Understanding Athletic Club’s Signing Of Kenan Kodro And How He Fits Into The Team
Athletic fans woke up to some bad news on Thursday when the club announced that Aritz Aduriz, who has been out of action the last 3 weeks due to a knee sprain, would miss an additional 4-5 weeks. The news then quickly turned from bad to confusing when President Aitor Elizegi told reporters that the club were finalizing a transfer. Rumors began surfacing that they would be signing Copenhagen striker Kenan Kodro and things really picked up when it was reported that the 25-year-old had not trained with his team ahead of the move.
As expected, fans immediately began to wonder why the club was targeting Kodro instead of promoting someone like Asier Villalibre. However, just a few hours later Athletic made the transfer official when they announced that they had signed Kodro who put pen to paper on a contract through 2022 that also contains an €80 million release clause. The 25-year-old will be presented as the newest Athletic player on Friday at 11:00am but many fans are still trying to make sense of it all.
The first thing to understand is that the club needed to strengthen the striker position with Aritz Aduriz sidelined for so long. Athletic are still just 6 points above the relegation zone, but they are also starting to enter the discussion for European qualification. Every single point is vitally important and the team needed depth to continue climbing the La Liga table. The need was clear and the club chose Kenan.
Many fans were not familiar with the striker, but those who have followed Basque football, especially Athletic’s rivals, should know him on some level. Kenan is a Bosnian international who was born and raised in Donosti, while his father was playing for Real Sociedad, and grew up in the Real Sociedad academy before making the move to Osasuna back in 2014. He would go on to feature in 88 games for Osasuna, scoring 15 goals, before moving to Mainz in 2017.
The switch to Mainz followed a season in which Kodro scored 7 La Liga goals in 28 appearances while Osasuna were relegated. He wanted to continue playing top flight football and left for Germany. Over this past summer he joined Copenhagen where he has scored 6 goals in 18 games and now he finds himself back in the Basque Country at the San Mamés.
Although not Basque by blood, he was born and formed in Euskal Herria which qualifies him to play for Athletic. In fact, he even represented the Basque Country while playing for the Euskadi U16 and U18 teams. His father Meho Kodro was a great striker for Bosnia and Herzegovina and played for Real Sociedad before also becoming the coach of Real Sociedad B while his son was on the team. While some have always compared him to his father, he has tried to distance those comparisons and prefers to be known simply as ‘Kenan’.
Understandably, the biggest question on everyone’s mind is why Kenan Kodro. Sources have made it clear that manager Gaizka Garitano wanted a “true center forward” and he and Sporting Director Rafa Alkorta identified Kodro as their top choice. Fernando Llorente was originally the desired player but after an injury to Harry Kane he was no longer available so the attention quickly turned to Kodro after tests confirmed that Aduriz would miss even more time.
There were other options that the club could have considered, such as bringing back Guillermo or promoting Asier Villalibre. However, Garitano and Alkorta both agreed that Kodro was the right fit for the type of player that was desired, a true center forward. At the same time, they also agreed that the best thing for Villalibre right now was for him to continue playing at Bilbao Athletic.
Athletic have actually been interested in Kodro in the past, mainly before he made the move to Mainz back in the summer of 2017. At the time he was a 23-year-old who stood out for being a tall and strong target man in the box, while also boasting some technical ability as well. The Lions did not pull the trigger at the time although now Kenan will wear the Zurigorri shirt.
The signing gives Garitano another option at striker with Aduriz on the sidelines and someone with different strengths than that of Iñaki Williams. Kenan can be a physical target man in the box, but he also possesses some pace and has never lacked work rate. He should fit right in with Athletic’s aggressive and pressing style of defense and can be another weapon for the Lions in attack.
Fans will have different opinions on the signing but it is a low risk, high reward move for Athletic. If Kenan does well and is able to contribute in a positive way he is under contract through 2022 and the club will be protected by his €80 million release clause. If the striker is unable to perform the Basques could easily look to sell him, send him on loan, or mutually terminate his contract which they have done with players in the past.
Kenan always showed promise as a young player but never seemed to live up to his potential. He’s been given the chance for a fresh start by Athletic and a wonderful opportunity to return to La Liga where he has played his best football. For now his arrival gives the team depth at an important position, though if he does well he could earn regular minutes. Athletic hope that the 25-year-old can become an important player for the club moving forward but it will be up to him to make the most out of this opportunity.