It’s turning out to be quite an eventful year for Real Sociedad Women’s team striker Nahikari García. In July, she will be travelling to Slovakia with Spain’s Under-19s intent on staking a claim on the U19 European Championship trophy; and to bring 2016 to a close, the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea. But before that, there are other matters to deal with - starting with Sunday’s Basque derby against Athletic Club – a local derby with a difference this time - Las Leonas top the table but just one point ahead of Barcelona.
So there was plenty to talk about when Diario AS caught up with Nahikari ahead of Sunday’s meeting in San Sebastián. What better place to start than right at the beginning...
You signed for your first club aged nine and were playing well before that, as Gerard Piqué might say, ‘where did it all start’?
Well, like most people, playing in the local park with my friends. We had a big park in Urnieta and we’d set up goals at either end and we’d play matches there - playing on natural grass. That’s how I started and little by little, I started enjoying playing football more and more until I signed up for Urnieta’s sports programme – the only thing was it wasn't solely football-based, so I joined Añorga KKE and they allowed me to play with children who were a little older than me; I spent two years just training as the rest were older before competing in the team, and after that, La Real.
Were you the only girl among your friends playing football at that time?
No, I was very lucky because in my generation there were a few of us who played football a lot – enough to form a girls team at school in Urnieta, and it was the same at Añorga.
You joined La Real at a young age – at sixteen...
Yes, that was a bit of a surprise for me after spending a year playing in the league with Añorga. To be honest that was a very nice moment for me.
So much has happened since then – at club level and international level. With Real Sociedad you have a huge game on Sunday in Zubieta – the derby, against Athletic Club Feminino – the league leaders...
Uff, yes that’s going to be a very nice game to play; derbies are always special and there’s a lot at stake for Athletic because the league is in play. For us, it’s a chance to collect another three points and toast our fans with a victory which they always enjoy in a special way and I think this season they really deserve it because they have been supporting us right the way through the campaign.
Will La Real be seeking revenge for the 5-0 defeat in Bilbao back in December?
Those kinds of results hurt because there is so much expectation and excitement surrounding the derby that when you take a beating like that, you feel it more. But it’s not a case of revenge for us; we are taking it as a brand new game and let’s hope that this time, the three points stay at home.
How will La Real be confronting the game?
This season we have been really been working hard on our defence and that’s helped us as a team. As a unit we are functioning well and we know what we have to do. Our defending works from attack back to the defence and all of us dedicate ourselves to those duties.
The current Athletic side is a mix of younger players and veterans likes Iria Iturregi and Erika Vázquez...
We know both of them well and we have played against them for many years. We know that both Iria and Erika are great players who have a lot of experience - not just in the league but in derbies too and that’s a point in their favour; but we have all of the excitement in the world ahead of this game and let’s hope that this time, the derby is ours to celebrate.
La Real are fourth in the table, is that the objective for the season?
We didn’t set out with that objective as we are a relatively new team – a young team, with a lot of new players so the idea was take it step by step and see where the team was capable of finishing. Now that we have found ourselves in fourth place then of course we want to end the season there, and it would be fantastic if we could aspire to end a little higher but right now we are all very happy with how it has gone, and it means that we still have a chance of qualifying for the Copa de La Reina.
Staying with La Real for a moment, the captain Aintzane, who has been at the club for 12 seasons, has renewed for another season. What have you learned from her?
The club has renewed the contracts of quite a few players this year and Aintzane was coming to end of hers. The three captains, Mailen, Sandra and Aintzane have renewed and that is positive because such a young team like ours always needs players who have experience behind them – they show the younger players some of the finer details of football, they teach us things and explain how the world works so it’s very positive for La Real. The club is making a huge effort to maintain the base of the team and let’s hope many others renew as well. I’ve learned a lot from her – I’m still only young and there is a lot for me to learn still. The captains and the rest of my team mates are great people and they are teaching all of us who have come from the lower categories which is why it’s positive to have that experience on draw on.
You’ve always said that you are a team player but just looking at the individual statistics from this season, you’ve scored 14 goals... that’s never happened to you before?
No I think it’s the first time a player from La Real has reached that figure and I think it’s very positive because it says a lot of good things about the team and the progression we are making in general – if we are scoring so many goals it must mean that everyone from the back forwards is doing things well and that elevates the competitive level of the team, it helps every player to improve. To be honest, I’ve felt really at home this season.
Off the pitch, how do you disconnect from football?
Between my studies and football I’m not left with a great deal of free time. I enjoy just being with my family and feeling their support, that’s very important. And when I am not studying I enjoy listening to music and watching films as I am a big fan of cinema but it’s difficult with the lives we lead.
Is there any reason why you wear the No.7? Is it your lucky number?
Yes, I’ve liked the number 7 from childhood – I really like Raúl González (laughs), I’ve always really liked his style of play and the kind of player he was – a fighter on the field of play and I would like to feel I can identify with that, I always try to battle in every game and well, I’ve always worn the No.7 and it’s brought me luck; I’ve been given other squad numbers which have brought me luck too but I think I’ll stick with the number 7.
In July you'll be part of the Spain Under-19 squad aiming to be crowned European champions in Slovakia. The holders, Sweden, have been eliminated; Spain go into the tournament with a clean sweep of victories in qualifying - but so do Germany and France. Is Sweden's elimination a good thing for Spain?
We tend to just concentrate on ourselves. We know that teams change and old generations make way for new ones. We're very motivated and this is another challenge for us. Once again we have made the final stage of the tournament which is incredible and although it might seem easy because Spain have done it for several years, it's very tough to get this far; it's very difficult and we are going to fight to the end to achieve something.
I think France have a brilliant team this year - with La Real we played against the French U19 side and they are a very good side. Germany always manage to build great sides, every year they are strong. That's the battle which lies ahead of us. All of the teams who have qualified for the final stage of the tournament are very tough - let's hope Spain can do well and go far.