How Sabin Merino Can Keep His Place At Athletic Club
Sabin Merino broke onto the scene in 2015 when he was promoted to the first team by Ernesto Valverde. The young forward would go on to score seven goals that season and many started to believe that he could become something special at the San Mamés. He received praise from fans calling him the next Aritz Aduriz, the forward of the future, and the like. To be honest, much of the praise was warranted. He was doing everything right – positioning, defending, scoring goals, and turning up in big games. But that hasn’t been the case lately.
The last two years have been a different story. He spent most of the 2016/2017 season on the sidelines with injuries, but there was still hope that he would do well under Kuko Ziganda last season when fully healthy. However, Merino still struggled for fitness and was a ghost of himself. In total he has played just 1,199 minutes over the last two seasons, compared to the 1,959 in his debut year, and has scored just one goal. It looks like his best is already behind him, but is that really the case?
At this point a lot of fans are expecting the club to send Merino away on loan and allow someone younger and exciting to take his place, like Gorka Guruzeta. In fact, many are calling on Athletic to do so and a few La Liga clubs have already expressed interest in signing the 26-year-old. That being said, his future is far from decided right now and he may still be able to have a place in the squad moving forward.
There is a definite need for reserves behind Aritz Aduriz, even if Iñaki Williams will get time up top. At least one of Sabin Merino, Asier Villalibre, Gorka Guruzeta, or Iñigo Vicente will have to stay in the team for Berizzo to have enough depth at the position. In truth, Merino may actually have the best chance of retaining that role due to a few reasons. To begin with, Guruzeta and Vicente have yet to even kick a ball in the Segunda, much less the top flight, and may be better off playing a year in the second division. At the same time, Villalibre has not impressed enough while away on loan to convince anyone that he has earned a permanent place in the team.
Of course the backup role will be up for grabs during the preseason, and that is why Sabin Merino must be at his best if he is going to continue his career at the San Mamés. Sources close to the 26-year-old say that he is emphatic about fighting for his place at Athletic and, if that is true, having a strong summer could be what it takes to convince Berizzo to keep him around for the upcoming season. The other forwards will also be competing at a high level so it will be up to Sabin Merino to show that he deserves the spot.
At the same time, Berizzo has spoken with former Athletic manager, Ernesto Valverde, a few times now to get information on the squad which means he’s gotten feedback on Merino. Valverde seemed to really like Merino and if Berizzo believes that he can get the forward playing his best again there will certainly be a place for him in the team. Of course, that is easier said than done but there is no denying the potential that Sabin Merino showed in his debut season. He has all the traits needed to be a successful forward but it is up to him to make it happen on the pitch and find his rhythm and consistency.
The only other thing standing in his way is the possibility of Athletic bringing back Guillermo who scored ten goals with Numancia last season. The Lions have been scouting him for a few months now and if he makes a return it could spell the end of Sabin Merino’s time at Athletic. At the end of the day Berizzo is going to begin the preseason with everyone having a clean slate and that means that the backup striker role is Sabin Merino’s to lose. He must play his best this summer if he truly wants to stay at the San Mamés and, with only one year left on his contract, the next few months could go a long way in deciding which path his career will take.