The Future Of Athletic Club’s Midfield Is Full Of Promise
After last season’s disappointing campaign a lot of talk surrounding Athletic Club has been focused on the midfield. Players like Mikel San José and Ander Iturraspe severely underperformed while Beñat just didn’t feature as much as in previous years. This has left new manager Eduardo Berizzo in a position where he will need to rejuvenate this area of the squad and the club has already taken strides in that direction by signing Eibar captain Dani García.
Another player who is set to play a role in fixing the issues in the midfielder is Unai López who is returning from a very successful loan spell with Rayo Vallecano. The 22-year-old was one of the best players in the Segunda and helped Rayo finish at the top of the table to earn promotion back to the first division. He is expected to sign a contract extension in the coming weeks with Athletic viewing him as an important player for the future. The excitement over López is understandable, but he’s actually just one of many young midfielders who are coming through the system and, despite the questions at present, the future looks to be in good hands if all goes according to plan.
Peru Nolaskoain will likely be the next young midfielder to make his debut with the first team. After joining Lezama in 2015 Nolaskoain was placed in the Juvenil A team and after one year he skipped CD Basconia and went straight to Bilbao Athletic. In his first season with the reserves it took a while for him to find his rhythm, but last year really saw the 19-year-old break out and start living up to his potential.
He is able to play in many different roles in the midfield which has helped him develop a more complete game. When he arrived at Lezama Nolaskoain was more of an attacking midfielder, but last year under Gaizka Garitano he also featured in a deep-lying playmaker role and sometimes as a defensive pivot. The Antiguoko product is playing with more confidence and control and has been called up to train with the first team during the preseason. Berizzo will give him the chance to fight for a place in the team.
Oihan Sancet has also been turning heads at the youth level after being one of Athletic Juvenil A’s standout performers this year. He featured in 33 games, scoring 8 goals, and is seen a complete midfielder who is also capable of wearing many hats. The 18-year-old is exceptional at winning back possession but can also create chances and score goals. He’s shown maturity and an understanding of the game that is rare for someone his age and has also been called to train with the first team, although he is expected to play for Bilbao Athletic in the upcoming season.
Sancet’s midfielder partner, Unai Vencedor, is also someone to keep an eye on. The 17-year-old is known for his ability to open up defenses with wonderful passing and vision, but excels the most in a defensive role while playing in the pivot. He reads the game very well and was the fulcrum for Aritz Solabarrieta’s team this year. His strength and positioning really causes problems for opponents and will only get better as he continues to develop. Vencedor has been called up to train with Bilbao Athletic this summer where he will have a chance to join the team on a permanent basis. If he isn’t able to earn a place he will stay with CD Basconia where many from the Juvenil A squad will be playing next season.
The most important thing to remember with young players is to show them patience and give them room to develop at their own pace instead of putting unnecessary pressure on their shoulders. That being said, if these four midfielders can live up to their potential they will all have the chance to become special players at the San Mamés. Adding in the fact that there are other promising young midfielders such as Gorka Agirre and Álvaro Nunez the future looks very bright.
As always, Athletic will continue to prioritize each individual player’s development above all else which has paid off in a huge way over the years. The club won’t give them too much to handle, but they will still push them to be their best and grow on a daily basis. Lezama continues to produce high quality players and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon.