Athletic Club is preparing for Friday’s game against Las Palmas which promises to be a difficult tie. Following training on Wednesday, manager Ernesto Valverde took the time to speak to the press. The first question asked was about his future at the club and it was clear that he has become tired of fielding such questions. Txingurri was quick to say that right now he is only thinking of the current season.
“It is time to compete, not talk about my future. When it is time to communicate that, after the season is finished, then I will. It doesn’t affect my day to day because we are focused on right now. You ask so many questions about it each week. I don’t have to decide anything right now, I am competing. Arsenal interest? I don’t know where all these things come from. I’ve trained abroad, I know what it means to train away from home and it is an enriching experience. It is not a personal goal of mine to go to one team or another. We will see what will happen with my future, but right now I am competing.”
Valverde was then asked if staying at Athletic is appealing due to young talents like Kepa Arrizabalaga, Inaki Williams, Aymeric Laporte, and Yeray. The manager said that there is a bright future at Athletic and those players will have a big role in that future.
“If you are telling me you think it is good to keep training here I will say this; we are a team and we have something that distinguishes us from others and that is our willpower. It is unshakeable. We may have a bad game, but we never hide or give up. All the players in the team right now are a guarantee for the club for now and the future. There is a bright future.”
Looking ahead to Friday’s game, Valverde said that everyone in the team is available again and that winning have become more important than ever after the defeat to Villarreal. He said that, while the Lions have been strong at home, that doesn’t guarantee three points.
“The team is doing well and everyone is available again. After the loss to Villarreal there is more of an obligation to win. We know that nobody is sleeping here because every game, every passing day, is more decisive. This is a game that I personally have pointed out since the beginning of the season, because it is a rival that I have a lot of respect for and historically they have pushed Athletic. It is a very dangerous game because they are different from us. I know that the numbers say we are great at home, but that is no guarantee. They have not been at their best on the road either, but they want to beat us.”
Furthermore, Valverde said that he will give his players the weekend off after Friday’s game before preparing for the next match against Eibar. The Lions are currently outside of the European zone in the table and are desperate to get back into a good position.
“After Friday we will have two days off then start preparing for Eibar. We need our fans to come out Friday and enjoy the game and participate. We need to be pushed harder now than ever because we are at a crucial point in the season. We are outside of Europe and we want to get back in and these home games are very important. Each day adding or losing points become even more relevant, taking into account the equality of our rivals. Each week becomes more important than the last.
In closing, Valverde was asked about left-back Mikel Balenziaga who will play his 200th game on Friday. The Athletic manager called him one of the best defenders in La Liga and praised his consistency for the club.
“At Athletic we have always had problems finding a left-handed player who can play at a high level long term. It is something that is fundamental to the consistency of the team and he has brought insurance there. He is consistent and one of the best defenders in La Liga because of his aggressiveness and insistence. He has a lot of personal weight in the team and I appreciate him a lot because I cannot ask for anything else than what he already brings. There are players that have a lot of talent but you have to push them, that isn’t the case with him. He has earned his place because he never stops working.”
Athletic Club have only lost two games at home all season – to Barcelona and Real Madrid. The San Mames has been a fortress and they will need that to continue for the remainder of the campaign. Friday’s game will be difficult but it also gives the Lions a great opportunity to climb the table and move one step closer of reaching their goal of qualify for Europe once again.