How Bilbao Athletic Can Replace Key Players This Summer
Starting at the back, Unai Simón is almost certainly not going to continue with the reserve team after taking over as the starting goalkeeper two years ago. Although he will train with the first team during the summer, he most likely won’t be able to earn a place and the club are going to prioritize his development over everything else. All signs point to him leaving on loan in the Segunda where he will have plenty of suitors. Replacing him won’t be so easy.
Like Alex Remiro and Kepa Arrizabalaga before him, Simón is a special breed of player. Bilbao Athletic may have three strong candidates waiting behind him, but none of them have played at the same high level. Hodei Oleaga, Unai Etxebarria, and Christophe Atangana will all be competing for the role and, to be honest, it really is anybody’s job to win. Oleaga has the most experience, which may give him the edge, but Etxebarria and Atangana are also promising young players. It will be up to Garitano to make the difficult decision.
Moving forward into the defense the Katxorros will be fine at right-back with Jesús Areso and Jon Sillero still in the team, but the other three spots are big question marks. Unai Bilbao and Óscar Gil have left due to the fact that they don’t have a path to the first team and that partnership was truly exceptional considering the fact that both were deserving of playing in the second division. Finding their replacements will be a difficult undertaking.
At the moment, Dani Vivian and Iñigo Baqué have the inside track due to the fact that they have both already seen minutes for the team. That being said, there are definitely other options to consider. Javier Murua has officially been promoted after logging over 60 matches for CD Basconia in the previous two seasons and should provide more competition. The club is also expected to sign Amorebieta standout Oier Luengo who could certainly challenge for a starting role. Garitano is in a good place with four solid options to choose from.
In the meantime, replacing Andoni López may actually prove to be the most difficult one of all. The left-back has been a staple in the team for the last two years and will be going on loan in the Segunda if he can’t convince Berizzo to keep him in the first team. Speaking with those around the club, Athletic have a lot of faith in Jon Rojo who would be the natural successor and did show plenty of promise in his ten appearances last year. Bilbao Athletic are also signing Real Sociedad B’s Odei Arrieta who will compete for the starting role.
Retooling the midfield is going to depend on a lot of factors. Aguado is no longer with the club and the future of Iker Undabarrena is still up in the air. Regardless of what happens, Peru Nolaskoain is going to have to step up in a big way. It is unlikely that he will go on loan in the Segunda, but it isn’t impossible either. The most probable scenario is that he will return to the team and will be expected to lead the midfield and wear many hats in the process. Last year he played in a defensive midfielder role but also featured as a central attacking midfielder. He is capable of playing anywhere in the center of the pitch which gives the team flexibility.
Victor San Bartolomé and Gorka Pérez are next up on the depth chart, but the pair combined to feature in just 10 matches last season. Basconia’s Adrián Celador and Antonio Salado have both been promoted and will also be vying for roles in the team. At the same time, you also can’t rule out the possibility of someone like Oihan Sancet or Unai Vencedor from the Juvenil A team being promoted, although is is very uncommon for youth players to skip Basconia and go straight to Bilbao Athletic. The last player to do so was Nolaskoain. Depending on what happens with Undabarrena, Garitano will have a lot of looks to work with.
Figuring out what to do in attack should be somewhat easier for the mere fact that it isn’t guaranteed that Bilbao Athletic will be losing Guruzeta, Vicente, and Muñoz. The first two do have a chance to go on loan in the Segunda, but all signs point to Muñoz staying with the reserves. Couple that with the fact that the team will still have Gaizka Larrazábal and Asier Benito and things are looking positive. However, if they do lose Vicente and Guruzeta it will be difficult to replace their production. The pair are special talents and that can’t be overlooked.
Garitano will be getting two new forwards from Basconia in Jon Morcillo and Andoni Tascón who combined for 18 goals last season, but they will have to earn their minutes. There is also a very good chance that Bilbao Athletic could sign some talented young players from outside the club just like they did last summer with Larrazábal and Muñoz. Next year’s attack will hinge entirely on what happens with Vicente and Guruzeta which puts Garitano in a waiting game for the time being.
At the end of the day it must be remembered that Bilbao Athletic exists to develop players for the first team. The fact that they could be losing six starting players to promotions and loans can only be seen as a good thing, no matter how much it may hurt Garitano’s squad who are trying to earn promotion. The fact of the matter is that Bilbao Athletic will look very different next season, but there are always young players coming through Lezama who are ready for their shot and this summer will be no different. As always, the future is bright at Lezama.