Athletic Club – A Fans ViewAugust 22, 2017
Our final Fans Series edition sees Gerry Johnston interview Rob from @AthleticClubUK about the season ahead.
Athletic finished 7th in La Liga last season which earned them a spot in the Europa League. Were you happy with that or do you think they could have finished higher?
The squad is capable of more than 7th and realistically we were aiming for 4th so it was somewhat of a disappointment. Again we were heavily reliant on Aduriz though Raul Garcia chipped in with a good share of goals. More is needed from the likes of Muniain and Williams in terms of goals contribution. Exiting the Europa League at the first knockout was disappointing and away from home on the continent we were dreadful at times! We have a more experienced squad this year which should help us to improve on this.
Ernesto Valverde has now left the club for Barcelona. What are your thoughts on his tenure at Athletic and do you think he can help Barca challenge Real Madrid for honours this season?
Ernesto was a legend at Athletic and was successful in delivering European football year in year out as well as the Supercopa win. His tenure was an undoubted success. Barcelona is a different beast and it will be interesting to see if Barca fans give him time (especially following the defeats to Real Madrid already). Given time he will be successful but will he be given that time?
Athletic have promoted from within by making Jose Angel Ziganda the new Head Coach. What are your thoughts on him?
He was the obvious and only real candidate given our promote from within mantra. He’s done fantastically well with Bilbao Athletic and earned the chance at the first team. This is obviously a step up from the level he’s been at but fans have confidence he can deliver.
What do you make of Athletic’s transfer business so far?
None existent! It’s now over 700 days since we last signed anyone (Raul Garcia) and it shows we won’t rush into signing just anyone and placing trust in Lezama. However we have missed out on Mikel Merino and Alex Berenguer who we were in for and that is disappointing as both would have improved the squad. I don’t see anyone else coming in before the transfer deadline and we go with what we’ve got. For outgoings a number of fringe players have left such as Elustondo and Eraso and their departures weren’t unexpected.
Are there any areas in the squad that you think need to be improved on this summer? Has anyone been linked to fill those positions?
We have a decent squad with decent depth and are obviously restricted on who we can bring in. Unless it improves the squad there is no point in buying for buying sake. Berenguer would have been a good option going forward but we still have plenty of options.
If you were allowed to make one realistic signing for the club who would you bring in?
Would love to get in Cesar Azpilicueta.
Is there anyone in the squad that you are concerned might be tempted to move away from Athletic?
We have a number of stars in our squad and there is always going to be a danger that they are attracting “bigger” clubs if they perform well. The trio of Iñaki Williams, Aymeric Laporte and Kepa Arrizabalaga are probably the most coveted of our squad with each being linked with moves away. However none of them have ever given any indication they want to leave and clearly have a special bond with the club. Iñaki wants to become a club legend as the pull of the hometown club is strong – probably stronger than anywhere else in Europe.
What did the club do this summer? Did they have any tours or training camps?
We had a training camp to Austria with a number of friendlies in mainland Europe. We also travelled to Ireland to face Liverpool in the “glamour” friendly of the summer.
Are there any youngsters at the club who you think could make the breakthrough into the first team this season?
A few have made some good progress in preseason. Inigo Cordoba and Unai Nunez have been with the first team and have contributed in the friendlies, though don’t expect either of them to be key first team players this season. Ager Aketxe and Mikel Vesga who are both back from loan spells have a chance to stake a claim for a regular position in the squad. There remains a strong pipeline through from Lezama. The likes of Inigo Vicente and Peru Nolaskoain are both ones for the future.
What are Athletic’s targets for next season?
Another European Qualification and a good European Cup run. Anything else is a failure. Anything more a bonus.