Just a few years ago there was major concern regarding Athletic Club’s ability to replace legend Andoni Iraola at the right-back position. Players like Unai Bustinza spent time trying to make the role theirs while the Lions also brought back Eneko Bóveda to compete for the position. In the end, it was Oscar De Marcos who earned a new place in the starting lineup after spending the bulk of his career as a winger and attacking midfielder. Since the transition De Marcos has played at a very high level and has become the unquestioned starting right-back at the San Mamés. A position that once looked to be in danger is now one of the strongest at Athletic Club and promises a compelling future.
De Marcos is still only 28 years old and is in the prime of his career. Switching to defense was a big adjustment for him but one that can certainly be called a success at this point. He has learned the perfect balance of when to push forward and when to defend and has arguably become one of the best in all of La Liga. Still, he isn’t the only right-back that is giving fans something to be excited about. Iñigo Lekue has featured as the backup in that role for a few years now and is really starting to make his case to be the starter in the future. Although he has spent time at both fullback and wing positions, he has definitely looked his best on the right side of the defense.
Eneko Bóveda offers a third option at right-back and is the most defensive-minded of the three. While De Marcos and Lekue are very capable going forward and joining the attack, Bóveda is a more traditional defender that has also spent time at center-back. Between the three there is plenty of coverage on the right side of the defense and that has made it one of the strongest and deepest positions in the squad. That being said, there are also a handful of players coming through Lezama that should have fans excited about what the future may hold.
Markel Etxeberria is now a well-known player due to his time at Bilbao Athletic and could be the next player in line at right-back. After an uneventful loan spell at Real Valladolid last year, the 22-year-old has joined Numancia for this season and has already made his first start. Etxeberria looked strong in his first game with the team and is working hard to make his case for a full promotion at Athletic next summer. Although he hasn’t been able to carve out a path to the San Mamés yet, he has shown great potential due to his defensive prowess, high football IQ, and fantastic crossing ability.
Taking a deeper look into Lezama, there is currently a really interesting positional battle going on at Bilbao Athletic this season. After being promoted to the reserve side last year, Jon Sillero is ready for a starting role in the team and has been in the lineup for both matches to start the new season. The 19-year-old joined Lezama back in 2011 and has been one of the top names at the academy ever since. He is now on the cusp of making his debut and was even able to play with the first team in a few friendlies over the preseason. Having coached and helped him develop, Ziganda knows Sillero really well and may already be planning his future at the San Mamés.
If there is one player that can overtake Sillero at Bilbao Athletic it would be newcomer Jesus Areso. Fans may remember that Areso was purchased from Osasuna over the summer by paying his release clause of €450,00 which angered the Pamplona-based side. The 18-year-old has featured prominently for Spain’s youth levels and is a well-rounded right-back that can do everything. He is quick, can join the attack, and is a capable defender. In fact, Areso was supposed to spend the preseason with Osasuna’s first team before accepting the offer to join Athletic. He and Jon Sillero will spend this season battling for the starting role at Bilbao Athletic and it will only make both of them better players.
While there are certainly other right-backs coming through Lezama that could one day be playing at the San Mamés, the last one that surely needs to be mentioned is Alvaro Nuñez. The 17-year-old recently competed with Athletic’s U17 squad at the Juvenile Club World Cup in Madrid where he was arguably the best right-back in the entire tournament. While still a raw player that has a lot of development in front of him, Nuñez has shown flashes of brilliance that suggest that it won’t be long before he is knocking on the first team door. He is expected to be promoted to CD Basconia next season and a jump to Bilbao Athletic may not be far behind.
It’s interesting that just a few years ago there was major concern over the future of the right-back position and now it has become one of the brightest areas of the present and future. With incredible talent in the current squad and in the years to come, there’s plenty for fans to be excited about. For the time being, Oscar De Marcos and company will keep playing at a high level at the San Mamés while the likes of Jon Sillero and others continue developing and improving in hopes of earning a call-up to the first team squad. As always, Lezama just continues to produce quality footballers at an incredible rate.