Andoni Zubizarreta / PHOTO: ÁLEX CAPARRÓS - FCB

Director of Football Andoni Zubizarreta spoke to Barça TV about the upcoming clash with Athletic Club. In an interview with Sandra Sarmiento, the Basque Country born former goalkeeper spoke about the last Cup Final between the two clubs, Athletic Club manager Bielsa, the relations between the two clubs, Abidal’s progress and Guardiola’s farewell.

He won three Spanish Cup Finals as a player, two with Barça and one with Athletic Club. In his role as Director of Football he has already won six trophies but he has yet to win a Spanish Cup.

Andoni Zubizarreta, were you at the Mestalla stadium in 2009?
"Yes, I was. I went with my children and I got the tickets from a certain Mr Guardiola, the manager of FC Barcelona."

What do you remember about it?
"I remember that when Toquero scored, my daughter and I jumped up to celebrate and when Touré Yaya scored it was me and my son. In the break, which came just three minutes after the equaliser, I felt as if my brain had split into two. On the one hand I felt the joy of celebrating a goal but I also felt I was celebrating a goal being scored against my team! It was a big contradiction. The second half sorted things out and the score was more obvious and from that point on we just enjoyed the football”.

The 2009 final was the beginning of the Guardiola era and on Friday it will end. Do you feel that it was the beginning of a marvellous story?
"Yes. I remember the chant of ‘Cup, League and Champions League', which was the 'leitmotiv' of the final. I remember the fantastic atmosphere: excitement, emotion...the fans really identified with the team and had the feeling that something fantastic could happen. Everything that happened after that is down to Pep and all the players”.

I remember Pep in the tie against Chelsea a few weeks ago. He spoke about that beginning of 2009 as a Barça love affair. Do you have the feeling that this love affair is still alive?
"Yes. I think that there’s a belief in the idea, in the way of playing, in the way we go into matches, in the idea that ‘if we’re not sure then we attack’, in wanting to dominate games...and also the fact that our fans are convinced this is the way to play. The response of the fans when we played Chelsea and Real Madrid shows us that they are happy with what the team is doing. Obviously we want the team to win and we want to collect the Cup this Friday in the Calderon.

I don’t know whether the 2009 Athletic Club and the team today have much in common or not. There were players who watched the match from the stands and on Friday might be in the starting line-up. But the big change is Bielsa. Bielsa has transformed this team.
"Because of its philosophy, Athletic Club usually has a very stable squad. It’s true that a generation of interesting young players has come through, plus a few signings this season such as Ander Herrera. But it’s also true that the manager has given them a new profile, a way of playing, a personality that is very well adapted to the philosophy of the club. A team that attacks, that wants to be in charge in every game it plays and that fits in really well with the fans and the club. Also, he’s given the players a plan, a style of play that they feel comfortable with”.

Would Bielsa be a manager that could adapt to Barça?
"He’s a man with a big personality and in that sense he would adapt well to our Club. But then the way he sees the game – the individual making the team effort greater – I don’t know if it would fit in exactly in a Club like Barça. I have the feeling that Bielsa is in exactly the right Club for what he asks from a team”.

Athletic Club last won a trophy 28 years ago with Zubizarreta in goal. How do you remember that day?
"It was a final against Barça and we won 1-0. It was a really tense match but it was such a joy to win the League and Cup, as doing the double was a fantastic achievement. I remember the passion of our fans because it was a really dark time in the Basque Country. Winning the title was a ray of light in a very dark space”.

You say that you wish the final minutes of that match had never existed. Now, however, the relations between the two clubs are fantastic. In 2009, for example, the fans got on really well. What’s changed?’
"They were tricky times for us then. We had just come from Shuster’s injury in San Mamés and then, the following year, Maradona, and all that ended up poisoning relations. As a team, we were competing with the top clubs and we were direct rivals, which generates even more tension. I remember that they insisted we came to the tribute match for Artola and Olmo, and that helped to bring the situation back to normal”.

And also that Julio Salinas and Zubizarreta signed for Barça. Perhaps that made the link a bit closer.
"Yes, to the famous Dream Team which I called Eusko Barça. We had a lot of people like Valverde, Julio, Bakero... From that point of view people like having players they can identify with directly. That helps to bring people together. But I’ve always thought that the relations between the two teams, except at that particular time that we mentioned earlier, have been good though demanding”.

What does it feel like, from the inside, the fact that it seems like the season has finished but in fact there’s still a title at stake?
"It’s not simple. It’s caused us a deflated feeling that, sometimes, you don’t know how to manage, how to maintain the impetus. You cope by concentrating on training and knowing how to focus when it’s time for the important stuff”.

Does this Cup motivate?
"We’re really motivated. And the Barça fans too, despite the fact that many things have happened since the last league match. But in the end we’re all united by football. And we all want to experience the atmosphere of the final”.

Here you get the feeling that people aren’t talking about the Cup Final much. In contrast, there’s a great atmosphere surrounding it in the Basque Country.
"The passion of the Athletic Club fans is extraordinary because the team doesn’t get to finals very often and the fans really get excited when they do. But I’m sure our fans are just as excited. If anybody thinks Athletic will be less motivated, they’re wrong. That isn’t in their character because they treat every match as unique. We have to be aware that it will be a special moment and we’ll experience it that way”.

Given that there are so many defenders missing will the priority be to maintain possession so as to not suffer?
"Yes it’s true that we have players missing but that’s football. We have a competitive team and we’ll set out our stall and plan the match in a way that we think we can attack and hurt Athletic. We’ll take them on and try and win; that’s our idea”.

One of the benefits of bringing through players from the academy is that everyone has faith in the youngsters that have to replace the missing players and people feel confident.
"That’s one of Pep’s big pluses. Guardiola gives us the tranquillity of knowing that he has faith in them and that if he picks them to play it’s because he believes that’s the solution. That’s something the players notice and take on board as equal members of the group. It’s a wonderful legacy that Pep is leaving behind”.

Abidal and Guardiola

Abidal is progressing and is back home. Is everything going well?
"First of all we have to express our thanks for the great respect shown towards him. I think we have all felt the respect and affection of the fans. He’s progressing at the correct rate. The next step is a medical check-up. It’s a slow and complicated process but the objective is for him to manage to live a normal life and to be able to start running. What we’re concerned about is that he’s OK”.

What message has the Club passed on to him?
"That we’re there for whatever he needs. There’s neither hurry nor need for anything. He knows we’re behind him and that we’ll take it one step at a time. It’s about the recovery of Abidal the person before the footballer”.

Let’s talk about Friday as it’s Pep’s farewell match. How does he seem to you these days? Excited, nostalgic...?
"Intense. In Monday’s training session, he was at maximum intensity knowing the challenge he has ahead of him. And focussed, highly focussed, and enjoying football”.

The fact that the players say that they want to send him off with a trophy is a motivation or pressure?
"I believe it’s a motivation. This team is built on emotion and I believe that’s a good thing as football shouldn’t always be cold. It can be experienced in the most emotional manner”.


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