Oihan Sancet, Aitor Paredes, And Athletic Club’s Next Golden Generation
Athletic Club always have young talented players coming through Lezama who eventually make it to the first team and become key contributors. Every generation seems to have at least one star in the making, but every now an then a group will come along that is just full of magic. The last great group to make it to the San Mamés consisted of players like Iñaki Williams, Yeray, and Kepa Arrizabalaga, but there is another promising generation on the horizon.
This year Aitor Solabarrieta led the Juvenil A team to the semifinals of the Copa del Rey in what was one of the most exciting seasons in recent history. Several players stood out as having performed at a high level and many have already been promoted to CD Basconia while some will get the chance to train with Bilbao Athletic this summer. As things look right now, this could be one of the best generations of players that the club has ever seen so fans should start taking notice.
Goalkeeper Aritz De Miguel is first up on the list after having a quiet but successful season. The 18-year-old joined Lezama from Arenas last summer and it took him some time to find his rhythm at Athletic. He only played in 13 league games, but eventually established himself as the starter and played in all of the Copa matches. He’s shown good reflexes and his positional awareness continues to grow. He has already been promoted to CD Basconia for next season and will compete for the starting role.
Moving into the defense, Aitor Paredes and Imanol García De Albéniz are both very exciting prospects. Paredes is a center-back who is tall and strong and knows how to use his body. Like most defenders that come through Lezama he is good in the air and a natural tackler. He’s been called to train with Bilbao Athletic this summer and has been competing with Spain’s U18 team. Imanol can play centrally or on the left and is shorter and his game reflects that. He is good on the ball and has a knack for tackling. He has also been promoted to Basconia. Xabier Arberas also looks promising, and will get the chance to train with Basconia during the preseason.
Out of all of the positions, the midfield may be the most exciting. Most fans should be familiar with Oihan Sancet by now. The 18-year-old is one of the crown jewels and will get the chance to train with the Athletic first team this summer, which rarely happens with someone his age. Sancet can play anywhere in the midfield and excels at winning possession while also being a strong attacker. He is a great dribbler and it is nearly impossible to take the ball off of him. Some have labeled him a box-to-box midfielder which isn’t that far off because he really can do everything.
Sancet is jus the first of many talented players in the midfield. His partner at Juvenil A, Unai Vencedor, is also someone to keep a close eye on. Vencedor won’t turn 18 until November, but he plays a mature style of football. He’s has a defensive mind that allows him to win the ball back and clean up everything in front of the backline, while also functioning a deep-lying playmaker who can cut opponents open with his passing. As he continues to develop Vencedor could become a truly unique footballer. He has been called to train with Bilbao Athletic during the preseason.
Gorka Agirre, Gorka Estrada, and Álvaro Nuñez have all been promoted to Basconia and have shown the capability to compete against anyone their age. The trio are all more attack-minded midfielders and combined to score 11 league goals last season. Estrada is the oldest of the group at 19 and is ready for the step up of being a professional. His game is often that of a facilitator, but he can also score goals and is good at set-pieces.
Nuñez is the youngest at 16, although it rarely shows on the pitch. He was handed more minutes towards the end of the season and has shown signs that he could become something special. Agirre may have the most potential of the three and usually played behind the striker as the key playmaker. He scored six league goals last season, tied with Sancet for the most among midfielders.
When it came to selecting a lineup, Solabarrieta often had some difficult decisions to make with the wingers. Juan Artola, Jon Cabo, Keenan Mendibelzua, and Asier Córdoba were all solid players last season and look to have bright futures. Córdoba, who is the younger brother of Iñigo Córdoba, was joint top scorer last year with 11 goals and has earned the call to train with Bilbao Athletic during the summer. He can take on defenders, create chances, score, and his older brother often says that Asier is the best footballer in the family.
Artola and Cabo are very similar in the fact that they possesses a natural gift for dribbling and taking on defenders. Both wingers scored five goals last season and were vital in the creativity of the attack. Artola has more flair to his game, while Cabo prefers to use his speed to create space and beat opponents. They will both play with Basconia next year, while Keenan will join Danok Bat on loan despite coming on strong in the second half of last season.
Lastly, there were two standout strikers in the team that have both deservedly been promoted. Ewan Urain featured in 26 league games and was joint top scorer with 11 goals. He is more of a traditional center-forward, although he can play outside if needed. He has a knack for finishing and putting himself in scoring opportunities. Ruben Azcona was promoted to Juvenil A later in the season and went on to settle comfortably into the team, playing in six league games and scoring four goals. He featured heavily during the Copa and had already shattered several scoring records at Lezama when he was younger. Both forwards will be battling for starting roles at Basconia.
Having one or two great young players in a team is normal, but having ten or so is a rare treat. All of the players listed above have shown the potential to become special and that isn’t even considering other promising prospects from Juvenil A. The fact of the matter is that down the line this generation of players could truly become one of the best Athletic Club has ever seen. Right now the most important thing for all of them is to continue their development and be given the patience and time to grow. Most of them will become professionals this summer and will taking a huge step forward in their careers. The future, as is always the case at Lezama, is extremely bright.