Unai Nuñez “Athletic Is Where I Want To Be Forever”
Athletic Club begins their La Liga season on Monday, 20 August against Leganés which just so happens to be the one year anniversary of when Unai Nuñez made his first team debut. The 21-year-old recently spoke with Iñaki Ugalde of Mundo Deportivo to discuss his place in the squad and made it clear that he understands the importance of continuing to improve his game.
“I made my debut on 20 August last year against Getafe, but that is history. Last year was complicated for us as a team and should serve as something to learn from and keep improving. Last year Athletic showed their confidence in me by offering a renewal and, of course, I said yes because this is the club where I want to be forever. I just have to try to keep doing my best. Now I have to continue working to earn the coach’s confidence and be able to play in the first league game against Leganés”
It has been over a decade since Nuñez joined Athletic. He says that he learned a lot from every coach he worked with and is thankful to the club that his given him the opportunity to grow since he was a young child.
“I joined Lezama when I was ten years old from Danok Bat where I was since I was three years old. They gave me the opportunity to be here since I was little and I have been making the most of my chances little by little. I had a lot of special coaches and with each one I have taken away something positive. They have all made me better. Lucho Iturrino helped me a lot and insisted on me getting better with the ball and using my speed.”
Nuñez was one of the few bright spots in last year’s disappointing season under Kuko Ziganda. Although he recognizes that the season did not go as planned, he is still really thankful for the coach that put so much faith in him and gave him the opportunity to join the first team.
“I am very grateful for Kuko and all the trust he placed in me. From when I first went up to Bilbao Athletic and a year later when I was promoted to Athletic he helped me grow. He gave me the option of spending the preseason with the first team and trusted me to stay. We are talking about a coach with whom I improved a lot. I still need to improve my passing from the back. It’s getting there but needs to be better. I haven’t had luck in front of goal. I’ve scored, but haven’t been as dangerous as I would like. As a child I was always the tallest and was able to score a lot of goals. Now I have to work harder at set pieces. I would like to score three or four per season.”
Although Nuñez and Iñigo Córdoba were able to make names for themselves in their debut season, the pair understands that they still have a long way to go to reach their potential. The defender continued to highlight the need for constant improvement as a professional footballer.
“Last year there weren’t any signings and Iñigo [Córdoba] and I had the luck and opportunity to join the first team. Our function was to help collectively and individually and improve little by little because we were young and still have a long way to go. It was a tough year for Kuko, but also for us. In comparison, when Lekue and Sabin came up from Bilbao Athletic they won the Super Cup and were qualifying for Europe every year. Córdoba and I did not have the luck to enjoy a great first year. Every season has negative things and positive things so the goal is to always be improving.”
Turning his attention to the upcoming season, Nuñez is encouraged by how strong the team looks under Eduardo Berizzo. The new manager has brought an exciting style of football to the San Mamés. Being a former center-back, Toto has been able to help the defenders grow and learn how to build from the back.
“This season looks very, very good because the coaching staff asks us to play with a lot of pressure, to force turnovers, and to play with possession. It is an exciting style of football. Last year we wanted to have the ball and try to steal it, but there are different nuances now. Berizzo used to be a center-back and now he’s a great coach. He will teach us to improve the defensive aspects and how to build from the back. It will help us a lot.”
Xabi Etxeita left the club earlier this summer to join newly promoted Huesca on loan. With his absence, and Iñigo Martinez still not cleared to play after suffering a calf strain, Nuñez expects himself and Yeray to play major roles at the beginning of the season. The team also has Peru Nolaskoain and Mikel San José who are able to fill in at the back.
“Xabi will do great things with Huesca because he’s an exceptional player. Peru has shown during the preseason that he can stay in the first team. The more competition and demand the better the team will be. The truth about tomorrow’s game is that, without Iñigo, Yeray and I are the only two center-backs plus Peru and Mikel San José. The coach will be the one to decide.”
When asked about the departure of Kepa Arrizabalaga, Nuñez admitted that it was a personal decision and wished his former teammate the best. However, the 21-year-old says that he has no interest in leaving Athletic Club. He also admitted that he tries to model his game after some legendary players such as former club captain Carlos Gurpegui.
“It was a difficult decision for Kepa. You know to know what thoughts he has about his personal goals such as winning titles and things. It all depends on that. I can only wish Kepa the because because he’s an exceptional player. Would I leave? I am here and I have six years left on my contract. This club is and has always been my life. My idols? I loved Puyol but also Sergio Ramos, Godín, Laporte, and Gurpegui.”
Unai Nuñez may be a big star in Bilbao, but his outlook on life hasn’t changed. He still sees himself as a kid from the streets of Portugalete and someone who values time with his family. He and Ander Capa have known each other since they were kids, but the idol of the city is still Julen Guerrero.
“My life really hasn’t changed since I became a first team player. I’m still the same kid as before. I have the same friends and spend a lot of time at my parent’s house. More people know me, but I handle it well. My family taught me well and I will not change who I am. A lot of great players have come from Portugalete. Ander Capa and I are from the same neighborhood, from Repelega, and have known each other since we were little. The great reference from Portugalate is still Julen Guerrero”
In closing, Nuñez was asked about his best memory so far as a first team player. Although he loved competing in the Europa League, nothing will ever compare to his debut at the San Mamés. He’d dreamt of playing at The Cathedral since he was a kid and now he’s focused on being even better in his second season.
“There are a lot of matches to remember, but especially playing in Europe. That’s something completely different. Making my debut at the San Mamés is an unmatched memory. It could have been better with a victory, but at least we did not lose. It wasn’t my first time at the San Mamés because I had the good fortune of going out on the field on the opening day of the stadium because I was the captain of the Juvenil team at the time. I dreamed of playing at the San Mamés, but didn’t think it would come true. Now that dream has been fulfilled and I have to keep improving because they say the second year is more difficult.”
Athletic face a difficult schedule to start the La Liga season and will be hoping to pick up three points in their opener against Leganés. The team will be without Iñigo Martinez and Iago Herrerín, but Berizzo will still be able to field a very strong starting lineup. With the team playing such an attacking style of football it will be up to Unai Nuñez and the other defenders to protect the final third in front of a roaring crowd at the San Mamés.