Andoni López “Berizzo Told Me That He Still Sees Me As An Assurance At Center-Back”
Andoni López has been an integral part of Almeria since joining the team on loan over the summer. The Athletic Club left-back is already proving himself more than capable of playing in the Segunda and is certainly enjoying his regular minutes. The 22-year-old recently saw down with Javier Beltran of AS for an exclusive interview and opened up by first talking about what it has been like to play football outside of Bilbao.
“It’s going very well, life here is very good. It’s my first experience outside of Athletic and living alone. From the first day the coach bet on me and I am trying to make the most of it. Numancia was another option that was given, but in the end it wasn’t possible. Almeria also came and they spoke to me very highly of the club and the city. My immediate goal is to help Almeria earn permanence. Personally I want to play a lot of minutes and be at a high level. That is the last step to being on the Athletic team.”
López went on to admit that things are much more difficult in the second division. This year there aren’t any reserve teams and, as things stand right now, there are at least ten clubs who are realistically competing for promotion. He’s had to change his mindset at times, but understands his role on the field.
“This year is harder. The reserve teams are no longer in the second division and now we are talking about more than ten teams who cold possible go up to the Primera. You realize that every mistake or small error could lead to a clear opportunity. From the first day I had to change my thinking a bit. You are playing against skillful, fast, and physical forwards. I want to be able to attack, but I know that I am a defender and the first thing I have to do is cover holes.”
Despite being away from home, López hasn’t missed a single Athletic match. He loves watching his friends play and admitted that he isn’t surprised at all to see Yuri Berchiche and Mikel Balenziaga starting together at times because he believes both are amazing footballers. He also said that Cristian Ganea has enough quality to be playing as well, but recognizes that there is a big squad.
“I haven’t missed any of Athletic’s game. I have friends there, they are more than teammates. I like football and I am from Athletic. The truth is that it hasn’t surprised me to see Berchiche and Balenziaga both starting together. There are teams who require you to change some things, especially away from home. Balenziaga is one of the best fullbacks in the Primera and Yuri has amazing quality. He can create offensively and when they play together that side of the field is covered from top to bottom. I know Ganea hasn’t had chances yet, but it’s a very big squad and Mister is the one who makes the decisions. As far as I saw in the preseason, everyone there has enough quality to be playing. If everything was equal everyone would have the same opportunities.”
Over the summer Eduardo Berizzo moved Andoni López to center-back, partly due to an injury to Iñigo Martinez. The new manager saw qualities in the 22-year-old that could make him good in a more central role, but it was Peru Nolaskoain who was able to earn a place in the squad. Before leaving for Almeria, López revealed that Berizzo told him that he could still be an assurance at center-back even though left-back was his more natural position.
“From the first day Berizzo told me the things he liked, the things that he had seen from me, and we even talked about my debut. I was training as a center-back from the first day. He saw me there because he said I have the qualities to play in that position. He’s a coach who focuses on the details of having the ball. In the end, Nolaskoain has played many minutes at center-back because he’s good on the ball. On the last day, before leaving for Almeria, Berizzo told me that he still sees me as an assurance at center-back although my position is left-back.”
Berizzo and López discussed his debut from the previous season and the Lezama product says that it is a day he will never forget. However, the match didn’t go as planned with López giving Girona a penalty which helped the Catalans beat Athletic. Still, the 22-year-old was able to return to Bilbao Athletic and play at a high level as the Katxorros booked their place in the promotional playoffs.
“I will never forget my debut. It’s the only game I played with Athletic and that is something I had been fighting for since I entered the Alevines at Lezama. After the debut I had feelings that collided with each other because I had fulfilled a dream but things didn’t work out well. I had some bad days afterwards but then at Bilbao Athletic I played my best minutes and helped the team to the promotional playoffs. It was a good way to focus on the positive. The first team was in a difficult time and I will always be thankful to Kuko Ziganda for giving me my debut.”
López still has a lot of friends at Bilbao Athletic and has tried to watch every game this season. Many players from last year’s squad are gone, but he believes others like Dani Vivian and Jon Rojo have stepped up in big roles this year. He also praised Iñigo Vicente who he says is a special talent and could make his first team debut very soon.
“I’ve seen almost every Bilbao Athletic game. The defense is very different, but Dani Vivian is doing well and had already trained a lot with the team. I’m happy for Jon Rojo. He is doing well and last year he had an incredible attitude. There is still Larrazabal, Vicente, and Muñoz there along with Villalibre and Jurgi [Oteo] returning. There is a lot of quality. There are many good players in the first team like Unai López and Iñigo Vicente needs things to work out a certain way like it did with me. Iñigo has a lot of offensive quality although it can cost him some on defense. He’s a special player. As soon as he becomes more aggressive he will have his opportunity like Guruzeta, Nolaskoain, or myself.”
In closing, Andoni López was asked about the situation with Alex Remiro and the defender was clear on his thoughts that every player has to make their own decisions about their career. On the same note, he says that he isn’t surprised at all that Unai Simón has played so well in the top flight this season because he always saw that potential when they were younger.
“Every situation is different. Everybody, apart from being a player, is a person and will have his own motivations for not renewing. You have to meet with the person to know what he wants. Remiro is a great goalkeeper and he showed that last season with helping Huesca earn promotion. Each player makes his own decision and you have to accept it. I’m not surprised by Simón at all. I’ve known him for many year, from as far back as playing with the Euskadi U16s. When you see a goalkeeper that has the quality of Unai you have no doubt that he will be a Primera goalkeeper and one of the best.”
Andoni López is definitely making the most out of his loan move, having started in all but one match for Almeria so far this season. He’s been one of the best players in the team and is well on his way to fighting for a place in the Athletic Club squad next year. Since first arriving at Lezama López has always stood out as a special player and he has continued to impress at every level throughout his career.