Jonas Ramalho has been a part of football history in more ways than one. After growing up at Lezama, the defender made his first team debut in 2011, becoming the first ever black player to represent Athletic. However, competition and injuries forced him back down to Bilbao Athletic and saw him spend two seasons on loan at Girona. After not being able to return to the top flight, Ramalho officially joined Girona last season and helped earn promotion to the Primera for the first time in the club’s history.
The 24-year-old has come a long way from the days of playing right-back. Now a central defender, Ramalho featured in 30 matches for Girona and was a rock in the backline. For the most part he was the vocal leader in front of the keeper and showed no fear against any attacker. Now that Girona has earned their way to the Primera, the Lezama product will get his second shot at the top flight after a lengthy absence.
In a recent interview Ramalho was asked if his time at Athletic has come to an end forever. He was quick to say that he is only thinking about playing with Girona, but also that he couldn’t close the door on anything and that he still wants to prove that he has the quality to play at the San Mames. Many viewed these comments with pride and appreciation. However, the question must be asked: Could Jonas Ramalho return to Athletic some day?
The simple answer is yes because, well, anything can happen in football. But to really answer the question honestly, Ramalho must first have a strong showing with Girona in the upcoming season. If he isn’t able to hold up in the Primera, then there will be no reason to even continue asking the question. Although, if he plays at a high level it won’t be surprising at all to see his name linked with a move back to his boyhood club.
Apart from playing great football, Ramalho would need a few other things to go in his favor. Mainly, there would have to be a need for a new center-back. Right now, Yeray, Aymeric Laporte, Eneko Boveda, and Xabi Etxeita have the backline locked down. Unai Nunez will also spend the preseason with the first team and is believed to be on the cusp of joining Cuco Ziganda’s squad in the future. Simply put, there isn’t a place for Ramalho at the moment.
A year from now things could change, which could make things interesting in Bilbao. There is always a concern that Laporte could leave the club, while Etxeita only has one year left on his contract. If the depth at center-back takes a hit in the next 12 months, Ramalho could end up being the first player Ziganda turns to in hopes of strengthening the defense. Again, all of this conjecture is predicated on the 24-year-old having a great season in the Primera.
At the end of the day, Athletic is always open to bringing back youth players who improved while away from Bilbao. If Ramalho proves that he has what it takes to make Athletic better, there is no reason why the club shouldn’t try to bring him home. There will always be the desire to return to Athletic for players like Ramalho, but it isn’t up to him. Right now, he is a Girona player who has earned promotion, but next year will be absolutely vital to his career. If he falters for a second time he may never get the chance to play in the Primera again. But, if he plays at a high level, it could jumpstart the next chapter of his career which could eventually see him back at the San Mames.