Legendary Athletic Striker Ismael Urzaiz Weighs In On The Current State Of The Offense
It wasn’t that long ago that Ismael Urzaiz was scoring big goals at San Mamés and proving himself to be one of the best strikers to ever wear the Athletic shirt. After 11 years at the club he now watches the Zurigorri as a fan. Urzaiz understands better than most what is going on with the team’s struggles to score goals at the moment and took the time to weigh in on the matter on Onda Vasca, but he first started by praising the turnover under Gaizka Garitano.
“The response with Gaizka is very good considering where we came from. This is a squad that can fight for Europe if it improves on offense. A bad match like the one at Mestalla doesn’t take away the good work that’s been done and how the team has reached. We have come out from the bottom of the table and I think we’ve done much better than anyone expected. There is no need to underpin the issues on offense. The team needs to improve in this area because it’s clear you won’t always be able to find goals.”
Turning his attention to the inefficiency in front of goal, Garitano said that he believes talent to be the main issue. It’s not that there aren’t players who can find the back of the net, but rather an inability to create those chances in the final third.
“For me the problems isn’t the age of the squad, but the talent. There are players who have already given their best in other seasons. Talent must be brought out from others, like Iker Muniain. Athletic is lacking in play and we saw it last year. In this season with Berizzo there were some moments of good play, but now they aren’t scoring goals. We still have to create chances and that ends up in goals.”
Urzaiz wasn’t just talking about the attacking midfielders. He believes that the wingers at the club have also struggled to create chances. The former striker even said that it’s been a problem for a long time now and that the team needs more talent in the squad.
“The problem of creating chances in the center of the field isn’t something new for Athletic. I’m not just speaking of the center of the field, but the wide players too. It was a problem a long time ago. The offensive production last year with Ziganda was also lacking. It lacks a bit of imagination, creativity, and ultimately the talent to create chances.”
Being without Aritz Aduriz has made things much harder for Athletic. However, Urzaiz doesn’t think that’s because there isn’t another player with his strengths. Instead, the Athletic legend thinks that the current group of players aren’t as comfortable finishing in front of goal.
“Aduriz’s injury has hurt the team. The impact he’s had as a player in these last few years at Athletic has made his absence noticeable. Hopefully he can recover soon and help in the final months of the season. The problem isn’t that Aduriz isn’t there or that there isn’t a player of his characteristics because, among other things, it’s hard to find that player. The problem is that the players on offense have problems in front of goal and with the last pass. These players don’t relate as much to the essence of what makes you win games. That’s the key.”
Looking to the future, and in some ways the present, Urzaiz highlighted the fact that there are a few players at Bilbao Athletic that could help the first team. He understands that Rafa Alkorta and others are working to implement changes at Lezama and hopes that will be a good thing.
“I think there are quality midfield players in the youth teams that could get to the first team. I won’t give names because I don’t want to put pressure on them, but I see some being able to do it. Those over Lezama, Rafa and Andoni, are woking and changing things can be good for the players and future of Athletic, but it takes time. It’s not just one year to the next. The best one may be a Cadete right now and you have to do a good job with him for 4 or 5 years.”
Two of the young players that Urzaiz believes can help the first team are Iñigo Vicente and Asier Villalibre. He says that there isn’t another player in the squad like Vicente and that Villalibre has built important confidence while scoring goals at Bilbao Athletic this season.
“Iñigo Vicente is a different player with a different talent. There isn’t a player with that type of quality in the first team and it’s on him to win his place with good performances. I think the boy is giving everything and, for me, he has a place in the first team. Asier Villalibre was already in the first team, but the Primera is very demanding. He didn’t perform well in the Segunda, but now he’s playing regularly. Scoring goals gives you confidence. Honestly, if the club chose to bring in Kenan Kodro it’s because they don’t see any of these players as ready right now. Kenan Kodro has just arrived. He is playing, but not Gorka Guruzeta. We have barely been able to see Kenan, and Guruzeta not at all. If I were Gorka I would be mad because I would want to demonstrate what I can do. Gaizka already knows him from their time at Bilbao Athletic and Gorka can score goals.”
When asked about whether or not Iñaki Williams can become the striker of the future, Urzaiz said that he was wrong about him in the past. It takes time for some players to find their rhythm. Iñaki has the talent and the willingness to work hard, so Urzaiz believes the 24-year-old can reach that level.
“I already said a long time ago that I didn’t see Iñaki Williams as a 9, but this year I’ve seen that he can do it, like the game against Sevilla where he did a lot more than score two goals. He’s a player that needs space, but I saw him with the will and desire. That gives Athletic another nuance. It’s true that he hasn’t been consistently effective, but others haven’t either. Times change and every player has his own characteristics. Others have taken time like Aduriz and I made it hard for Fernando Llorente to reach his best level in the Primera. He can do it and he can be the 9 of Athletic. The will to achieve it is the key. Apart from talent, a player must put the work in.”
Athletic were said to be interested in signing Fernando Llorente over the winter, but a move didn’t materialize. Whether or not they return for the striker in the summer remains to be seen, but Urzaiz thinks the club should try to bring Llorente back to San Mamés.
“Athletic has over 42,000 Socios. Those inside the club have to always do what they think will be better for the club. If there weren’t conversations with Llorente in the winter, then it wasn’t the right time to sign him. If in the summer the club believes that they should sign Llorente, but there are 2,000 who say no, and 30,000 who say yes then they have to do what’s best for the club. Fernando can still have two good years for Athletic and, moreover, he wants to come back. That’s symptomatic. He knows what to expect. He shows courage and for that reason I would bring him back.”
Athletic have played spectacular defense since Gaizka Garitano took over as the manager in early December, but they have also found it hard to score goals. If Ismael Urzaiz is right, the team needs to find more ways to create chances and perhaps it’s time for someone like Iñigo Vicente to get his chance in the first team. Whatever the answer, there is a lot of season left ahead and Athletic are solely focused on preparing for Friday’s night’s match against Espanyol.