Unai Bustinza “Athletic Will Always Be My Home”
Unai Bustinza joined Lezama in 2002 and did what so many other young boys from the Basque Country dream of – making the first team. The defender was officially promoted in 2014 and even started in the Copa del Final against Barcelona at the end of the season. However, he was unable to establish himself at San Mamés and would eventually leave for Leganés. Speaking with José Artetxe of DEIA, Bustinza admitted that it took time to adjust to life outside of Athletic.
“The first year was hard. I was loaned to Leganés, who was in the Segunda. Asier Garitano loved me, but I had several injuries and it was a different environment than I had always known. I overcame the problems and ended up playing. We went to the Primera and the coach continued to count on me. The second season I was finding my place. I like to have everything under control and I was more and more comfortable. Since then I have the feeling that I’m improving as a footballer and the awareness of being in a good place.”
After helping Leganés earn promotion the club has grown quite a bit. Bustinza admitted that he feels very important at Butarque and that it took some luck for him to find a good fit. The move has turned out well for the 27-year-old who continues to improve every season.
“Leganés has evolved a lot. I came from Athletic and found out that, because of my origin, I had respect and was valued. Sometimes they consulted me about the day to day things to see how they could improve because the conditions here are very different from those of Lezama. As in everything, you have to have a bit of luck. The directive and the surroundings at Leganés have helped me grow and do good things. The different coaches have been very demanding and I’m happy with that idea. It’s been essential for me to continue in the Primera.”
Bustinza went on to explain that he will always be open to returning to Athletic. In fact, the club contacted him about a potential return in 2017, but nothing materialized. Whether or not he’s every able to wear the Zurigorri shirt again, Athletic will always be home. In the meantime, Buztinza knows that he’s in a good situation at Leganés.
“When Ziganda was coach Athletic had the right to take me back. They talked to me and considered that they already had players of my profile and that it was good for me to continue where I was. Knowing this, I found it easier not to move from Leganés. In addition, Asier Garitano was there and I had a good relationship with him. Of course, I would always love to play for Athletic. Athletic will always be my home. I’m from Bilbao and I was a child at the club, but when you’re a professional you understand that not everything is idyllic. If where you’d like to play isn’t an option, you have to find a destination where you can feel useful.”
Historically, when a player fails to make the Athletic first team they are rarely successful elsewhere in the Primera. That hasn’t been the case for Bustinza who has established himself as a successful starter with Leganés. Once again, the defender explained that luck always plays a role and that he had to accept that Leganés was different than Athletic.
“As I said before, luck influences everything. Surroundings are key for a footballer and in this team I’ve been able to focus on my game and my performances. It’s hard to adapt to what you don’t know, but if you do you can take a leap. When I arrived at Leganés I learned one thing, that nothing was like Athletic, or the medical services, or the fields, or anything. If I had depended on it, it would have changed everything, but there came a time when I thought it was smarter to change myself because changing everything else was impossible. I did that. I overcame injuries, got rid of stress, and started to compete and play.”
Bustinza has asked himself many times why he wasn’t able to succeed at Athletic. In short, he believes that he didn’t try hard enough to overtake teammates that played in his position. Regardless, starting in the 2015 Copa del Rey final is something that he will always remember.
“I came to the team very young and I’ve asked myself why I couldn’t show the player I was. There were very good players in the positions where I played, right-back and center-back, so logically you think about what you can do wrong. Maybe I didn’t play more because I had too much respect for my competition. Of course, nobody can take the cup final away from me. Although I didn’t make the team, I finished the season strong and Ernesto didn’t hesitate to put me in the starting lineup.”
Thinking back to that game, Bustinza stated that it took him a while to loosen up. It was a very special opportunity and he explained that he’s never watched the highlights because he wants his only memory to be what he lived.
“As the game progressed I felt better, but I took ten or fifteen minutes to get loose. Today it would be different, but I have no right to question that opportunity because anyone would want to play a game so special. I haven’t seen the highlights of the final because I prefer to keep the sensations that I lived on the field. I remember everything, even the warmup.”
Since joining Leganés, Bustinza has played against Athletic at San Mamés on a few occasions. When asked what it’s like, the defender immediately pointed out that it’s always very weird to be a visitor in your home town.
“It’s very strange. You arrive at a hotel when you have a house and friends in Bilbao. Then, at the field, you are a visitor but you know everything. I used to walk to San Mamés. You go out and see the grass and you see your family and friends have come to see you. In short, it’s all weird. Also, I never played at San Mamés with Athletic because all of my games were away.”
After an impressive year with Leganés, Bustinza was called up to the Basque National Team for the trip to Panama at the end of the season. The Lezama product shared his excitement at being called up for the first time and looks forward to having more chances with Euskadi.
“It was a great experience. Taking away the fact that it was difficult because of the heat, it was very good. We would’ve liked things to go better. The game was played there to give more relevance to the Selection. It helped us learn and realize where we were and what can be done in the future. I know it wasn’t the best trip because of the destination. date, time, and weather, but it was good. Let’s see if next time is better. It was my first call with the National Team and I was very excited. I would have rowed to Panama.”
Unai Bustinza is a rare case of a player finding tremendous success after failing to make it in the Athletic first team. The 27-year-old has proven to be a vital starter for Leganés and if he continues to play a high level he may one day be able to return to Athletic, his boyhood club.