It was a morning full of memories and emotions at Lezama. Athletic Club legends past and present paid tribute to a brilliant idea the Club had fifty years ago.
President of the era Félix Oraa, the man who saw the ambitious project over the line, was represented by his son José Mari during this morning’s events.
Seven figures from within the Club spoke with pride about their experiences at Lezama.
Club president Aitor Elizegi got the ball rolling: “Lezama is open to many entities and we have an advantage. Our philosophy means we don’t have to compete with anybody else, that allows us to develop this project. First the first time in history, Lezama has received the ISO for how it is managed.
He also spoke of how he hoped the new additions to the complex would lead to another jump in quality: “For the lads that come to Lezama, the first-team building is going to be a vision and a mission.
“We couldn’t wait any longer for Lezama to have a home in its heart, so that when the talent arrive, they will see Txopo and Urkiaga on a daily basis. In turn they will show the youngsters they can believe in this project and these values. Athletic has a future ahead of it.”
José Ángel Iribar, the club’s no.1 for so many years, praised the decision taken in 1971: “Without Lezama, Athletic would have found it difficult to maintain its level. Piru Gainza did a great job of explaining to Félix Oraa and the board who bought the land.
“Incredible players, players at an international level have been produced here. Lezama can teach the whole world something, not just because of the facilities, but because of the work that is done here.”
Santi Urkiaga, the first player to go through every age group, has been coming to Lezama every day for 50 years: “I first came here when I was 12 and now I’m 62… I’ve seen it grow, Lezama is my home. These facilities have brought on a massively important leap in quality for all generations. Lezama is a trend-setter, we get a lot of visits from other clubs.”
Julen Guerrero drove up from Madrid for the event: “I’ve spent more than half my life here. It’s amazing to see how it’s evolved. Athletic is a way of life for me. When I came here as an eight-year-old, there were three places in my life: home, school and Athletic. I dedicated my life to making it to the top. I was on every pitch and had every coach.”
Rafa Alkorta arrived at Lezama as a child and now he is the director of sport: “I came to Lezama 40 years ago. Every day we have to be more careful with recruitment, with contract, there are more and more obstacles.
“We’re always moving forward in terms of facilities, technology, we always try to have the best coaches and scouts. We need it for for the first team. There’s always been a close relationship between the Club, the youngsters and their parents.”
Erika Vázquez has been coming to Lezama on a daily basis for 16 years: “I arrived in 2004, Lezama has always been my second home. It’s all a privilege, it’s where I’ve grown up as a footballer, but most of all as a person. The facilities have improved a lot and before there were no female youth teams. When I came we just had one changing room for all the girls.”
Club captain Iker Muniain was not even a teenager when he came to Lezama: “I arrived when I was 12. Lezama is my home. I’ve been a child, a teenager and become an adult here. I’ve grown as a footballer, but above all, and most importantly, all the people that work at this Club have instilled a number of values in me. It’s an enormous joy to belong to this Club and to have spent so many years at Lezama.
“What struck me most when I was child was the demand to improve as a footballer and how they explained the responsibility that come with wearing this badge.
“I would see a poster with the word ‘Athletic’ and every letter had another word written alongside it: Ambition, Training, Humility, Loyalty, Effort, Tenacity, Involvement and Commitment.”
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