Aymeric Laporte shocked the football world last summer when he turned down a big money move to Manchester City in favor of staying with Athletic Club. The defender signed a new contract with the Lions, significantly raising his buyout clause in the process. This season the 22-year-old has continued to play at a very high level, and clubs have not turned their eyes away from him. On Sunday, Laporte gave an exclusive interview with DEIA to discuss many things. Here is what he had to say in that interview.
How happy are you right now at Athletic?
Laporte “To the point that I’ve signed a renewal five times since my debut. I am very comfortable and I have demonstrated that with those five extensions. That is the example that shows I am happy.”
And on a personal level?
Laporte “I’m very good in every way. My family is very happy with what I am doing. If I am well and my family is also, then we are all very happy.”
The life of a footballer can seem easy: fame, money, public recognition … Is it as easy as they paint it?
“It may seem so, but then you have to live day by day. There are many things that are made easier for you, but others that turn against you. Sometimes you can also generate an image of yourself that really does not correspond to reality. You have to be careful with those things. You can look at one thing and be totally different. The people that are nearby know how I am and value me for who i am. Outside it may not be so, but for better or worse.”
It does seem that your private life is less public than that of other players in the first team.
Laporte “Yes. I like to have my space, to share things with the people that I am close to. I prefer to keep my personal life to myself.”
Do you miss anything about when you were an anonymous footballer?
Laporte “The anonymous word says it all. Obviously there are some things I would like to be different. When you travel, even if you want to disconnect, there is always someone who recognizes you.”
When you first arrived at Athletic, was there a big adjustment?
Laporte “Yes, especially because I was far from my parents. My family is everything to me. I always fight for them to feel proud of me and that’s the only thing that matters to me today.”
Was it hard to move to Bilbao so young?
Laporte “Well … I was prepared, because I had been away for three years. I had lived an hour away, but only came home on weekends. That helped to prepare me. But once I moved to Bilbao I only saw my parents once every three months. For a 15-year-old boy that is complicated.”
Did you have trouble adjusting?
Laporte “No … life was different, but I came with four other French companions and that helped me a lot to be at ease.”
Was the language a barrier?
Laporte” The truth is that it really wasn’t. I learned quite quickly. I was wrong many times, as I still make mistakes (laughs), but it was not a major problem.”
Who was your main support when you arrived in Bilbao?
Laporte “Those four French companions and my parents, who called me every day.
What was the worst part of it?
Laporte “Missing my parents. Also, the first season I could not play and that was very hard. But above all the problem was that it wasn’t familiar. I liked being close to my family but had to be here, in the residence.”
Did you even think about quitting everything?
Laporte “Never. What I did say to myself is that if I did not reach the elite level I would regret a lot of what I had done.”
I guess you say that because you didn’t have a normal childhood?
Laporte “Basically, yes. I was sacrificing many things to reach the elite levels. It was a dream and I have succeeded. Of course, there is still a lot of work ahead and I work day by day so this can be very long journey.”
Although you are only 22 years old, you will turn 23 on May 27, you seem like a veteran. If you look back, do you think it was worth so much sacrifice?
Laporte “Yes. Already only the first year I played with Marcelo Bielsa made up for everything I had sacrificed.”
When you debuted, did you think you would be able to reach this level?
Laporte “I’ve always been ambitious, a little cocky and eager to become the best. That was my idea. And here I am fighting day by day to keep it going.”
If you had not been a footballer, what would you have liked to be instead?
Laporte “Before I arrived I had already taken a masonry course. I liked things related to construction. But I never know what it would have led to.”
Do you think everything went very fast in your career?
Laporte “Yes, but in most cases the players who are debuting in recent years it happens like this. Things are changing, new players stand out early, the public likes to see young people … In my case it was very fast, from one day to another. It started in Israel and then I played several matches and here I am today.”
At only 22 years old you have already played 187 matches with Athletic. You will soon reach 200 games. Is that something you think about?
Laporte “Yes. I like the idea of 200 matches. Not everyone reaches these numbers and even fewer at my age. Many times I think about it and I say that ten years ago I would have signed up for half of it by the age of 25. But since I am here now, I want to fight for more.”
What do you remember about your first days in the first team locker room?
“I tried to do well day after day, to train hard … Also, when that is when Bielsa was here and they were very intense trainings. The veterans, Gurpegui, Iraola … and the rest helped me a lot. I especially remember Gurpegui, because he taught me so much. He helped me a lot when I started and it continues to this day. He’s like my sporting father.”
They say that making your debut is easy, it’s continuing to play that is difficult. Is that true?
Laporte “It’s very difficult to make a debut, but very difficult to maintain your place in the team. Obviously you have competition, you have to perform at the highest level. If you are new, you must prove that you are worth more than others. In Athletic it is perhaps easier than in other teams with a bigger market, but there is a lot of quality. Very, very good players. You have to fight to win the job every day.”
Have you experienced a more difficult time than your injury last season?
Laporte “I don’t think so. It was a tremendous difficult. That is when I really realized how complicated it is to regain the level you were playing at. People from outside do not see it. You play, but people from outside do not feel what you feel as far as pain is concerned. Injuries like that can make you feel helpless and that you will never be the same.”
