When Asier Del Horno left Athletic back in 2005 it left a massive hole that would not be filled until Mikel Balenziaga returned in 2013. The club tried several players in the position but no one seemed to fit. Fans began to say that the Lions would never be successful again until they found Del Horno’s heir. Since coming back to Athletic Balenziaga has been absolutely sensational. He has arguably been the most consistent player in the team and plays a major role. At 29 years old he still have plenty of football left in him, but Athletic would be wise to begin thinking about the future.
There have been several young starlets thought to be the future at the left-back position. Jon Aurtenetxe was a starter at a young age under Marcelo Bielsa but his career took a dip and now he isn’t even at the club anymore. Meanwhile, there were two Lezama standouts that were pegged for bright futures. One of those was Imanol Corral who never made it to the first team and is now playing with CD Vitoria. The other is Urtzi Iriondo who is currently on loan at Elche and having a decent season in the Segunda. However, he still looks unprepared for first team football.
Now, there is a new name that everyone is talking about at Bilbao Athletic – Andoni Lopez. The 21-year-old was promoted to Bilbao Athletic over the summer and was expected to compete for regular minutes. What happened instead is that he completely took the starting role and has been spectacular. Lopez has played in 34 matches so far this season and has been the picture of consistency. He rarely puts a foot wrong and has helped Ziganda’s side transition seamlessly from Urtzi Iriondo.
Lopez’s rise is much like his playing style, calm and quiet. He does a lot of the behind the scenes work and you will rarely notice him during a game unless you look for him. Lopez is calm on the ball and a good passer, but it is his precision tackling that makes him special. He is capable of reading the game and making timely steals and interceptions which has a lot of fans talking about his bright future. Lopez also knows how to use his height and strength to his advantage and can join the attack when needed. He has also become dangerous from set pieces due to his aerial ability, which is an area of his game that has developed over the last two years.
The 21-year-old has really made a name for himself this season and has been one of the players in discussion to spend the preseason with the first team. With this being his first season with Bilbao Athletic it is unlikely that he will get a shot this summer, but he may be close. His chance will likely be affected by the future of Enric Saborit and the possible signing of Alex Berenguer. There is no denying that Andoni Lopez is an exciting young prospect, but like so many before him at the position it is important to not jump the gun. He is still raw and has a lot of developing left to do, but there is a lot to be excited about. Lopez isn’t ready for top flight football yet, though he is certainly trending in that direction.