After a strong career at Bilbao Athletic, Urtzi Iriondo was ready for a new challenge this past season. The left-back was sent on loan to Elche in the Second division with hopes of testing himself against stronger competition and carving out a path to the first team. He didn’t play much in the beginning, but as the season progressed he fought his way into the regular starting lineup. Speaking with Javi Beltran of AS, the 22-year-old said that his time at Elche has been really good for his career.
“The experience has been good. I’ve grown up as a footballer and I’ve matured a lot. When I arrived there were three left-backs. The coach did not give me many options to play, but I kept working and playing my football. I managed to turn things around and now I’m happy to be playing regularly. There was a lot of quality at my position, I knew it before I even came here. But I trusted myself and I knew I could do it. I have improved a lot and it has helped me to leave home and have new experiences. I have taken an important step in my career.”
Through playing with Elche, and one season in the Segunda with Bilbao Athletic, Iriondo has surpassed 50 matches in the second division. He says that it is nice to meet that number, but that he also doesn’t know what his future holds at Athletic. Hopefully, being left-footed will give him an edge.
“It is nice to reach these figures. It reflects the hard work I have put in and how much I have developed. I have no idea what my future holds. I will go back to Athletic because I have a contract, but I don’t know what will happen. I could play the preseason or be sent on loan again, they will tell me. I don’t know if that [being a left-footed player] will help me or not. It’s true that it is hard to find lefties, but I’m here. I’m still working hard to keep improving and we will see what happens.”
In closing, Iriondo admitted that just because Kuko Ziganda is the new manager it doesn’t mean that it will absolutely help him earn a place. He also took time to praise Ziganda, saying that he relates very well to players and loves working for Athletic.
“In football you never know if something is going to benefit you or not, but I know him and he knows me very well. We both know how each works and that is a good thing. I think Cuco is pretty close to the players and he loves his job. He identifies very well with the club and its identity. He deserves to be there. I speak a lot to almost all of the other players that are on loan. When you leave it isn’t easy, so being there for each is good. Personally they are happy and have grown, but it is a different experience.”
Iriondo is one of many Cachorros that went on loan this year and is now looking for a way to the first team. Markel Etxeberria, Gorka Santamaria, Ager Aketxe, and Asier Villalibre will all be looking to spend the preseason with the senior squad and try to break through under Kuko Ziganda. Iriondo, for instance, has played very well but that doesn’t guarantee him a spot.