Unai Simón “As Long As Athletic Wants Me Here, I Won’t Be Going Anywhere”
A series of unforeseen events saw Unai Simón begin last season as the starting goalkeeper for Athletic. Iago Herrerín took back the role after returning from injury, but a star was born. Throughout the campaign fans regularly called for Simón to be given chances and this summer he will have to chance to fight for his place. The 22-year-old wasn’t able to start the preseason with the rest of the team but did have a good reason.
“The European Championship was a beautiful experience”, Simón said during an interview with Alberto García of Mundo Deportivo. “Winning it with the U21 and also the U19 makes me very happy. Unai had been in all the calls, other than the prior one, and there was little doubt. He’s a great defender and deserved to be there. Having him in front of me is wonderful.”
The Lezama product began the European Tournament as the starter, but a bad mistake against Italy saw him lose his place. The manager decided to put his faith in someone else, but Simón understands that it’s all part of the game.
“The manager explained that it was not just because of that mistake, but also because of feelings. He didn’t see the goal clearly and thought it was time for a change. It was hard because I had been waiting for the opportunity for a while, but the team is the most important. The manager wanted a change in goal and Antonio did well throughout the tournament. Of course it was a personal disappointment, it was a blow. These weeks I have had with family and friends help you to clear your mind and arrive with the batteries charged.”
Now that Simón is back with his Athletic teammates, he’s excited to get into a rhythm and be ready for the start of the season. He says that training has been great and he’s looking forward to the upcoming friendlies this weekend.
“It’s going well. After three weeks of vacation, it is what it is. You have to catch up to the dynamics quickly. Gradually Unai and I are getting into the rhythm. The preseason exists to get every player at their optimal level for the beginning of the season, so I don’t think coming in late hurts us. Unai and I were very excited to see everyone. For now, I’m just trying to catch up to the dynamics of the team and get in tune with these matches against Paderborn and Borussia Mönchengladbach. I want to have rhythm when the league starts.
Athletic will kick off the season at San Mamés on 16 August when the host Barcelona. It won’t be an easy match but Simón admitted that all four goalkeepers are fighting to start against the Catalans. No matter what team you play for, minutes are never a guarantee.
“Everyone wants to be in the starting lineup against Barcelona…Jokin, Iago, Hodei, and myself. The four of us are fighting for the goal and I think we have all started from scratch because Garitano hasn’t told us anything. I know Hodei isn’t with the team now, but last year I want on loan and you see how that ended. You can’t assume anything. Wherever you play, you fight for your place in the team. It wasn’t clear that I was going to play at Elche. You can make a mistake and these things happen. Football is like that.”
Being dropped for Herrerín last season wasn’t easy. Simón admitted that the manager at the time didn’t really give any explanations but also didn’t need to because the move mad sense. The 22-year-old thinks Herrerín played well and there was no reason to make a change as the season progressed.
“Berizzo didn’t give me many explanations, but he didn’t need to. We are professionals and everyone has to adapt to their role. It was a rise and fall of emotions coming from Elche, thinking I wouldn’t play, making my debut, then Iago recovered. Berizzo wanted to give Iago his chance and he did well and had no reason to be replaced. Last year was tough in that regard, but Iago was the starter and deserved it. I’m happy with my performances last season. The more I think about it the more I never thought I was going to make my debut last year, especially not at San Mamés.”
Making his debut last season was certainly unexpected and Simón wasn’t shy about the fact that he has a lot of nerves in the opening minutes. However, as the match continued he realized that it was just another game and will never forget the experience.
“Many people ask me if I get nervous. I’m not someone who cares about great things. In the first game at San Mamés against Leganés, the first five minutes were bad, but then you realize that it’s just another game. In the end it’s the same, eleven against eleven playing for 90 minutes. I remember that Leganés match the best, especially the save. People always talk to me about the Barcelona match, but the Leganés game was my debut and Muniain scored late for us to win. I’m very proud of that game.”
When asked if he would be upset to spend another year barely playing, Simón quickly said it really wouldn’t bother him. Being an Athletic player is his ultimate dream and he has no plans to ever leave his boyhood club as long as he is wanted.
“Well, I wouldn’t mind. As long as the coach trusts me and sees that even if I’m not playing I can fight for the goal, then I won’t lose sleep. I train every day and if I play the weekend then that’s what I get. If not, then I still get to enjoy the dream I’ve have since childhood which is to be in the Athletic squad. As long as Athletic wants me to be here, I won’t be going anywhere. I am very happy here. We all have to go as one. Last year we overcome the bad situation because the team came together. That’s why it’s lucky to be here because everyone comes together. We are all happy here and have a great team. We hope to have a great season.”
In closing, Simón confirmed that he will wear the Number 1 shirt this season. He’d actually prefer 13, but Herrerín already has that number. Wearing the number 1 brings a lot of pressure and the 22-year-old hopes to live up to the expectations.
“Yes, I will now wear the Number 1 shirt. With the departure of Remiro it’s vacant and Iago really likes 13. I prefer 13, but that’s his. The Number 1 shirt has a lot of weight here. It’s more than a number isn’t it? There have been goalkeepers who have given great performances with the 1 and I hope to live up to it. I have to compete for my place until the last day. If I don’t get the starting role in the preseason then I have to keep fighting.”
Gaizka Garitano has yet to make a decision as to who will be the starting goalkeeper this season. The remaining seven friendlies will go a long way in choosing who will stand between the sticks and Unai Simón is determined to prove that he deserves the role. Last year was just a small taste of the quality he possesses and this season could be the chance to really break out at Athletic.