Unai Simón “I Will Stay As Long As Athletic Will Have Me”
Unai Simón has been an absolute star since breaking into the Athletic first team last year. This season the 22-year-old was handed the starting goalkeeper role and has been excellent apart from a mistake last weekend that led to a goal which saw the Lions draw 1-1 with Real Valladolid at San Mamés. Despite the error, Simón is confident in his abilities and shared with in an interview with Alfonso Herrán of AS that he’s excited about his opportunities so far this season.
“For now I’m happy, especially because the coach is confident in me as the starter. I’m happy to be at home in Athletic. Conceding the goal the other day was disappointing because the team was working very well and we were ahead on the scoreboard. One play changed the outcome. In the long run you realize that you can’t single out that play alone over 90 minutes.”
After the mistake against Valladolid, Simón’s teammates quickly came to his defense. The gesture was greatly appreciated, especially considering that the goalkeeper has still made only 17 first team appearances.
“My teammates supported me and encouraged me. We are lucky here that we’ve formed more than a team, it’s a small family. We are human, we make mistakes and we are here to support anyone who fails. You have to keep going for them and I know they need me too.”
Athletic’s goalkeeping history is well-known. Legends such as José Ángel Iribar and Carmelo Cedrun have defended the goal at San Mamés, but Simón doesn’t feel any pressure. The Lezama product is simply focused on improving and being at his best each game.
“I know there is a history of goalkeepers at Athletic, bit I don’t feel the pressure. I know what I have behind me, the people who are supporting me, and what I have to do on the field. I know what I need to be a great goalkeeper and I have to do my best like others did here, to be like them.”
Just a few years ago Simón was an exciting young player coming through Lezama but had others such as Kepa Arrizabalaga and Alex Remiro standing in his way of reaching the first team. When asked about his path to San Mamés, the goalkeeper quickly pointed out that many things were out of his control but he was ready when the opportunities came.
“To get to the first team you have to have talent and luck. There were circumstances and the road became clear because of decisions outside of myself. I had the opportunity and I’m taking it. I see myself here for many years because Athletic has given me everything and one way to thank the club is to show on the field the goalkeeper that they have developed since I arrived here when I was 14 years old. As long as the club trusts me, I will give all I have and all my support.”
A major part of the success at Lezama has been the terrific coaches, many of whom once played for Athletic. Simón praised a few of the goalkeeping coaches that he’s worked with while also highlighting their focus on also teaching the important values of Athletic.
“We have very good coaches…Armando, Imanol Etxeberria, Iru…and there’s also the fact that you find yourself very comfortable at Lezama. We train well and everything is very enjoyable. The values of Athletic are transmitted to you. They lived what it means to play here and they try to convey that experience to you.”
Jokin Ezkieta and Hodei Oleaga are the next generation of goalkeeping coming up and Simón believes they both have the quality to reach the first team. “They are very good goalkeepers, like Unai Etxeberria last year”, he said. “The goal is well covered at Athletic. Jokin sees things that Iago and I don’t and Odei makes great saves. If you can’t have a place at home you can definitely find chances outside.”
Of course, becoming the starting goalkeeper means that Simón overtook Iago Herrerín in the lineup. Despite the competition, the two have a very strong relationship and Herrerín will have chances throughout the season.
“My relationship with Iago is very good and we’ve talked many times about these issues. I don’t get into what people like or prefer. We both give everything to keep clean sheets. Iago has had his chances, against Leganés, and we will play three games in a row again. The coach looks for the perfect eleven each game.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s match against Atlético Madrid, Simón stated that he believes Jan Oblak is the best goalkeeper in the world. Playing at the Wanda Metropolitano will be far from easy, but for Simón it doesn’t matter where the game takes place as long as he’s wearing the Athletic shirt.
“Oblak is the best in the world between the sticks. He’s very large and a goalkeeper who has everything you look for. Ter Stegen, Neuer, and Alisson are modern goalkeepers with very good qualities. Tomorrow’s game will be complicated. What I like is to play for Athletic, whether it’s at the Wanda or anywhere else. If I have to play a friendly in Barakaldo I’m happy with that too.”
Simón was then asked about recent rumors linking him with a move to Real Madrid. Without a pause, the 22-year-old made it very clear that he has no desire or intentions to leave Athletic. The Zurigorri has given Simón everything and he will stay as long as the club will have him.
“Things are going very well right now and all that doesn’t divert me from the road. I know what I want. I will stay as long as Athletic will have me, as long as the club continues to trust me and love me. My dream is to play with Athletic every weekend and, in the end of my career, win a trophy here. Winning a title with Athletic is better than winning the Champions League with another team, as Iker says.”
The world has changed so much for Simón over the past 12 months, but he’s still the same person he’s always been. He keeps the same group of friends that he had as a child and explained that they’ve supported him but also keep him firmly planted.
“I have been fortunate to have a great crew of friends. We’ve been united since childhood and they come to see me at San Mamés. The other day there was a mistake but you have support. I went to Murgia to play a card game with the same people as five years ago. It helps to keep me grounded and evolve.”
Unai Simón has quickly established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in La Liga and will need to be at his best Saturday as the Lions look to topple Atlético Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. After going four straight games without a win, this will prove to be a pivotal match over the course of the season.