Unai Nuñez “I Want To Be Here And Play”
Unai Nuñez will start against Barcelona in Friday night’s La Liga opener at San Mamés and is eager to prove himself this season. The defender knows that it will be a difficult match to open the season, though he’s confident that the Lions can have a strong start. Speaking with Juanma Mallo in an exclusive interview with El Correo, Nuñez explained the importance of avoiding what happened last year.
“I had a short vacation and then I joined the team. Physically I’m fine. I’m eager to start the league and see if I have the luck to enjoy many minutes. What matters is to put together good results from the beginning to avoid what happened last year. Everyone knows that starting against Barcelona is very difficult. We want to fight and treat the match as if it were any other team. Starting the league on the right foot would be a valuable thing, especially with a win over Barcelona.”
Looking back to last year, Nuñez acknowledged that the defensive system under Eduardo Berizzo caused a lot of problems. With Gaizka Garitano at the helm, the Lions have been much stronger defensively and are playing a more traditional style that has characterized the club throughout history.
“With Berizzo we played with individual marking, far outside the area. Now we have defensive stability which has made us stronger. Athletic identifies a lot with this system: first being strong defensively and then doing your best to try to score goals and hurt opponents with attacks. No, I never thought there was a real possibility of being relegated. At no time did I have that thought because even if things weren’t going well I trusted the team. We have a top level squad. I went into the locker room thinking that the results were going wrong, but I had no concern because just as quickly as bad things came you can turn it all around at any time. That’s what happened.”
Despite turning around the season under Garitano, Nuñez admitted it was still a difficult year on a personal level. The defender rarely saw the field, though he explained that he learned a lot and matured as a footballer. Nuñez recognizes that he needs to improve parts of his game to have more chances and is dedicated to getting better.
“Yes, it was a difficult year personally. I learned a lot playing when Ziganda was here because it was a time where I played the most minutes in the league. You learn by playing. You can learn even when you aren’t playing but you suffer a lot. Everyone wants to play. These are things that happen throughout a footballer’s life and you have to try to get through them. Apart from maturing last year I also came to realize that you can have a bad time on the bench, but those who are playing or starting can also be having a bad time. It’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your teammates. You learn unity more than anything. Above all, if you aren’t playing it’s because you have something that you have to improve and work on.”
Naturally, the defender is worried that the same situation will happen again this year. Nuñez believes that he is at the same level as the other center-backs in the team but had never been in a situation where he wasn’t a starter. Those in his life helped him during last season and now he’s focused on fighting for his place in the team.
“Of course I fear that the same situation will be repeated. I’ve played well when gives the chances and I think I have the level to start at Athletic. I think that when Yeray or Iñigo are missing and I’m on the field you don’t notice anything different. I think I’m on their level. It’s hard but I will fight to be a starter. What has to come will come. I had never been in this situation before because at the lower levels I was always lucky to be a starter. Last year was difficult for me. I relied on my family, my partner, my friends, my agent and they all told me to continue working, not to relax, and that I have the level to play here or anywhere else. I have to keep fighting.”
In January at least three clubs from England expressed interest in signing Nuñez, but the 22-year-old explained that he never thought about leaving. At the moment, Nuñez isn’t thinking about his contract renewal negotiations. Instead, he wants to focus on the present and being his best for the matches ahead.
“No, I didn’t consider leaving. I have a contract here and it’s the only thing I know. Apart from that, I want to be here and play. Everyone wants to play. Some have said that I don’t want to renew my contract because I want to leave. That’s not true. There’s time to renew but I’m not thinking about that right now. Throughout the summer I was thinking about the European Championship, then I was on vacation and didn’t even take my phone. In the preseason I tried to prepare my best to show that I can be a starter and I haven’t thought about anything other than the present.”
In closing, Nuñez explained that he never dealt with anxiety but his lack of minutes did affect him in a negative way. It was difficult to go each week without being in the lineup and now he’s committed to proving that he’s capable of being a starter at Athletic and earning his minutes this year.
“I haven’t had anxiety but the situation did affect me. At first, when I saw that I wasn’t playing, it affected aspects of my life. I wasn’t the same with my friends or family. I don’t think anybody ever gets used to that. I felt a pain in my chest every time my name wasn’t in the lineup. I wanted to prove myself every time I went out and have a clear conscience. I wanted to prove to the coach, to the club, and to the fans that I can be a starter and that when I was on the field nothing was missing.”
Opening the season against Barcelona is never easy but Athletic is confident that they will be able to get a good result against the reigning champions. Unai Nuñez, Yeray, and the rest of the team will have to be at their best to limit Barcelona’s chances and the Basques will need to force turnovers to score against the Catalans. It’s always an exciting match when these two clubs face off and the San Mamés is sure to be roaring.