Mikel Rico, who is 36 years old, sometimes sits down to tie his boots next to his Huesca teammate Pedro López, 37, looks at him and, between nostalgia and illusion, says: “How many times have we done what are we doing? Put on your boots and tie them up, ”he says. “Hopefully we still have many times,” he adds in an interview conducted via video call.
Rico, López, Okazaki (35 years old) and Ferreiro (33 years old) make up the team of veterans that has helped prevent Huesca from being dizzy in a season in which it has always been on the edge of decline. And despite everything, this Saturday the afternoon will begin in the salvation zone, with 33 points, the same as Elche, in decline, and two more than Valladolid. The Aragonese depend primarily on what they do in El Alcoraz against Valencia (18.00, Movistar LaLiga): if they win, they will repeat in the highest category. If not, maybe too.
Unthinkable not so long ago. In January, for example, when Huesca fired Míchel and hired Pacheta for the bench, the situation seemed desperate. The team was bottom with 12 points, while Valladolid lived with a certain tranquility seven points above. But while Pucela was deflating, Huesca held on, with the young people clinging to the poise of that quartet of veterans: “People who put everything down. You are six points from relegation and it is not: ‘We have already descended’. No. It’s like: ‘Kids, don’t worry, there’s a long way to go, that you win a game and everything changes, that as soon as you have a good day and the others are bad, you are there again. We’re going to continue, we’re fine. ‘ And they see you going in the morning, to the gym, to work, that you always train like an animal … That young people see that in the work group, I think it has helped us to arrive alive. That tranquility that we have had in bad times ”, says Mikel Rico. “If he had seen us then, it would not seem to him that we were on the decline, or five points away from saving us.”
The Basque is a rare case in Huesca, where he is now in his third stage, and where he plans to settle after retirement. Eleven years ago it was his springboard, when Granada paid 600,000 euros for him while in the Second Division, then the biggest sale in the history of the Aragonese club. They went up and a couple of seasons later, after a long detour of a decade, the footballer achieved his true dream: “I have played my entire career with that illusion and that goal of trying to reach Athletic at some point. Once you achieve that, you are six years old, you play finals, the Champions League, you win a Super Cup, you feel loved by the people … Six incredible years. It was getting out of there and saying, ‘Now what?’
It had been a terrible year. He played only four games, 242 minutes, and even thought about quitting football. “My only dream was to return to Huesca”, a kind of home discovered along the way where love also crossed: his wife is from there, with whom he has a son, Xabi. “I did not look if I had something else, if I could play in First. I speak with Petón [presidente del principal grupo accionarial] and in a matter of four days we closed it ”, he says. “It was like arriving at a new place, because there was not a partner left from when I was there. Club people, yeah. What has changed the most are the facilities: before we went to train every day in a field, in different towns. It was a Second B team that wanted to grow and do things well, and when you come back at the age of ten, you realize that they have done those things well ”.
From Athletic, to Second, from where it goes up on the first try. And immediately they are on the verge of falling again, now just over an hour and a half away from saving themselves. That’s where they look at Rico and his stripes won in San Mamés. Although Rico is still nervous: “Yes, yes, of course. The day that doesn’t happen to me, I think I’m no longer here to play. I wear, I wear … ”, he acknowledges. Nerves and responsibility that experience does not scare at all: “I always say that experience is not worth much. And look, it hurts me to say it. In the end, those who are young and cheeky do not feel that responsibility that those who have already played do and may be aware of the importance of staying in the First Division for a club. The young man, like he doesn’t feel that responsibility. In that sense, being a veteran is not an advantage ”.
Rico thinks a lot about the city of Huesca: “They have only been in Primera for two years [esta temporada y la anterior a que él llegara], and this year it gives the feeling that they have not enjoyed it. It is our second year and we cannot go to the field. So, if you go down, it gives you the feeling that you have not been in First, “he says.
He talks about a kind of ghost season for people, strange for footballers too: “The weirdest thing is that you get used to playing without an audience. When people come back it will be a matter of changing the chip again. The same as when we started to play without an audience it seemed super strange to us, I think now it will go against it. But we are like crazy, really. Football is very beautiful, football is the host, but the fans … That moves everything. Go to a field, whistle you, criticize you, help you, applaud you … ”, he says. This Saturday you will miss them: “Many times you can’t take it anymore and people take you away. And for games like this Saturday, when you are playing for a whole year … Doing it with an audience, or without an audience, is very different ”.
However, now that he sees the end of his career, although he has just extended his contract for a year, he believes that it will not be that he will miss the most: “I recently read an interview with Carlos Gurpegui, and he said that he missed football all except weekends. And I think that is going to happen to me a bit. Day-to-day with colleagues, getting up and going to the sports center, training, working, that work group that is like a family, I think I’m going to miss it a lot. What it is to compete, the demand, the press, the criticism, the pressure, the level of demand it has on a psychological level, I think not. My weekend is going to be enjoying the family, with my son, who is nine years old and I have never been able to go for a weekend with him until it is summer. I’m going to enjoy that a lot ”.