Understanding Cristian Ganea’s Role In His First Season With Athletic Club
When Athletic Club announced the signing of Viitorul left-back Cristian Ganea last September it came as quite a shock to the large majority of Athletic fans who had never heard of him. Add in the fact that he is Romanian and many immediately began to question whether or not he fit into the team’s Basque-only policy. That concern was quelled when it became common knowledge that Ganea had moved to the Basque Country with his family at a young age and attended local academies. Still, there has been a lot of talk about where he fits into the team with some fans going as far to say that he will walk into the starting lineup and other under the impression that he won’t be able to handle the jump to La Liga.
Ganea’s first season at Athletic Club is most likely going to be one of adapting and integrating into a new team and league. While he is a regular face in the Romania National Team and has been a standout player in Liga I, taking the step up to La Liga is going to present the 26-year-old with a steep learning curve. No one can say definitively that Ganea will not be able to handle facing stronger competition, in fact he could absolutely become a star; but expecting him to walk into the team one the first day and take La Liga by storm is also an unreasonable expectation.
As things stand right now Mikel Balenziaga is the starting left-back in the team, but Ganea will be given every opportunity to battle for that spot, just like anyone else. New manager Eduardo Berizzo will ultimately be the one to make the decisions but it will be up to Ganea to prove that he deserves to play regular minutes. If he is able to replicate the success that he has had in Romania it may only be a matter of time before he is able to carve out his own role in the team, but fans should temper their expectations and give Ganea the time to adjust to his new surroundings.
Unless Ganea does prove that he deserves to start, or at least play significant minutes, he will likely feature as a backup to Balenziaga. It has been clear for some time that Athletic have needed depth at the left-back position with Enric Saborit never being able to play at a consistent level so the hope is that Ganea will be able to fill that role and, hopefully, become even more. The 26-year-old showed in Romania that he has the qualities to be a special player. He understands his responsibilities as a defender, is an exceptional dribbler, and can also score goals from distance or set-pieces. In fact, he spent some time this year playing further up the field in an attacking role so his versatility could also allow him the chance to prove himself in his first season at the San Mamés.
On paper, Ganea has everything needed to become a great player at Athletic Club and for that reason it makes sense that fans are excited about the signing. However, it would be wise to temper expectations right now because what he really needs going into his first season is for fans to show him support and patience as he adapts to La Liga and his new club. The hope is that Cristian Ganea will be able to continue playing at a high level in the Spanish league, but for that to happen he must be allowed the necessary time to find his footing and figure out his role in the team.