After being relegated back to the Segunda B this season, Bilbao Athletic have had a lot of challenges to overcome. Manager Cuco Ziganda lost every single starter from last year’s Segunda team, some joining the first team and others staying in the Second Division on loan. Regardless, he has fielded a very strong squad and has the Cachorros still in the battle for the promotional playoff.
A lot of this success has come down to the immense talent within Lezama and some of those youngsters could spend the summer with the first team. Traditionally, Athletic allows a few Lezama products to spend the summer with the first team just to gauge where they are in development. Here are five Lezama standouts who may be ready for that next step in their careers. Please note that players who have been loaned out or have already spent a summer with the first team are not included.
If anyone is ready to train with the first team and fight for possible promotion, its Iker Undabarrena. The plan was for the midfielder to do exactly that last summer, but sadly he tore his ACL during the season and Mikel Vesga got that honor instead. Since returning from his knee injury, Undabarrena has been the most important player for Bilbao Athletic and has played at a very high level.
The 21-year-old is the engine that turns all the gears for the Cachorros. His ability to pull the strings from deep is what coordinates all possession, while his vision and positioning makes him a formidable defensive midfielder. Some have likened him to a Basque Sergio Busquets, but he’s really more a more offensive Ander Iturraspe, though less physical. He has been in line for a promotion for a few years now, but there is a lot of competition in front of him. He is likely to get the chance to train with the first team this summer and may end up going out on loan in the Second Division.
If Undabarrena has been the creative mastermind that ties everything together, Unai Nunez has been the brick wall that shuts down opponents. The center-back really got the chance to shine this year with Yeray and Oscar Gil both leaving Bilbao Athletic and he has certainly made the most of his opportunity. While only 20 years old, Nunez could be the next young center-back to make a name for himself at the San Mames.
Nunez is very much in the mold of Yeray. He is strong, brave, and solid when defending against attackers. His best quality is his ability to defend the ball in the air, and that has also made him a threat from set pieces. The defender has been Bilbao Athletic’s emotional leader this season and he carries the leadership gene. Capable of playing both center-back and right-back, his versatility makes him an exciting prospect. Manchester City took a look at hime a few years ago but he ended up signing a contract with Athletic instead. Depending on whether or not Gorka Elustondo leaves this summer, Nunez could actually fight for a spot in the first team, though it is more likely that he will go out on loan in the Second Division.
It seems like Martin Bengoa has been around for a long time. He has been a member of Bilbao Athletic since 2014 but has never stood out as the best player at his position. This year he took more a leadership role in the team and thrived as the central attacking midfielder. So far he has scored 5 goals and played over 2,000 minutes for Ziganda’s squad.
The 22-year-old is caught in an odd area of being too good to continue playing for Bilbao Athletic, but not at the level to compete for a place in the first team. After a strong season he could be given the chance to show what he’s got this summer before ultimately going on loan in the Second Division. He has spent the majority of his career playing deeper in the midfielder and it truly seems that moving further up the field has brought out parts of his game that were nonexistent. It has been really fun to watch him blossom into a more well-rounded player and it looks like it may finally be the time to give the first team a shot this summer. It may be now or never.
Jurgi Oteo has been quite an interesting character at Lezama. He is a flashy winger that can do some pretty amazing things with the ball at his feet, but has often been criticized for his lack of scoring. This year he took on a permanent starting role and his game began to become more balanced and natural. So far he has scored five goals this season, usually in big moments, and has shown that he can be dangerous when passing the ball as well.
Still only 20 years old, Oteo has a lot of growing and developing ahead of him. However, he has had flashes of brilliance and his creativity is always one touch away from causing real problems for defenders. It is not secret that Athletic needs more depth that can provide creativity and scoring threats in attack, so Oteo could see time with the first team over the summer. He did not play often with Bilbao Athletic during their stint in the Segunda so a loan there next season should really show the first team what they have in the Barakaldo-born winger.
Inigo Cordoba has really burst onto the scene over the past year. After Aitor Seguin went down last season with a torn ACL, Cordoba took over as the starting left winger and has retained that role this season. Unlike Oteo, Cordoba is a more traditional winger. He plays the entire side, has a high work rate, and is always pushing the ball forward. He has played in over 1,800 minutes this season, scoring two goals.
Cordoba just turned 20 two weeks ago so he is still very young. His chances of spending the summer with the first team comes solely down to Athletic’s need for depth at that position. It would be interesting to see what he can do while training with the likes of Inaki Williams, Iker Muniain, and Markel Susaeta. His chances actually competing for a place in the first team is a ways away, but a Segunda loan could be huge for his development. The last 12 months has seen him grow a lot in confidence and as a player, and he is really starting to show that he could have a bright future.
Others Bilbao Athletic Starlets To Keep An Eye On:
Unai Simon – Goalkeeper (19)
Andoni Lopez – Left-Back (20)
Jon Sillero – Right-Back (19)
Peru Nolaskoain – Attacking Midfield (18)
Aitor Seguin – left-Wing (21)