Cuco Ziganda is now the Athletic Club manager and that shouldn’t mean that there will be a massive amount of change. His style and demeanor is very similar to that of Ernesto Valverde, which should keep things proceeding as usual. However, there will be some differences and it may start with player roles within the team. Every coach tends to view players in different ways and Ziganda is no different. With that being said, let’s take a look at three players who will be affected by Ziganda’s appointment as Athletic Club manager, as well as two Lezama standouts.
We begin with the player who will likely be most negatively affected by Ziganda’s appointment. Enric Saborit played under Cuco while at Bilbao Athletic, but was never seen as vital piece of the puzzle. Two seasons ago, when Bilbao Athletic were competing in the Segunda, Saborit split time with Urtzi Iriondo and it was clear that the manager favored the later. Iriondo played in 26 games at left-back compared to Saborit’s 18. Iriondo also logged over 2,500 minutes while Saborit barely passed 2,000.
Saborit has benefited greatly from the fact that Ernesto Valverde favored his versatility in the squad. Many fans wondered why he was even in the team this season and that decision all came down to Txingurri. Now that Ziganda is in charge, Saborit’s days at Athletic are likely over. The 25-year-old has a club option in his contract for one more season, but there have been no reports suggesting that it will be activated. Athletic’s pursuit of Alex Berenguer makes it even more difficult for Saborit to have a place in the squad next season.
If not for an unfortunate ACL injury two seasons ago, Ager Aketxe would have played a role in this year’s team. Instead, he joined Cadiz on loan in January after making a full recovery. Since then the 23-year-old has been in incredible form in the Segunda and has continued to improve both as a scorer and facilitator. Those who have watched Aketxe this year believe that he has made his case for a place in the squad and Ziganda’s appointment should help that even more.
While at Bilbao Athletic, Aketxe was Ziganda’s main source of creativity. The manager liked to use him both a central attacking midfielder and a left winger, always depending on the situation or opponent. The Lezama product really began to improve as an overall footballer two years ago and a lot of that is due to Ziganda’s coaching. Right now it seems that Javi Eraso’s place in the team is in serious question and Ziganda may decide that Aketxe is a better fit due to his trust in the player and the versatility that he would add.
Before being promoted to Athletic last summer Mikel Vesga was rock solid for two seasons playing under Ziganda at Bilbao Athletic. In fact, the manager called him the most important player on the field for the reserve side and highlighted his role as a key factor in earning promotion to the Segunda. Ziganda has always held a very high view of the 24-year-old and that could go a long way to earning a regular place in the team next season.
In truth, Vesga has arguably earned his place on his own. He joined Sporting Gijon on loan in January and has been absolutely terrific since then. His ability to protect the defense, control the midfield, and make passes saw him become invaluable for Sporting and many fans even started to call him their best player. While his loan spell alone may have guaranteed him a role next season, Ziganda’s appointment should definitely solidify that fact.
Andoni Lopez and Unai Nunez
While Andoni Lopez and Unai Nunez are not first team players yet, Ziganda’s appointment could speed up that process. The duo played more minutes this season than anyone else at Bilbao Athletic and were absolutely vital pieces of Ziganda’s team. After losing veterans Urtzi Iriono and Yeray, there was a big question as to who could fill those roles in the team and this pair stepped in with great success and ease.
Lopez, who plays left-back, was arguably the most consistent player for Bilbao Athletic this season and has really grown a lot the last 12 months. He is known for his calmness and technical ability on the ball, but he can also use his physicality to win possession. Nunez is a center-back who acted as the vocal and emotional leader of the team this year. He is strong, fearless, and can also be dangerous from set pieces. He picked up right where Yeray left off and was integral to the team’s success. Ziganda has a high view of both defenders and there is reason to believe that they may get the chance to train with the first team this summer.
How do you think Cuco Ziganda will shake up the team this summer? Who will benefit most from his appointment? Let us know in the comment section below!