Unai López “This Is My Second Straight Year Here And I Think I’m Settled”
Unai López was put in a big spot last Friday night when he started against Barcelona. For the most part, the midfielder played well, but he nearly gifted the Catalans a goal when he sent a back pass directly to Luis Suarez. Luckily, the striker missed the shot but López knew it was a dangerous moment. Speaking with Iñaki Ugalde of Mundo Deportivo, the 23-year-old admitted that he was fortunate that it didn’t change the outcome of the game.
“Obviously, I didn’t see him. I put my hands on my head because it was a very clear chance and at the moment I thought the was going to score. I was lucky that he didn’t and that we managed to win the match. I don’t know if it was on that play or the previous one, but he got injured. I’m not happy about it because he’s a fellow player, but I’m glad we failed to score.”
When Aritz Aduriz scored the match-winner late in the second half López was already on the bench. He explained that several players were already talking about Aduriz potentially netting a goal before it happened and praised the striker’s enthusiasm in training.
“I was already on the bench when Aduriz came on and we were talking on the bench saying, ‘Imagine what it would be like if he scored’ and that’s what happened. It was a great goal. We all saw it and already know that Aduriz is a great goalscorer. He proved it again. We’re very happy for him and hope he can score many more this year. Aduriz comes to training every day with the enthusiasm of a young player and has been for many years. Young players are motivated to see a veteran, a legend like Aduriz, so motivated.”
When asked if the win over Barcelona gave Athletic three points they weren’t counting on this year the midfielder explained that they never look at it that way. “We can’t really make any calculations because we’ve only played one game but beating Barcelona is always big”, he answered. “It’s not that we didn’t expect it, because we worked for it, but we knew that it would be very difficult. We deserved to win the match.”
It’s been quite a while since López made his first team debut as a 19-year-old. Since then the midfielder has grown in many different ways and explained that he’s finally living his dream of being an Athletic player.
“I come Lezama every day with maximum enthusiasm. Coming here every day with my Athletic teammates is great motivation and a fulfilling a dream. I had to leave a few times, but this is the second year in a row that I’m here and I think I’m settled. In the end, whether I play more or less, it’s not like when I first came up. When I first came up I was a kid. I was 19 years old and I’ve changed a lot. The last two years have helped me a lot. I’m glad to be here and will continue training hard to help the team as much as possible.”
Many young players find it difficult to debut at such a young age, but López believes that it wasn’t too much for him at the time. The Lezama product did have to leave on loan twice but says that those moves helped him develop.
“It’s normal here for players to come up so young. Personally, I think I kept my feet on the ground. Obviously, when you’re playing in the Primera with the best players in the world it changes you. You have to know how to handle it, how to be, and above all, where you’ve come from. I was very comfortable both years on loan and I don’t regret it.”
López came into the summer aware of the fact that he could earn a starting role. The hard work paid off, but the midfielder isn’t relaxing. He knows that he must continue to improve if he wants to keep his place in the team.
“I knew I had a chance to win a starting role in the preseason and the coach decided to put me in the lineup the other night, but there’s more to be done. We got all three points and I have to keep working to help the team. I have many areas to improve. I’ve said a thousand times that the defensive aspect has been my biggest weakness. I know that I’ve improved in this area but still have much to do and will do it in training.”
Now that López has been given the opportunity to start, he’s focused on getting better every day in training. The midfielder’s goal is to continue showing the manager that he can be counted on, though helping the team is the most important thing.
“I have to train every day to try to help the team get all three points, which is the most important thing. I didn’t think about leaving again last year because I always thought that I could play here and that’s my intention. My goal is to train as much as possible so that Gaizka can count on me and, above all, to help the team be better every day and get as many points as possible.”
Athletic players have refused to say qualifying for Europe is the goal this season and López did the same when asked. Like everyone else, the 23-year-old prefers to just focus on the next game and recognizes that beating Getafe won’t be easy.
“Our goal this season is to go from training to training and from match to match. We could talk about Europe as an objective, but the reality is that we have to think about Getafe. They had a good season last year. They got into Europe, really close to the Champions League, and did an exceptional job. They will be a strong opponent.”
Athletic are hoping to build on their massive win over Barcelona as they travel to Getafe on Saturday, though it will be yet another challenging match. Unai López is expected to start alongside Dani García once again and will need to be at his best to help the Lions break down a daunting Getafe defense. A win would see the Basques keep pace at the top of the table going into next weekend’s Basque Derby.