He has gone through Athletic Club de Bilbao, FC Barcelona and Valencia CF as a player, all of them clubs from 'border' cities between Spain and Europe, between the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean. It is still the fifth player with the most international football accumulation with the Spanish national football team. And now he speaks to us from Marseille, as sports director of Olympique, one of the greats of French Ligue 1. Andoni Zubizarreta (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 1961) won playing goalkeeper in Germany divided by the iron curtain, lost to the former Yugoslavia and lived the Spanish beginnings in a Europe that took steps forward. Today illustrates this Old Continent that changes and changes. And he talks about football as an example, as an avant-garde, as that to which Europeans pay more attention between yesterday and tomorrow sifted by today, always direct, always-apparently-safe.
We talk a lot about Europe, but the only competition in which we participate as such is golf. Do you think it is possible that this can be generalized and have a European team in other fields or sports such as football?
That, as in golf, part of the tradition of each sport. And the tradition of mine, in football, is more of the English. That is why it is also one of the few in which there is an English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Ireland selection … It is based on the countries. From time to time there is usually a friendly match, from Europe against the rest of the world, but it is difficult, because sport allows us to identify with things that are ours, that belong to our history, so that until this concept of Europe is not move to everyday life, to our day to day … If it consolidates, it could appear, but I think it will cost a lot.
And would you see it convenient? Because, moreover, there are also those who ask for Basque, Catalan, etc.
I do not think that belonging to a project called Europe means losing your identity as a country and dissolving it into a bigger one. Another question is the European feeling, which I do believe we have, although then that is not meant with a passport or a competition. They are not antagonistic things, to put it in any way. And it also allows us a certain movement.
In fact, speaking about the identification of each one with their country, league, etc., there is something that lately, in politics, is heard more and more: demanding harder borders, more migratory control … Sometimes it seems a debate a little football, among those who ask the European Super League and others who say no, what better to stay in the leagues of each country, be it the Spanish, the English Premier or another. Is the debate so logical for the times in which we live, as dangerous because of the consequences it may bring?
In football for a time there was also protectionism about each country. It was not played with foreigners or there was a limit and all Europeans were foreigners. In the end we have found the reality of the mobility of workers and now we have assumed that a Spanish plays in France, or a French in England, or an English in Portugal; or that Cristiano started his career in Portugal to then go to England, then play in Spain and now be in Italy … This is a very interesting element of European traceability. Everything that was protectionist or that closed borders, football and the dynamics of life has led to spaces in which to share, which are vastly richer and more interesting than those that constrain and create barriers. In addition, very interesting things tend to occur at the borders, because they are spaces for exchange and mixing.
Belonging to Europe does not mean losing your identity and dissolving it into a bigger one
But there are those who say: 'Well, with the Bosman law … that of being a European player, legalizing community work, internal migrations, everything that has taken place …' Has it been positive or negative?
Is that I do not understand things as positive or negative. They are debates that when you look at them later, you say, 'well, if this always has the same ending'. Now I see players who play all over the world, coaches in China, the physical trainer who works in Italy as a specialist, or the data analyst who is in a Belgian team … I understand that as to where life goes, to the destiny that Come on, because it adds up.
If one remembers the time of the transition and shortly after, a Spain basically concerned about Spain comes to mind. Also in soccer. With players, coaches, sports directors, etc., Spaniards who stayed in Spain. On the other hand, from time to time, you leave, and you yourself are a good example talking to us from Marseille. If it had not been for the EU or the European Community, would the same trajectory have taken place?
Man, it would have been more difficult, more limited. But I think that is also associated with another element. Until the end of my career as a soccer player, until the 2000 and peak or something like that, and then also, it was considered that the Spanish player had a hard time adapting to the foreigner, and that's why we did not leave our borders. Then Benítez started at Liverpool, with Xavi Alonso, Luis García and others, and, well, look, they were doing well, they won the European Cup and if from there they still saw them as, 'yes, quality, but still they do not work that much 'or do not know what, they changed to' ah, these guys work well and they also play football very well '. Then comes the whole golden generation of Spain when Spain wins the European Championship in 2008, the titles of Barça and Madrid, and since then it is not so much the great Spanish footballer but the player in general who comes out. Even young guys start to be interesting for European clubs. This produces a flow that now a soccer player understands as normal.
Maybe not share it, but there are those who criticize that this market so open, community or European, goes against those clubs more quarry or local, as it could be, for example, Athletic Club Bilbao, which knows well.
The European team that is doing worse all this kind of things is the Athletic Club of Bilbao, because if before the economic power of a club was based on the number of partners that had – and Athletic was one of those that had more loyal, with a stadium of 45,000 people and 30,000 members who paid some interesting quotas, which gave him economic level to compete in the league, right now that concept is no longer the one that marks it. Now there are more television rights, or even the purchases and sales of the players. However, within a more global and borderless world it also marks a project that is absolutely unique and unique. There is no club in the world that is like that. That is, in its very definition is its own risk and its own strengths. It can compete at European level, but at the same time it is local because it does so with players from its closest environment. From this point of view it should be a project to be maintained in Europe because it represents the next and the global.
The spaces in which to share are vastly richer and more interesting than those that constrict and create barriers
But is it just the exception that confirms the rule?
