Unai Nuñez “My Biggest Goal Is To Win A Title With Athletic”
Unlike the rest of his teammates, Unai Nuñez isn’t enjoying a summer vacation right now. Instead, the 22-year-old is currently with the Spain U21 team competing to win the European Championship. Football hasn’t stopped for the Lezama product who was recently interviewed by Robert Basic of El Correo where he revealed that he didn’t want to be a defender growing up.
“It’s true, I didn’t want to be a defender when I was a kid. I started as a midfielder at Danok Bat. When we were losing they put Aitor Arego and me up front. We moved everywhere. What I liked as a kid was scoring goals. I went to Lezama to do some tests. They signed me as a midfielder, but they saw that I wasn’t my best at that position so they moved me to defense. I was lucky to reach the first team as a center-back. What I wanted was to score goals, but now I prefer to defend.”
Nuñez was always one of the strongest players in his age group growing up. Being more physical worked as an advantage, but he also admits that he was lacking in other areas of his game. Today, he’s grown quite a bit as a footballer.
“It’s my genetics and it’s a privilege that I’ve inherited from my family. I’ve always been one of the biggest and strongest. The issue is that you have to improve in other areas. For example, when I arrived at Lezama it was all physical and I lacked quality. With all the years I’ve been at Athletic, I’ve seen an evolution in my technical quality, although I admit that I still have a lot to improve.”
Once Nuñez started playing defense he looked up to Athletic’s Fernando Amorebieta and Carlos Gurpegui. The Lezama product also believes that he and Aymeric Laporte made a great pair last season and feels lucky to have played alongside the Frenchman.
“I didn’t really see much football growing up, but my Aita and my brother love it and if the TV was on it was because there was football. I looked more at the forwards, at the players who scored goals. As I grew up I saw more football and learned what it really was. Once I was at the Athletic I looked up a lot to Amorebieta and then to Gurpegui. Later, when I went to the first team, there was Aymeric Laporte. I’ve been lucky to play with him. We weren’t bad together. I liked playing with him. Outside of Athletic there were great players like Puyol.”
When asked how being a professional footballer has changed his life, Nuñez wasn’t shy about the fact that he doesn’t like the attention. Everyone recognizes him and it’s important to keep real friends close when you make the money of a professional athlete.
“It has changed me in an abysmal way. I try to be the same person as always, friend to my friends, faithful to my family. It’s true that everything has changed a lot. I find it difficult to specify what things exactly. You go down the street and people recognize you. They encourage me and when things go a little bad like this year, it’s difficult. There’s a little bit of everything. Money can make you distrust people a little, but I’ve been with the same friends since I was little so I don’t have to be suspicious. In this life friends, true friends, are rare.”
Nuñez’s debut season with the first team was incredible, but last year wasn’t so positive. The 22-year-old barely featured which was a hard thing to accept. Nuñez admits that he wants to play as much as possible, though he understands this is something everyone goes through at some point in their career.
“Two years ago I was lucky that the Mister trusted me. I think I gave a lot and learned a lot. This year, although I didn’t play much, I learned. I have never been in this situation because I was lucky to play a lot at every level at Athletic until the first team. It’s made things difficult and it’s different. This is something that all players have to go through. The thing I like least is not playing. I want to play as much as possible and being on the bench is very hard.”
Despite being under contract through 2023, Athletic are hoping to sign Nuñez to a renewal this summer in order to raise his wages and his €30 million release clause. The defender didn’t want to talk about the topic when asked, nor the rumors that a few English clubs tried to sign him during the winter transfer window.
“I don’t know anything. I’m focused on the U21 team and the European championship. The summer is very long and I have a contract. It’s not something that worries me. I don’t know anything about interest from other clubs either. I’ve told my agent to leave me out of these issues. I’m focused on the European tournament. There is summer ahead and time to do what needs to be done.”
Being on international duty means that Nuñez’s summer vacation will look different than his teammates. The starlet stated that he hasn’t talked to Gaizka Garitano about when he will return for preseason training and that he hopes he can report to Lezama after 4 July in order to have time to rest.
“I haven’t talked to the coach yet. My vacation will depend on whether we are eliminated or if we advance from the group stage and reach the semifinals or the final. I have to rest too. I hope that they at least give Unai Simón and myself a couple of weeks. If not we will be exhausted. Elite football is just how I imagined it. Every day there is more money in the world of football and the teams are better. There is equality and everyone competes in each match.”
It’s very likely that Athletic won’t be making any transfer signings this summer, which Nuñez says is natural. Instead, six players from Bilbao Athletic have been called to train with the first team this summer and Nuñez says it’s a great thing that the club puts so much faith in the next generation.
“The market is very small for Athletic. It’s rare that players are signed. If they are, and they add to the team, then that’s great. There’s already a big squad. If you promote a kid from the academy, like me, it’s a good thing. It’s good that the club gives the young players confidence. I have thought about thousands of things I’d like to accomplish, but my biggest goal is to win a title with Athletic. Everything is possible in the world of football so I think it’s possible for us to win a title.”
After two straight years without qualifying for Europe, Athletic are facing one of the most crucial seasons in recent history. It’s imperative that the Lions secure a top-seven finish and Unai Nuñez hopes that he will be able to play an important role in the team. His biggest dream is to win a title with Athletic, but for right now he’s solely focused on helping Spain’s U21 quest for the European Championship.