Athletic Looking To Add Defensive Depth In The Summer
Once Gaizka Garitano signs his new contract with Athletic the club can begin preparing for the summer and upcoming season. Many decisions have to be made. A few players are in the final months of the contracts, some will be returning from loan, others are in need of leaving on loan, and there’s also the matter of potential transfers. The manager will be working with Sporting Director Rafa Alkorta to make all of these decisions, including how to improve the depth in defense.
Iñigo Martinez, Unai Nuñez, and Yeray have all established their place in the team. On the other hand, there isn’t a clear option for the fourth center-back role. Peru Nolaskoain has featured in that role but, unlike Eduardo Berizzo, Garitano doesn’t really view the 20-year-old as a defender. The Lezama product could leave on loan next season in order to enjoy regular minutes, which would leave the team in need of another defender. If the Lions manage to qualify for Europe having a fourth option would be absolutely necessary.
There are certainly plenty of options to consider. To begin with, Bilbao Athletic’s Dani Vivian just signed a contract extension with the club and will spend the summer training with the first team. If he does well enough he could convince the manager to keep him in the squad, though it’s likely that the best option would be for him to play consistent minutes either with the reserves or away on loan.
The two most likely candidates according to sources are Xabi Etxeita and Jonas Ramalho. Etxeita is currently on loan with Huesca where he has served as captain. The 31-year-old has been in great form, featuring in 23 matches and scoring 3 goals, however his contract is set to expire in June. Athletic do have the option to automatically renew his deal for another season which is a fantastic option.
On the other hand, Ramalho is also a Lezama product who left to join Girona on loan back in 2013 before making the move permanent in 2016. At 25 years old he still has plenty of football ahead of him and would return with plenty of experience. Ramalho’s contract with Girona expires at the end of the season which means that he would be a free signing for the Basques.
Both Etxeita and Ramalho would be fine choices to add experienced depth to the backline next season and neither player would cost Athletic a single euro. They are familiar with the club, playing at a high level, and have always expressed their love for Athletic. It’s true that Vivian and, to an extent Nolaskoain, are also in the running but there is a very good chance that Xabi Etxeita or Jonas Ramalho could return to San Mamés this summer.