Aduriz thanks Athletic Bilbao for 'unforgettable' career

Aritz Aduriz was given a special tribute at San Mames on Friday after he announced his retirement from an "unforgettable" career.

Aritz Aduriz announced his retirement this week after 20 years playing mostly in La Liga with Athletic Bilbao, for whom he scored 118 league goals.

Aritz Aduriz said his farewell inside an eerily quiet San Mames stadium was more than he deserved at the end of a storied career.

The 39-year-old announced his retirement this week after 20 years playing mostly in La Liga with Athletic Bilbao, for whom he scored 118 league goals.

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The Spain international striker was given a special send-off on the Athletic home pitch on Friday, with team-mates giving him and his family a guard of honour as he took one more walk on the turf.

 

A celebration of his career would likely have seen the stands packed with supporters were it not for health protocols during the coronavirus pandemic making such an occasion impossible.

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Aduriz, though, thinks he has already received more than enough recognition.

"This is more than I think I deserve," he said. "I think I've had a load of tributes. I've enjoyed it so much here. I don't feel they have to say goodbye to me.

"I've had so much fun that this is more than I ever imagined.

"Athletic are special, different. Above all, there's a crazy human level that makes it like a gang competing against the rest of the world. That makes us different."

Aduriz chose to retire after doctors advised he needs hip replacement surgery, with the weeks during Spain's strict lockdown showing him the time was right to stop.

It had been hoped his final match would be in the Copa del Rey final against Basque rival Real Sociedad, but Aduriz does not believe he would have been of much use to his side even if he tried to play.

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"I'd been fighting for some time," he said. "After this lockdown, that was the end.

"The body has a limit and the hip made that fight unbalanced. These two months at home have been very difficult for the hip.

"The team is better off without me being there. I couldn't be there in these conditions."

Aduriz confirmed his retirement via a dignified social media post in which he told fans his goodbye was "just an anecdote" amid the trauma of the COVID-19 crisis.

 

He was similarly reluctant to feel downcast on Friday as he reflected on a career he never thought possible.

"It's a very beautiful day for me. It's not sad at all," he said. "I would never have imagined such a long and beautiful journey, from start to finish. It's a day to be happy and thankful, although it's not easy speaking in the middle of San Mames with so much silence!

"The hardest thing won't be not playing in these remaining 11 games [of the league season], nor in that much-loved and sought-after cup final. The hardest thing will be not being with this squad anymore. I'll miss you all so much. Thank you all for this journey. It's been wonderful, unforgettable.

"I liked football, but it was unthinkable that I'd get to play a game for Athletic. If I've reached this point in my life, aged 39, it's because I've done what I liked the most. I've had a great time."

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