The Spaniard has played under Ernesto Valverde and alongside Aritz Aduriz at Athletic Bilbao.
FC Goa announced the signature of Spanish forward Iker Guarrotxena last week. While the versatile player was rumoured to be Alberto Noguera’s replacement, his statistics show that he more than a like-for-like replacement, with goal-scoring prowess aplenty.
In a virtual roundtable interaction facilitated by FC Goa, Iker Guarrotxena spoke on his decision to move to India, picking Goa as his destination, Carlos Pena’s influence and more.
Consulting his compatriots before joining FC Goa
The 29-year-old joins a long list of Spanish players who have arrived on Indian shores in the last few years. Like many of his compatriots, he has spent most of his career playing his trade in Spain. When asked if he consulted his fellow Spaniards before taking up the job, the forward stated in the positive.
“Yes, I did, I asked a few players whom I had as teammates. Everybody gave me good references about FC Goa and the ISL. The league is growing a lot and they spoke highly about it. When I received the first call from Ravi [Puskur], I started checking their performances, the league, the club, the players and other things. I didn’t have big doubts to decide [on joining]. I hope it will be a good and beautiful season,” Guarrotxena said.
What attracted him to the club?
Every Indian Super League club supposedly has a project of its own, with the same utilised while offering a contract or holding verbal talks with any player or coach. When Guarrotxena was asked what attracted him to the club, he said, “This is a club which has been in the top position for the last few years. This club is an ambitious one growing with the league. I think this is a good motivation for me – a team which will be fighting for the first position, for titles. The previous season was beautiful for me because we [UD Logrones] achieved promotion to the second tier. But I had this taste that I need something else. The title is what I need. The closest place to achieve it is Goa. That’s why I decided to join the club. We have big goals in front of us.”
Competing with others to get a place
With the ISL allowing only four foreigners in the starting eleven and all of FC Goa’s foreign players of the highest quality, competition for a spot in the team will be undoubtedly high.
“This is a team. Teams achieve big things. Not individuals. We are here to help the club and the coach. All players will have their own space and time. I am only thinking about training hard and to get ready for the start of the season,” opined Guarrotxena.
“I have to show to the coach that I can play. I came here to play and help the team. We will help all of us in the same direction to achieve the titles, trophies and anything that we can,” he added.
Carlos Pena’s influence
Coaches play a big role in player recruitment, especially at FC Goa. When asked if there was any influence from head coach Carlos Pena over his signing, Guarrotxena agreed and elaborated on their conversations.
“Yes, it [speaking with Carlos Pena] was important because when a coach speaks to you directly, it’s different. Sometimes they ask the sporting director to call you and tell you the club wants you. This time, the coach spoke about the club and the city. He also informed me about the playing style of the team and his style as well, which convinced me. I had this motivation that I’ll play with the ball and we will try to play beautiful football. But we’ll have to run and push hard. I have to thank the coach. He explained me the way to play,” said the Spaniard.
Thoughts on FC Goa’s squad
FC Goa have had a stable side for the past few seasons. Many players have come up the ranks at the club, while foreigners have been shuffled every season. Speaking on the quality of the squad, Guarrotxena said that it was another factor in influencing his decision to sign with the club.
“The Indian players did good work in the last few years and the club retained the majority of them. What I was informed was that Goa has some of the best Indian players. We have Edu Bedia, for whom it will be the sixth season in the club. Alvaro Vazquez is a big striker in Spain as well and he has done a good job in India too. We have a beautiful squad. This is another factor which helped me in deciding to join the club. We have a competitive team and we will compete till the end,” said the forward.
What can fans expect from Iker Guarrotxena?
Fans have expectations from most new arrivals in India and Guarrotxena is no exception. Moreover, he will be heading to a club that plies its trade in a state where football is almost a religion. When asked what can the fans expect from him, the Spaniard spoke about his style of play and explained what his strengths are.
“Firstly, I am a team player. I like to win and hate to lose. I possess big character and I don’t like defining myself. Also, I am a hard player who likes to fight and run. With the ball, I like to shoot and finish on target. I like to touch the opponent area. Finally, I am a player who likes to be in the last three quarters of the field to score and assist. I think I am dangerous in the last few quarters. I will try to give all my best,” he said.
Culture at Athletic Bilbao
Iker Guarrotxena is a product of the famed Athletic Bilbao youth system, and he spoke highly about the club’s culture.
“I have been there since I was a nine-year-old till I was 21 when I was there in the first team. Firstly, it’s like a school – school of life. They try to teach good values to the kids. Then, these values try to move to the pitch. Once they build a good person, they try to build good players. They try to instil character and good heart into the players. Maybe that’s why I always follow these values,” he said.
“It depends who is the first team coach. The playing style of academy adapts to the style of the first-team coach. When I had Valverde as the first-team coach, the team tried to press high, combine with the ball at feet, to make a lot of crosses and finishes. This was the playing style of the academy,” he explained.
“Then the team learnt different playing styles. In the last 10 years, the club changed their coach many times. It gave me different way of play to adapt to each of these styles. We tried to create the richest players – in knowledge and not money. They try to give all the options and settings you will need in the future in the professional football,” he further added.
On Valverde and Aduriz
Iker Guarrotxena enjoyed the tutelage of Ernesto Valverde and has also shared the dressing room with Bilbao legend Aritz Aduriz.
“They are normal people. The particularity at Bilbao is that everyone is from the same region. We have the same culture, language and style of life. Regarding Aduriz, when he is in the dressing room, he is a normal person. You can speak to him about everything. Sometimes he was hard with the younger players. When I was there for the first time, he pushed the players to give everything in the field. It was good because it prevented the young player to relax and think that everything is done. He had a good character – something I keep for me,” Guarrotxena said, speaking about Aduriz.
On his former mentor Valverde, he said, “I had Valverde when I signed my first contract with the first team. The first two years I went on loan to second division of La Liga. He told me it was the best option to go on loan. He was close to everyone. You can speak everything about him directly to him. You don’t need intermediaries to speak to him. He is a normal coach and a normal person.”
Guarrotxena can play in multiple positions. He can fit in as a centre-forward, attacking midfielder or a winger. When asked about the position he is the most comfortable in, the 29-year-old refused to pick one.
“I am a team player. I will be comfortable in every position in the team because I like to play. I can give different things while playing on left wing or as a number 10 or a right winger or a striker or second striker. I can give the coach different options. He has seen me play. I think he is the correct coach to put me in the correct place. I believe in him and his knowledge and that we will do a good job,” Guarrotxena said.
Guarrotxena hails from a family of footballers. His uncle Enbika Guarrotxena scored for Athletic Bilbao to snatch the Copa de Rey from the hands of Barcelona, while his father was also a professional player. Inaki Bergara, another uncle, is the goalkeeping coach of the Belgian national team.
“No one pushed me to become a professional footballer. My parents educated me that I have to do what makes me happiest. Yes, at least it was football. They didn’t push me to be a professional player and earn money and think everyday about football. I didn’t have this influence. They gave me the space. They helped me in the things I wanted to do. My parents were always close to me,” Guarrotxena said, speaking about his family’s influence on him.
“When I was in the Athletic Bilbao academy, my parents drove me to the school in the morning. From there they took me to the academy. Then at 10:30 at night, they picked me up and bring me home and make homeworks. They were close to me every day. I didn’t have this influence like pushing hard to be a footballer. They acted like references because they did what they loved. It helps me to try to achieve the same things in my own way,” the Spaniard reminisced.