Iker Muniain “We Have To Aspire To Finish As High As Possible”
The stage is set. Athletic will kick off the new La Liga season at the same place where the previous campaign ended disappointingly, with a trip to Los Cármenes. The opening fixture will be played next Friday night against Granada, leaving Athletic will little time left to prepare for the year ahead.
“The beginning is in Granada, against a team with which we’ve had different feelings,” said captain Iker Muniain during a press conference on Tuesday. “We said goodbye in the last game with a bad taste in our mouths. It was a defeat that left us frustrated. We have to start over there.”
Reflecting on the previous campaign Muniain said that the team did well overall. The ending may have been difficult, but the end was result saw the Lions challenging for Europe.
“We have to look at the fact that we managed to reach the Cup final and fight for Europe until the end. It can be said that last season was good, but the end was disappointing. The defeat at San Mamés against Leganés which left us out of Europe was disappointing. The club will be working on possible reinforcements for next season.”
Athletic will be aiming for a top seven finish in the new season to return to Europe after a three-year absence. With four competitions to play, Muniain is excited about the upcoming year.
“We have to aspire to finish as high as possible in the table. A super exciting season is coming. We have the Super Cup, a Cup final, the new Cup that will start in January, and the league. It’s going a special season with many beautiful things and we are preparing to compete for everything. Hopefully it will be a successful season.”
When asked about the fact that the club hasn’t signed any new players this summer, Muniain pointed out that younger players have been called up instead. He still think transfers are possible this summer, though having fans back in the stands will be the most important thing.
“We’re very happy and excited. Working with the guys coming up who have the desire to succeed is encouraging and they can learn from those of us who are here, those who have been here the longest. We are very clear about our style of play. When there is room for improvement we will work on the different options. That’s what the coaches are for. The best signing is that fans will hopefully be in San Mamés soon to support us. They are missed a lot and hopefully little by little the stadiums will be opened.”
Muniain was quick to praise the likes of Jon Morcillo, Oier Zarraga, and Unai Vencedor who he shared the field with in the first friendly of the summer. With so many talented starlets coming up Muniain is certain that they can improve the team.
“Morcillo attacks, has a good left leg, and takes shots. Zarraga, more of the same, is good with the ball, spectacular defensively, and works hard. Vencedor already debuted last season. He’s done really well with Bilbao Athletic. We know him a little more. He moves the ball well, is great on the ball, knows how to position himself, passes well, and helps the team. There are other younger players that we have to see a little more from. I don’t want to forget about anyone but I see them all well and they have a good future ahead. Many are going to contribute things and are going to make the club better.”
On the other hand, there will be departures this summer as well. Jesús Areso has refused to sign a new contract, though Muniain emphasized that he has the right to decide what to do with his career.
“Each one chooses his destiny and is responsible for what he does. Just as some of us have made the decision to continue, others make other decisions due to different circumstances. They shouldn’t be judged. Players who stay here do it because they want to succeed at this club and that’s what gives us pride. We are happy with those who are here.”
Areso may have to wait until his contract expires next summer, but Iago Herrerín will be leaving the club soon. “I have nothing to say,” Muniain responded when asked about his teammate. “Each one is the owner of his decisions. He will do what he thinks is best for his future. Iago has shown that he has been and is a very safe goalkeeper. He’s given us a lot and he trains hard like everyone else. Let’s see what happens.”
Having made 422 appearances for Athletic, Muniain is just 8 off of Julen Guerrer for 10th all-time. “I’ll admit that I’m proud to have played so many games and to approach this type of legend is a privilege, but it’s anecdotal data,” Muniain responded when asked about the chance to surpass Guerrero. “The important thing is what we do as a group.”
On another note, Muniain was asked about the now infamous pictures of himself with teammates and partners during a vacation to Ibiza a few weeks ago. The photos were shared on social media which showed the group close together without masks.
“It’s true that there was a lot of commotion regarding the photo that appeared on social networks. Yes it’s true, and there is no problem saying it, that perhaps it wasn’t the best decision. In any case it must also be said that we were in a closed circle. I think it was as safe as possible with teammates and partners who had all passed the PCR test three or four days earlier. But logically that doesn’t mean that posting that type of photo is a wise decision.”
When six first team players tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago the pictures were blamed and criticized for being irresponsible. Muniain took responsibility and ensured that the team is doing everything possible to stay safe right now.
“That being said, I don’t think there is much need to talk about this either. The positive tests that came later didn’t come out of that type of meeting. We’ve seen how the virus is, that no one is except from being infected in one place or another with any type of company be it friends, family, or any type of contact. What we have to do is minimize all kinds of risk so as not to get infected.”
Before kicking off the new season next week Athletic will have three more friendlies. Tomorrow the Lions will host Alavés at Lezama, followed to two straight games against Real Oviedo and Eibar.