La Liga.”
Having so many first team players unavailable has given important opportunities to younger players. “There are several in different situations,” Garitano explained. “Some will leave on loan and others will stay. I want to see them all now because other than Nico Serrano I’ve trained them all.”
Garitano was also specifically asked about the future of Iñigo Vicente who is fighting for a place in the first team. “He comes form loan with Mirandés and I know him, but he has to take a leap,” said the manager. “To go from being a substitute at Mirandés to being a start at Athletic, you have to take leap. He’s a player that I like.”
While discussing the squad Garitano also hinted that Athletic could still sign reinforcements this summer. Sporting Director Rafa Alkorta essentially ruled out any transfers a few weeks ago, but the manager revealed that it’s possible.
“The market isn’t easy. We will work with those who are with us and if someone else comes, then even better. What Aduriz gave us we no longer have. It’s difficult to find a player like him. Among the others here we have to replace him. If no one comes then we will make the squad as competitive as possible like always.”
Garitano admitted that it’s not easy for Athletic to sign players even if money wasn’t an issue. The club is still entertaining options, but the manager doesn’t have any expectations.
“We all know that the market is very small and things aren’t easy due to everyone’s economic situation. The team is susceptible to improvement and the club is already working on that so we’ll see. There are many days left. If someone arrives they will be welcome and if not, we will try to give the highest possible level with those of us here.”
When asked if he’s directly requested signings, Garitano said that every managers does during the summer transfer window. He’s aware of the challenges and is prepared to face the season with the current squad, but bringing in more players would be more than welcome.
“I don’t know if any coach who doesn’t ask for the squad to be improved, but I understand the difficulty of finding someone affordable. Our squad can be improved. For the objectives we have improving the squad is a goal and if it doesn’t happen then we will face the season with those who have come up from below. We are open to improving the team and they are working well on that. If not, those of us who are here are going to look forward with the utmost enthusiasm.”
On the other hand, it’s always possible that players could leave as well. Unai Núñez received heavy interest from clubs last season and Garitano hopes that there are no unexpected changes in the weeks ahead.
“We are always open to everything, to possible additions that can improve what there is or exits that make it worse because a player leaves. Until the market is over everyone has to be vigilant. No one is free from those kind of surprises. We hope that the players we have don’t leave. The objectives that we have are very high and we need a good team to compete for them.”
One player that will be leaving the club is goalkeeper Iago Herrerín. The 32-year-old recently asked for an exit and Garitano confirmed that he will be on the way out very soon.
“Both the club and Iago Herrerín share the same intention that he will leave. We agree that he looks for a new destination and once something is closed he will be able to leave. He should be out soon.”
Athletic are in a complicated situation heading into the first summer friendly. With eleven first teams players ruled out there will be valuable minutes for younger players, but the most important thing is preparing the squad for the season ahead. Whatever happens, Garitano is confident the team will be ready.
“We aren’t afraid. We’re brave and we will put together a team with those who are here. We have always been competitive and we will be prepared. We would like to get first team players back, but if we have to play a kid from Bilbao Athletic then we will do it. That is our philosophy. Right now we have very young players who need time. If we have to play a kid we will do it and we will be calm. That is Athletic.”
Missing out on Europe for three straight years has been frustrating for Athletic. This season Gaizka Garitano will be tasked with taking the team back to Europe while also having the opportunity to lift the Copa del Rey title.