When were you aware that you had fully recovered?
Laporte “I do not know exactly. But there is always some symptom, some discomfort. There are days when I do not notice anything and others where I do. Now it’s up to see what the doctors say, if they take out my plate or not. That will be seen later. I’m just patient with it.”
Do you think those annoyances prevented you from playing 100%?
Laporte “I’m not going to make any excuses. If I play it is because I can, but I would not play if I thought it would hurt the team. There are low moments and high moments. It happens to all of us.”
You recently said that you would not talk about any offers received in the Winter market. Can you explain that statement?
“I think I really explained myself in a poor way. Still, I don’t have to give much more explanation. What I have done so far is demonstrated in writing, it is not verbal. Facts are worth more than words. I just have to say that. I’m very comfortable here. I have renewed five times, the last one last summer, when I could have left. People who know me and know this can understand what I meant.”
You used to have good words about Guardiola. What was it like to say no to Manchester City?
Laporte “Guardiola is an incredible trainer. He has a playing philosophy that fits a lot with my ideas. When it comes to my rejection, there are many things led me to the decision. One of them was the injury. For me it was important to recover and get back to 100%.”
Was that the main reason, the injury?
Laporte “No, of course not. There are many more things. I’ve said it a lot of times. It is the recognition from Athletic and everything the club has given me. It’s clear that the club has given me everything and I have tried to give everything back to the club. They needed me and I responded favorably. I chose to stay and help the club and sign an extension.”
What was the buildup to the offers from City and Athletic?
Laporte “I had renewed with Athletic six months earlier. Little had happened since. I had three and a half years left on my contract and I was calm. There were several offers and then Athletic contacted me about a renewal.”
Is communication with the club easy?
Laporte “Yes. Athletic has very professional people in that respect and they work very well.”
In its last renovation the club increased your termination clause from 50 to 65 million. Do you consider that it is still an acceptable figure for a club if they want to sign you?
Laporte “I have no idea. That’s a question for the clubs. All I’m thinking about is finishing the season well.”
You recently said in an interview that money is not everything, that there are more important things. Could you list some of those things?
Laporte “Well…Life in general, the quality of life. Respect, which is what the Athletic has been able to give me. That must be acknowledged, not with money, but with facts. Staying at Athletic is an example of how they have treated me.”
Not long ago there were players who swore eternal love for Athletic and then left. Is it better to stay quiet?
Laporte “I have an exquisite relationship with the club. Whenever there is another team in the middle, I will go both to the public and to the club about it. I will not lie at any time. It makes no sense to fool a club that, like Athletic, has given me so much over these years. I’ll give as much as possible while I’m here. If I’m here for a long time, that’s the best case scenario. If there’s a move, I’ll always be open and honest. There is nothing planned for the moment, I’m only focused on right now.”
Do you understand that, just like last summer, you will be talked about a lot over the next few months?
Laporte “Yes, and I’m very calm. What I’m thinking about is continuing to play well, just as I’ve been doing lately. I want to keep showing that I can be one of the best in Europe. It’s the only thing that worries me today.”
Do you see yourself at Athletic for a long time?
Laporte “That’s why I signed a long-term contract here.”
Could your continuity at Athletic depend on whether Valverde decides to stay or go?
Laporte “I do not know. I get along very well with Ernesto. He tells me the good things and the bad things and that’s good for me to improve my game. We have confidence to talk about everything. For me he is one of the best coaches I’ve had so far. I guess he does not influence my decision, but the fact is that I get along very well with him.”
Do you dare guess the future of Valverde?
Laporte “No, I do not dare. Whatever he decides, it will be the best choice for him. He’s been here for four years, I was here before he came. There aren’t a lot of coaches who have stayed at one club so long. If he stays it will be the best thing for the club, but if he leaves then I wish him all the luck in the world.”
Do they talk about it in the locker room?
Laporte “No, the truth is we don’t talk about that sort of thing. What will be, will be, I say. We are not going to change anything, we have no voice or vote in this matter. We will let him decide.”
There are people pointing to Ziganda to take over if Valverde leaves. It was only a few months, but you had him as a coach. What can you tell us about that?
Laporte “It was only six months, but I learned a lot, especially on a personal level. He is a person who works very well will the players and the players in general always speak well of him. I have no doubt that he could do very well in the role.”
Undoubtedly, he is the one who knows more about the club and have a deeper knowledge of the team. Would that help him?
Laporte “Yes, he’s trained the majority of the squad. But if he becomes the first team coach he will make the decisions that he thinks are best.”
Let’s look ahead to your next opponent. When the season began, did you think Eibar could be where they are now?
Laporte “Every year there are surprises. They are fighting and playing well. We have to be better than them and go into their home and win. That is the goal.”
Dani Garcia, one of their best players, has said Athletic are favorites in the match. Your thoughts?
Laporte “It is because we have been in the Primera longer, but you never know what can happen in a game. There are always surprised. If we are favorites we will try to prove it.”