Unai Simón “Iribar Is The Best There Has Ever Been”
Unai Simón is working hard to find his rhythm since returning from summer vacation and hopes to earn the starting goalkeeper role at Athletic this season. The 22-year-old took the time to speak with reporters between training sessions on Friday and explained that the manager has instructed him to be surer when on the ball, while also praising the quality of the squad.
“Gaizka has told us not to get complicated with the ball at our feet. We have effective players in front of us like Aduriz and Raúl García. Therefore, we can be very effective in our position too. We want to finish as high as possible. This year we start against Barcelona, last year it was Leganés. We always have to win the first game, especially at San Mamés.”
For most fans, qualifying for Europe is the ultimate goal this season. Gaizka Garitano has preached that the team must take it one game at a time and Simón echoed those thoughts when asked about the challenge.
“We must not forget that the main objective is not being in a relegation battle. We know that the Europa League is something that excites both the fans and us, but we must not forget that there are many teams in the league that are fighting for it too and that makes it complicated. Not qualifying for Europe isn’t a failure, but we have a very strong team.”
Before joining Lezama, Simón admits that he wasn’t a huge fan of football. Signing for the Athletic academy wasn’t a big deal at the moment and leaving home was a difficult adjustment as a teenager.
“When I arrived at Lezama I didn’t know much about football and I didn’t give it much importance. If my father, who has been instrumental in my career, had told me how important it was it would have made me nervous anyway. It was difficult to live away from home. I was 14 years old when I joined Lezama and I had always lived with my parents. It was hard. When you get to the first team you have a lot of feelings.”
Simón also revealed that he had never been to a game at San Mamés until he was playing at Lezama. At that moment, the dream of reaching the first team became very real and it continued to grow as he progressed through the academy.
“I had never been to San Mamés until I was given a pair of tickets to go to a game. Then it started to get into my head ‘we are Athletic, imagine being down there in a few years’. I started playing with stronger teams, went to Basconia, and started to see myself building confidence. When you arrive at Bilbao Athletic, you start training with the first team, and you start to have hope.”
As a goalkeeper, Simón is able to be around club legend José Ángel Iribar almost every single day. The 22-year-old shared how the veteran is a constant encouragement for the players and someone to learn from.
“The truth is that Iribar is very impressive. I remember the first time I saw him and he still impresses me now. My first training back with the team was difficult and he reminded me that it’s always that way. He always gives you a little more encouragement. We’ve had a lot of goalkeeping conversations, but the main thing is that he is with us, helps us, and always gives us encouragement.”
Simón went on to praise Iribar as the greatest goalkeeper in Athletic history. He gained a much greater appreciation for El Txopo after joining the club and also idolized others such as Dani Aranzubia and Gorka Iraizoz.
“Of course, for the club and for the goalkeepers, he’s the best there has ever been. He is a man who has Athletic in his veins. With the career he had and what he continues to do for the club, he’s an example to follow. I didn’t follow football closely when I was little. I liked to play with my friends, but it wasn’t until I joined Athletic that I started watching football more. At that time Aranzubia was the goalkeeper, then there was Gorka. Iribar is an idol. I started to look at other goalkeepers and have always had affection for Buffon. I always liked Juventus and Buffon seems like a gentleman on and off the field.”
Most kids don’t want to play goalkeeper growing up, but Simón can’t remember a time he wasn’t between the sticks. “I’ve always been a goalkeeper but I’m not sure that I remember how it started”, he said. “When I was a kid I was asked to try it and see if I like it. I was big and made saves so I stayed there. I had a good time. There was a field with natural grass and mud. The only one who had a bad time was my mother when I came home covered in mud.” Today Unai Simón is one of the best young goalkeepers in Europe and could earn the starting role at San Mamés this season.