If there was a club that was founded now to compete in the Spanish First Division, or if an owner, say, bought a club today and said 'Gentlemen, I bought the X and from now on I will only play with players from here', as a project it would be very, very, very complicated. Athletic is based on a tradition, a history, a legacy between parents, children, grandparents; about a continuity in history, elements that allow us to identify and remind ourselves of who we are, a little what Europe is also. That gives us a traceability in life, and is a very important element, more in a society in which everything goes so fast.
Some people point out that Europe has allowed to concentrate power, wealth, etc., in very few countries, in leaders, such as Germany. Something in a sense parallel to what is said about the European Superleague raised by UEFA – if someday it becomes a reality – so that it would concentrate power on those who are already up, in the most powerful clubs. Do you really believe that these upward integrations are detrimental to the smallest?
I have a theory, but without any validation, and that is that sport in general, but football in particular, the most popular in the world and all that, increasingly arouses more business interest. He moves a lot of money, and money in general does not like uncertainty; he likes more security spaces. And if one thing defines football is uncertainty. It's the most wonderful sport because you can play awful and win 1-0 and you can play wonderfully well and lose 1-0. The little ones can win the big ones. Something can always happen. So, how do you try to solve it? Creating this type of spaces, which are more secure. The uncertainty of the game is, but everything else that surrounds the business, that is, the League, which can be lowered or not, the classification or not for the Champions; that all that disappears and becomes safe. It is a trend that we will see if money manages to impose it or if the culture of football itself prevails. But until now, in all the movements that have taken place in this style, it is the business that has always won. There I am not very optimistic.
When he talks about uncertainty, I think about Brexit. And when I think about the Brexit, I wonder: with the Bosman law, the number of players, coaches, etc., Europeans that are there and can be affected. What consequences can it have?
I know how English teams work many times. They are clubs that capture a lot of talent, especially young. And how they go to key countries like France, Spain, Holland or Belgium, where they invest in young players with the idea of developing them and maybe in the future to sell them. If that door closes, it is clear that in those countries there will be a little more tranquility. But of course, from the point of view of the individual project of the player who perhaps thinks that signing for Liverpool may belong to the next team that wins the Champions, because I do not know how to measure it. Or from the clubs that sell young players equal to prices that are not as spectacular as those of the big ones, to two-three million euros, but that nevertheless for their economies are vital … If that buyer disappears, how will it affect? in your daily economy? Because not every time means something bad, often it's for the best.
Europe is tradition, history, legacy, a bit like Athletic
And what do you think will happen?
In politics it is difficult to explain 'what will happen to' in many things from the practical point of view. In football it is very simple: 'Well, now, but the Europeans, I mean, the Spaniards, Belgians or French who play there, will they be considered foreigners or not?' It is, or not, and under what conditions. But the Brexit is one of the debates in which no one in our field of football knows what will happen.
He has lived and worked in different parts of Spain and now he does the same in France. He is one of the players with more internationalities with Spain. From your own experience, what do Europeans share that sets us apart from the rest?
For a long time we have focused more on what differentiates us than on what unites us. Sometimes even with the most stupid topics. And we have spoken very little, or we have spoken very little, or we have spoken very little, of culture or things that are more or less common, or that belong to us, such as social rights, workers' rights, etc. . Of 'situations' that are part of our culture. I get the feeling that what unites us we have given more of course. It is always to devalue what we have more in common. But of course, if you say: from a Swedish to a Spanish and a Spanish from the north to a Spanish from the south, is your way of looking at life the same or is it different? We start from minimal social or life soils -and I know that they do not reach 100% of the population-, which, in general, are distributed and which we consider attributions that we have per se.
Would a Europe without an EU be very different from the current one?
Well … What Europe? When we won the European Cup with Barça in 1992, we eliminated the last champion of East Germany and the last champion of Federal Germany. To that Europe? I also played with Spain against Yugoslavia in the 90's and eliminated us from the World Cup, but it was the last Yugoslavia that competed as Yugoslavia … I mean, Europe is moving, it's dynamic. And without the EU we would surely remain very anchored in many of our many topics: 'It is that the French, mind you, are unpleasant …' Or: 'Spaniards do not work …' Being integrated and mixing allows us to get out of our primary concerns and see that we resemble or are very equal.
Europeans are more complementary than competitors
And how do you think Europe will be in the medium to long term? Will the EU still be there?
I would like to see a Europe that also relies on people and that protects the individual and his needs; to the elements that have to do with culture, health, education, all that kind of things that touch us in each day of each of us. A strong Europe that was united in this type of elements that give us opportunities to all and spaces to be able to share, learn and see that we are more complementary than competitors.
It is called UE or whatever it is called.
Europe is the name that has been given to us, and it is true that as Europe we have been much longer at war than in peace, but it is not a bad name.
In fact, in 2020 the European Championship will be held for the first time throughout Europe, in up to 12 countries and among others in cities such as Bilbao. What meaning can it have for your future?
I remember that it was Michel Platini's idea, and I think what he was trying to do was to use football also to show how Europe is obviously not a country, but a unique entity, to put it in some way, even to organize a competition like It is as if it were one country. Soccer makes it evident. When you have played a world championship in Russia or the USA, where between the East Coast and the West Coast there is a time difference of four-five hours, then a Euro Cup where the distance between countries and venues can be two hours and half-three of the plane, it is obviously feasible. And that would also allow us to visualize ourselves. It is a good way to symbolize what Europe is as a common project.