Many tears and 27,000 fans at San Mamés for the farewell of an Athletic icon

On Monday evening, Athletic Bilbao bid farewell to their iconic figure, Iker Muniain. The diminutive forward is stepping down after nineteen years as a player for the Basque powerhouse, earning him a grand send-off.

Many tears and 27,000 fans at San Mamés for the farewell of an Athletic icon
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Players at the red-and-whites often have long careers with the club due to the policy of not recruiting players from outside the Basque Country.

However, with 559 appearances in the first team, Iker Muniain is the second most-capped player in the illustrious history of the club. To bid him farewell, 27,000 fans gathered at San Mamés, even though not a single ball was kicked.

What was in abundance, however, were tears. Both among the attendees and repeatedly from Muniain himself. "I made this decision gradually over the past few months. I was playing less and my contract was expiring. This is purely a sporting decision. My heart asked me to stay, but my head and legs thought it was enough," said the forward, before tears once again flowed.

Muniain's departure marks the end of an era for Athletic Bilbao. He joined the club's youth academy at a young age, bypassing the local club Osasuna, and quickly made a name for himself with his skill, determination, and loyalty. Over the years, he became a symbol of the club's identity and values, embodying the spirit of Basque football.

"The hardest part? It was telling my children; they have strong feelings about it too. It was the toughest moment I’ve ever experienced, seeing their tears. I tried to handle it as best as I could, teaching them that this is part of life, that sometimes you have to make choices," said the man from Pamplona. His words reflect not just the professional but also the personal impact of his decision, highlighting the emotional ties that bind players to their clubs and communities.

What does the future hold? Muniain, at 31, does not see himself playing for another Spanish club, but he has expressed his admiration for the Argentine club River Plate multiple times. On Monday evening, he didn't want to say much about that, as it wasn't the right moment. With (former) teammates, coaches, and artists, it was a beautiful farewell. The ceremony was filled with heartfelt speeches, video tributes, and moments of reflection on Muniain’s illustrious career.

As a finale, the popular Basque song "Txoria txori" was sung, which stirred up emotions one last time. This song, deeply rooted in Basque culture, added a poignant touch to the evening. Muniain greeted the many spectators in Basque, and his "agur," the local word for goodbye, was difficult for him to say. Winning the Copa del Rey last month ensures that he leaves with a major trophy, adding a triumphant note to his farewell.

Throughout his career, Muniain has been more than just a player for Athletic Bilbao; he has been a leader and a source of inspiration. His connection with the fans, his teammates, and the club’s ethos has been profound. The grand farewell at San Mamés was a testament to his impact and the high regard in which he is held. As the club moves forward, Muniain’s legacy will continue to inspire future generations of players and fans alike.

The evening was not just a farewell but a celebration of a career that has brought joy and pride to many. Muniain's journey with Athletic Bilbao has been a story of dedication, passion, and unwavering loyalty, and his departure marks the end of a significant chapter in the club's history. The future may be uncertain, but Muniain’s influence will undoubtedly endure, both in the memories of those who witnessed his career and in the spirit of Athletic Bilbao.