Spain U19 Coach Luis De La Fuente Praises Lezama And Athletic Club’s Latest Transfers
Luis de la Fuente knows Athletic as well as anyone. The former defender grew up at Lezama and featured in nearly 200 games for the first team during his career. After retiring he coached Bilbao Athletic twice before seeing Kuko Ziganda take over the reigns in 2011. Now de la Fuente is coaching Spain’s U19 squad, while also still being an Athletic Socio, and recently spoke with Mundo Deportivo where he had high praise for 18-year-old Oihan Sancet.
“In general, the 2000 generation is a brilliant generation, with a lot of players who have great potential. Oihan [Sancet] is the tip of the iceberg, but it is true that there are other good players at Lezama. I could have called up others from Lezama because there is a lot fo quality to choose from. He has been compared to Javi Martinez which tends to happen when there are similarities. Both came to Athletic young, emerged very early, and has good height and physical presence. But their style of football is very different. Oihan is more versatile and can be more offensive and score goals. Now Athletic have to manage that potential like the do with all young men who show promise.”
When asked about Aitor Paredes, de la Fuente went on to say that there is plenty of talent coming through Lezama. It is difficult to focus on just one or two players because there are many that are deserving of praise. At the end of the day he says that this generation is special.
“There are many talented players. Paredes, Unai Vencedor, [Aitor] Córdoba, [Jon] Cabo…There are a number of Athletic players who played for Juvenil A this year that will probably be in the Primera in three or four years. The truth is that the 2000-2001 generation is special. I honestly don’t know as much about the younger players at Lezama, but there is a guarantee for the future of the first team. There are very good players in the 2000 generation. Then you have Peru [Nolaskoain] from the 1998 generation and he is another great footballer. His contribution last year at Bilbao Athletic was very important. Like Unai López they are players in demand and can grow into important players for the first team.”
Turning his attention to the first team, de la Fuente praised the signing of Yuri Berchiche. He says that the 28-year-old has grown a lot since the two were together at Lezama and thinks that he will play an important role in the team moving forward. The coach also isn’t concerned about the fact that Berchiche could cost Athletic €24 million, saying that it isn’t a lot of money in today’s market.
“I know Yuri from my time at Lezama and he spent some time training with us. He has grown a lot and performed very well, especially at Real Sociedad and PSG. I think he’s a very good player. As an Athletic Socio I am excited about signing such a great player, it seems like a good acquisition. Athletic can’t only be thinking about prices because then we would never sign anyone. I don’t believe that it is an outrageous figure because he is a signing that will be profitable.”
Berchiche isn’t the only big signing this summer according to de la Fuente. The coach also believes that Dani García and Ander Capa can become key players for Athletic as well, but admitted that he doesn’t know that much about Cristian Ganea who had joined the team from Viitorul. He also thinks that Andoni López has shown a lot of promise.
“I don’t know Ganea well, but I know Dani García and Capa better. I think they are two players who can contribute a lot. They come from a club where they had a coach who demanded the most out of them. Their competitiveness is guaranteed. I just haven’t had the opportunity to see Ganea play. Andoni [López] debuted last season and had a great campaign with Bilbao Athletic. I have seen many of his matches and he seems like a very interesting player. He and Peru [Nolaskoain] are probably the most ready because they have been around the first team for a while now.”
In closing, de la Fuente took the time to highlight the constant upgrades being done around Lezama and the continued focus on youth.
“I recently went to Lezama with my son to see the Athletic vs Atlético Juvenil match. I was very happy to see how modern the facilities are, to the last minor detail, ready to get the most out of our players. Every team has its own professional structure to work with developing young players. and it is an exceptional task. We, at Athletic, have always been pioneers in this area.”
Hearing Luis de la Fuente heap so much praise on Lezama should have fans excited for the future. The Spain U19 coach is one of the most brilliant minds in the country when it comes to assessing young prospects and sees a bright future at the San Mamés. Oihan Sancet and others mentioned by de la Fuente definitely have the potential to become special players for Athletic and there is always more talent coming through the system.