What Signing Yuri Berchiche Means For The Other Left-Backs At Athletic Club
Athletic Club are expected to announce the signing of Yuri Berchiche in the coming hours in what will be one of the most prolific transfers in recent memory. The Lions have reached an agreement on a deal that could total €24 million, including variables, which would make him the second most expensive player in club history; right behind his good friend Iñigo Martinez who arrived after Athletic paid his €32 million release clause in January. With the transfer imminent many fans are already wondering what it will mean for the other left-backs at Athletic.
Naturally, Mikel Balenziaga will be the first player affected due to the fact that he will most likely be losing his starting job. The 30-year-old has held the role since he returned to the club in 2013 and will get the chance to compete with Berchiche, but the writing seems to be on the wall. The Lions certainly aren’t paying a high sum for Berchiche only for him to be a rotational player in the team. With Balenziaga entering the final year of his contract this season will be as important as ever.
Berchiche has already agreed to a four-year contract with Athletic which could spell the end of Balenziaga’s time at the club. He will be hoping to play well in the minutes he is handed this season, but even then it doesn’t guarantee that he will be offered an extension. If no one else steps up to show that they can function well as the backup left-back then Balenziaga could prolong his career at the San Mamés. Simply put, his future all depends on how well he performs this year and what happens with other options like Cristian Ganea and Andoni López.
Speaking of Cristian Ganea, a lot of fans have been asking why the club signed him if they were going to pursue Berchiche. It is important to remember that Athletic actually purchased Ganea last summer and allowed him to stay at Viitorul on loan. PSG signed Berchiche from Real Sociedad around the same time and all signs pointed to him becoming the solidified starter in France. When Athletic reached an agreement for Ganea they weren’t even thinking about Berchiche because he wasn’t even a option at the time. That all changed this summer when he became available and the Lions couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sign a proven star like Berchiche.
That being said, Berchiche’s arrival doesn’t mean that Ganea won’t have a place at Athletic. He will have just as much of an opportunity to battle for minutes as Balenziaga and anyone else, so it will be up to him to secure his place in the team. It should also be noted that during his presentation President Josu Urrutia spent quite a bit of time highlighting his offensive traits – passing, dribbling, crossing, set-pieces – while not really focusing on Ganea as a defender. The club may actually view him as a better winger than a left-back and there is no denying his versatility which could be useful in Eduardo Berizzo’s system.
There is always the possibility that Ganea could be sent out on loan in order to play regular minutes and get accustomed to football in Spain, but Berizzo will give him a chance in preseason before any decisions are made. Ganea’s future, like players, is in his own hands at this point.
Andoni López will also be affected by the signing and it could turn out very good or very bad for him. To begin with, it will be extremely difficult for him to earn a role in Berizzo’s team this summer. He will be training with the first team and will get his chance, but most likely he will end up being sent on loan to the Segunda. It is while he is away that he will be able to accomplish the most for his future at the San Mamés.
If López plays at a high level he could convince the team that he is ready to take over for Balenziaga as the backup to Berchiche next season, or perhaps even challenge for the starting role. He has shown all the signs that he could be the left-back of the future and being able to learn from Berchiche could be huge for his development. However, if he doesn’t play well he could be on his way out of the club. Athletic want to sign him to a contract extension but that will be contingent on what the club sees for his future.
Lastly, Iñigo Lekue may also be affected by Berchiche’s arrival because he has played several games as a left-back, but not in the same way. He is a versatile player, but has performed his best on the right side so he will most likely only be competing for a role among the right-backs and wingers. He can also function as a left-winger so his place in the team will come down to what Eduardo Berizzo sees in him and whether or not there is a need that he can fill.
At the end of the day, signing Yuri Berchiche is a big move for Athletic and he will provide quality, depth, experience, and leadership in the back line. His arrival will affect other players in the team, but the Lions just couldn’t pass up the chance to sign someone like Berchiche who has proven himself in Europe. All that is left now is for Athletic to finalize the agreement with PSG and announce Berchiche as the newest player at the San Mamés.