This heartwarming interview with Joseba Etxeberria comes to us courtesy of Sky Sports:
No place like home
Veteran midfielder keen to repay debt of gratitude to Bilbao
Last updated: 29th October 2008Anyone who doubts the beautiful game has still got soul need only take a look at Athletic Bilbao veteran Joseba Etxeberria.
The former Spain international has signed a one-year contract extension with Bilbao that will see him play his final season for free.
Etxeberria's current deal expires at the end of the 2008/09 La Liga campaign but the 31-year-old admitted he was determined to finish his career with the club that has nurtured him from a teenager.
"I'd always indeed to end my career here and make a gesture like this," Etxeberria, who joined Bilbao from Real Sociedad, told Revista de la Liga.
"I wanted to say thanks to those involved with the club for the support they've given me over the years.
"I was only 17 when I arrived and everything was very new but the people here helped me feel at home and settle in.
"It was a great experience from the very beginning. I've been at the club for 14 years and there have been ups and down but I've played in the Uefa cup and the Champions League for Bilbao and it's been very special."
Etxeberria, who netted in his side's 3-2 defeat at reigning champions Real Madrid, has plied his trade on the international stage, featuring in the 1998 World Cup and two European Championships for Spain.
But he insists pulling on the shirt in front of Bilbao's feverishly patriotic fans still holds the greatest lure.
"There is a great deal of pride involved because all the players come from the Basque region," Etxeberria revealed, referring to the club's proudly-upheld Basque-only transfer-policy.
"Athletic Bilbao is a feeling and a state of mind. As a player here, you are part of something that's more than just a club; this is where we are all from so we're part of a big family.
"And the fact that we're all Basque also brings us closer to the fans who have come to support us.
The man the fans affectionately call 'El Gallo' is philosophical about the significance of a gesture that has raised a few eyebrows in the cash-rich game.
"Money is obviously an important part if life, it gives you security," Etxeberria added.
"But I believe that the richest man is not the man who has the most, but the man who needs the least.
"Football is a professional business and everyone of course has to look after their own interests but this club has changed my life and my family's life.
"It has made sure that I have been happy in the team and that we have been happy in the city. I wouldn't have made this gesture for any other."
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