With Preseason Training Underway, Contract Renewals Loom Large At Athletic Club
It has been a flawless summer for Athletic Club so far. The Basques hired new manager Eduardo Berizzo, made four impressive transfer signings, and have built a strong squad capable of competing for European qualification. Preseason training began on Monday and all eyes are fixed on the upcoming season, but the work isn’t over yet. Several players are in need of contract renewals which is the next order of business at Ibaigane.
Athletic has already gotten started on renewals by extending the contracts of Raúl García and Unai López over the past few months. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. As things stand right now there are 10 first team players who are entering the final year of their contracts, and even more when you consider youth prospects. The club has some difficult decisions to make which means the next few months will be crucial.
Every player is different and that means that each renewal negotiation will be unique. However, there are two situations that will be the easiest to handle. To begin with, Aritz Aduriz has been signing one-year contracts for the past few years and his future is in his own hands. If the 37-year-old wants to continue playing all he has to do is let Athletic know and his deal will be extended. The striker prefers to take it one day at a time at his age so this really isn’t something the club has any control over.
Iker Muniain is the big name at the head of the class in terms of needing a renewal. The 25-year-old has been playing the best football of his career despite two ACL injuries and has taken on a new leadership role within the team. Sources say that both sides believe that a deal will be very easy to reach which is one reason why there hasn’t been a lot of urgency in negotiations. Muniain has no desire to leave Athletic and signing a new contract will make him one of the highest paid players in the team. Talks should continue this summer, but this one looks fairly simple.
Aside from these two, there are a few others whose future with Athletic is a bit more mirky. Oscar De Marcos and Markel Susaeta are both on expiring contracts and, despite playing significant roles in the team, will need to continue proving themselves. Both players would love to stay at the San Mamés and they are held in high regard by the club. As long as there are no major injuries or serious dips in form the pair will most likely receive renewal offers.
Ander Iturraspe, Mikel Balenziaga, and Xabi Etxeita are all in the same boat. They have proven to be trusted Athletic players and can still play important roles in the team, but competition and age are working against them. Due to the shortcomings in midfield last season, Iturraspe will be competing for his place in the squad this summer. If he performs well he could easily be offered a renewal, but if not his time may be running out.
Balenziaga will see his starting role handed to new signing Yuri Berchiche which means he won’t play nearly as many minutes. Performing well in a backup role could earn him an extension, but players like Andoni López will also be breathing down his neck. He’s shown the ability to play at a high level which will give the team valuable depth, so maintaining that level will be a deciding factor for the club. Meanwhile, Etxeita is the current backup to Iñigo Martinez and has been somewhat inconsistent over the last two years. Without a real option to replace him, Etxeita’s future could be safe as long as he doesn’t have an extremely disappointing season.
Mikel Rico, Sabin Merino, and Alex Remiro are the biggest question marks right now. Rico and Merino are in a difficult situation considering the fact that they might be offloaded before the season even begins. However, if they stay at Athletic they could potentially earn renewals if they perform well and prove themselves to be important players. Their futures are totally in the hands of Eduardo Berizzo and anything can happen. Rico’s age is also working against him, despite having a good season under Kuko Ziganda. Merino has struggled with injuries the last two years, but he is determined to fight for his place at the San Mamés.
Remiro has proven that he is ready to play in the Primera and wants to do so. Staying at Athletic would mean limited minutes so the best option is to sign him to an extension and send him on loan. However, the 23-year-old isn’t optimistic about committing his future if he isn’t going to have a chance to play regularly. Playing for Athletic is still his dream but he also wants a guarantee that he will be given the chances he has earned. Negotiations have been ongoing and Athletic really want to reach an agreement, but Remiro is also trying to make the best decision for his future. At the same time, youth prospects Unai Simón and Andoni López are expected to go out on loan, but the goal is to extend their deals before they leave. Both have shown signs that they could become important players in the future and the club wants to secure their future at the San Mamés.
As of right now there are only a few contract renewals that need immediate attention – Aduriz, Muniain, Remiro, Simón, and López. The club will likely wait to see how everyone else is performing before making a decision on their futures. The good news is that Athletic have already tied up their young core for the next few years. Iñaki Williams (2025), Kepa Arrizabalaga (2025), Unai Nuñez (2023), Yeray (2022), and Iñigo Córdoba (2022) are already key players and the spine of the future. Add in the fact that the club has made four great signings this summer that have signed long-term contracts and there is reason to be excited about the future of Athletic Club.