Hope For The Future: Analyzing Athletic’s 7 Young Stars Training With The First Team
There is a lot of optimism surrounding Eduardo Berizzo’s Athletic Club team and with good reason. The Lions have made four strong signings, the new coaches are implementing an intense style of attacking and pressing, and the players are eager and determined to bring winning football back to the San Mamés. However, the fact that seven players from the youth system have been called up to train with the first team may be the most exciting thing of all.
Bilbao Athletic’s Gorka Guruzeta, Iñigo Vicente, Iñigo Muñoz, Peru Nolaskoain, Andoni López, and Unai Simón are all training under Berizzo, as is Oihan Sancet who played with the Juvenil A team last season. Throughout his managerial career Berizzo has always been a coach that is willing to give chances to young players and that is definitely proving to be the case this summer. Many fans are hoping that at least one of the Katxorros will get to stay in the squad, but it is important to analyze everybody individually.
To begin with, López and Simón are almost certain to spend the season on loan in the Segunda. Both players are currently in talks to extend their contracts with Athletic before leaving and the club believes that they could hold important roles in the future. Suitors are already lining up in hopes of signing the pair who will continue training with the first team until a deal is reached. Berizzo wants to see them in training this summer which will give them valuable experience. It is also important to note that López and Simón have not been listed on the Bilbao Athletic squad page of Athletic’s official website which means that returning to the reserve team has already been ruled out.
Iñigo Muñoz is also highly unlikely to earn a place in the first team despite the fact that he has looked really good in training so far. The winger has always idolized Iker Muniain and has tried to model his game after him. It shows. Muñoz has a knack for taking on opponents and has shown the ability to create chances. That being said, there just isn’t a place for him with Iñaki Williams, Markel Susaeta, Ander Capa, and Oscar De Marcos all standing in his way. The 21-year-old is listed on the Bilbao Athletic squad page so a return to the reserves looks to be the plan right now.
Iñigo Vicente is one of the most hyped players to come out of Lezama in a long time. He shattered scoring records throughout the academy and has always looked to be on a different level than others his age. Last year saw the 20-year-old develop a more well-rounded game while seeing time as a winger and secondary striker, which has only made him better. There is a lot of competition in the team and it will be difficult for Vicente to earn a place. It isn’t impossible for him to stay, but the general belief is that he could use another year developing. He is also listed on the Bilbao Athletic squad page and could return for another season.
Gorka Guruzeta is the player with the most hope and expectations from the fans. The striker led Bilbao Athletic in scoring last season with 18 goals and proved himself capable of playing anywhere in attack. Guruzeta has the ability to put himself in positions to find promising chances and is an exceptional finisher. The only issue is the fact that he has never even kicked a ball in the Segunda so it will be difficult to make the jump straight to the first team. The most important thing is his development and the club won’t put him in a position he isn’t ready to face.
There is one thing working in his favor though. The squad is in desperate need for more scoring options and Guruzeta will be given every chance to convince Berizzo that he deserves a place. For now he is competing directly with Sabin Merino because the team needs to have a reliable backup to Aritz Aduriz. If the decision is made that he needs to play regular minutes elsewhere he will be sent on loan to the Segunda where several clubs have already asked about his availability. A return to Bilbao Athletic is not an option.
Peru Nolaskoain is in the most interesting position of all. The 19-year-old is the second-youngest player in the group, but is arguably the one most ready to make the jump to the first team. Over the last year he’s played with tremendous maturity and quality, and Berizzo seems to have a fondness for the midfielder. He’s featured heavily in drills this week and there is no denying the fact that the Athletic midfield is in need of strengthening.
There is a belief that Nolaskoain is a serious candidate to earn a place in the first team, but he will have to convince Berizzo that he is ready to do so. If Toto decides that he needs to play regular minutes somewhere else he could be sent on loan to the Segunda or make a return to Bilbao Athletic where he could always be called up if needed. He is currently listed on the reserve team page so that option is still a possibility. This summer is going to be an important time for Nolaskoain, making him one of the players to watch closely during the preseason.
Oihan Sancet has received immense praise from former coaches as well as Luis de la Fuente, current manager of Spain’s U19s. It’s definitely deserved. The 18-year-old was the star of the Juvenil A team last season and getting called up to train with the first team has quickly thrust him into the spotlight. The midfield can do it all – winning possessing, creating chances, scoring goals, and dictating play. Combine his promising talent with the fact that Athletic did not sign Mikel Merino and a lot of fans seem to believe that Sancet is already guaranteed a place in the first team.
Berizzo has made it clear that everyone has a chance to earn a role in the team. He named Sancet specifically in his latest press conference saying, “I hope that he shows his quality quickly because the train of opportunities moves fast”. It’s obvious that the new manager has seen a lot of potential in the midfield, but also recognizes that he is still a project in development at this point. The 18-year-old could absolutely stay with the senior squad if he performs well this summer, but there is also a very good chance that he will be sent to Bilbao Athletic where he can play regular minutes and continue growing.
Out of the seven young stars only four look to have a chance at a permanent stay – Gorka Guruzeta, Iñigo Vicente, Peru Nolaskoain, and Oihan Sancet. That being said, the most important thing is their development and that is what the club is going to prioritize. They must be shown patience and given time to grow as footballers, which is why it wouldn’t be surprising if none of them earn a place this summer. Right now the goal is to take it one day at a time and gain as much experience as possible. No matter what happens, their futures are very bright and fans should be excited about the years to come.