Unai Simón “It’s Too Early To Say That I’m The Starting Goalkeeper”
Unai Simón became the Golden Boy of San Mamés last year when he unexpectedly made his debut in the opening game of the season. The goalkeeper had left for Elche on loan just 19 days before being called back by Athletic and played at a very high level until Iago Herrerín returned from injury. The 22-year-old recently reflected on the experience in an interview with Teleberri Kirolak on EITB and said that he will never forget it.
“I will always remember my debut. How could I not remember it, it’s something that will stay with me for a lifetime. Last year I knew that I didn’t have a place at Athletic where Kepa, Herrerín, and Remiro were all present. I had to look for a loan and play minutes in the Second Division. Then came Kepa’s departure, Herrerín suffered an arm injury and 19 days after leaving I was told I had to return home. I didn’t know Alex’s situation.”
Leading up to last season’s opener against Leganés, Simón didn’t now that he would be starting until the day before. The team was training at San Mamés when he found out and explained that the feeling was something he can’t put into words.
“The day before the game, when we were training at San Mamés, I found out that Berizzo was putting me in the starting lineup. At that moment I looked up and, because we were at San Mamés, I imaged that it was going to be full. It’s a feeling that I don’t know how to define. It was surreal.”
Simón was eventually taken out of the starting lineup when Herrerín returned from injury. The goalkeeper admitted that he wasn’t happy about it but also understood the decision. It was difficult to adjust to being a backup, though Simón says he learned a lot last year.
“I felt that I was doing well on the field. I won’t lie, I didn’t like that I was taken out of the team and Herrerín was made the starter but I also understood. The entire reason that Berizzo gave me the chance to start was because Herrerín was injured and I think he deserved the opportunity. He did quite well and there was no reason to change the starter again. It was a difficult two weeks for me because I wasn’t used to being on the bench. I had always been lucky to play in the lower levels but it was also a year of learning.”
Going into this past summer it was clear that there would be a battle for the starting goalkeeper role. Simón shared that Gaizka Garitano didn’t reveal anything throughout the preseason and it wasn’t until the opener against Barcelona that the decision was announced. Simón has started all four games so far this season but doesn’t think he has fully earned the role yet.
“Neither of us knew anything in the preseason. We split the minutes after I arrived later because of the European Championship with the U21 team. I was curious to know who the coach was going to choose but we only had a few days. At this point last season I also thought I was the starter and in the eighth game there was a change. It’s too early to say that I’m the starting goalkeeper after just four games but for now my goal is to enjoy it, keep clean sheets, and try to help the team as much as possible.”
While Simón has played great since making his debut, the Athletic defense has certainly made things easier on him as well. The goalkeeper proudly praised the team’s defensive strength and said that it takes every player on the field working together to be successful.
“Sometimes we have luck but this team is characterized by defensive strength. To defend well all eleven players have to defend as a team, not only the defenders. From Williams or Aduriz all the way back to me it takes everyone. That’s what we are characterized which is why we concede so few goals and chances.”
Unai Simón has kept three clean sheets over the first four games of the season and will try to add another one on Sunday when Athletic host Alavés. This will be the second Basque Derby at San Mamés this season and an important game for Athletic to continue their exciting start.