Asier Villalibre “I Want To Stay Here Forever”
It’s easy to forget that Asier Villalibre is still just 22 years old. The young striker made his first team debut three years ago but much has changed since then. Three consecutive loan spells proved unfruitful for the Lezama product who rediscovered his best form with Bilbao Athletic last season. Over the weekend, Villalibre made his first appearance of the campaign but didn’t even expect to be called up for the game.
“I felt like I was debuting again,” Villalibre told Robert Basic during an interview with El Correo. “It was an amazing feeling. To go onto the field at San Mamés and be cheered like I was cheered…I’m proud and very grateful. It was unexpected because this year hasn’t been easy. I didn’t expect to be called up and even less to play a few minutes. In the end I was lucky to do so and I’m very happy. There were nerves, not as much as the first time, but there were some.”
Despite the lack of chances this year, Villalibre says that he’s happy. The striker is solely focused on training and getting better every day so that he can earn more opportunities moving forward.
“I feel fine. I’m training well and happy with things, but you always want to play more. You always feel sad when you don’t play. We are football players and we want to play football. Everyone goes through bad times, but you also have to know the situation and try to do your best to play.”
When asked whether or not he will look to leave on loan in January, Villalibre reiterated that he’s taking it one day at a time. Friday’s friendly against Eibar will be another opportunity to play and Villalibre hopes to make the most of his minutes.
“Right now I’m not thinking about leaving. I’m only thinking about the day to day and trying to keep improving and training. What has to happen will happen. It’s hard. At this age you have a lot of energy and want to play. I try to do my best every day. Let’s see if I have a few minutes in the friendly against Eibar and take advantage of them.”
Villalibre has been very happy with life at Athletic since he first joined Lezama as a 13 year old. From a young age the striker was one of the best players at his position, but admitted that he didn’t see it that way and never thought he would reach the first team.
“I’ve enjoyed things and been happy since I first arrived. I scored goals at a young age, yes, but I didn’t think I was going to do anything at Athletic. I never felt that I was standing out because in my house I was taught to live every moment and keep my feet on the ground. Football is a game and I had a good time. It was a dream to come to Lezama because every kid would like to be here.”
Being one of the top players at the academy brought expectations. Many fans began to refer to Villalibre as the striker of the future, but he shared that the pressure never bothered him growing up.
“It’s never hurt me. At home I have always lived quietly and I was handled it well. I’ve always lived in a very normal environment. My friends joked, but that also helped. In that sense they helped me a lot just like my family. My friends would joke and tell me I was going to go to other clubs but it was because they knew this is my home. I’m a very familial person and I like being home. If I could stay here forever, I would. If for some reason I can’t then you have to leave, but if it were up to me I would be here forever. This is my home.”
Villalibre really became well-known when he was promoted to play with CD Basconia at just 15 years old. “Sometimes I thought I could measure up with older players but the difference in age was noticeable”, he said. “Little by little I got used to it and I got along well.”
Interestingly, Villalibre’s nickname has been El Búfalo for several years. When asked where the nickname came from, the striker revealed that a coach from Lezama gave it to him before he had even joined the academy.
“Before coming to Athletic at the Cadete level I spent a year just practicing. I would come to train every Wednesday and went to tournaments. My coach was Txus Lambarri and he started calling me El Búfalo because at that age I was very strong and he said I was always attacking. From then I was Búfalo.”
Even though he’s now a professional footballer, life really hasn’t changed for Villalibre. The 22-year-old likes to keep things simple but is always happy to take pictures with kids who recognize him when out in public.
“I go for a walk with the dog and spend time with my friends. There are children who are excited to see a player from the first team and say ‘Look, Villalibre’. They want a picture so I take it with them and that’s it. There’s nothing weird. I go down the street and it’s the same as usual. I greet people and friends, nothing has changed.”
After making his first team debut in December of 2016, Villalibre would eventually join Numancia on loan. The move didn’t go as well as hoped, but the following loans with Real Valladolid and Lorca were even more difficult.
“It wasn’t the same as being here but I matured when I left the first time. There was nothing wrong with it. Things didn’t go very well after that. Mata was at Valladolid and had an incredible year and I didn’t have a good time at Lorca. I could have done better, it wasn’t a good year. Then I came back here and proved myself last year. Leaving helps you get strong mentally but if you get lost one day they won’t count on you anymore.”
Having spent time away from Athletic on loan, Villalibre has an even deeper love and appreciation for his boyhood club. Football is everything to the striker and he hopes to spend his entire career at San Mamés.
“I’ve already left, on loan, and I felt like I was away from home. It was fine, but what I feel here is different. Call it heat. I really like Euskadi. Going down the street and listening to Basque makes me happy and helps me a lot. Football is the most important thing in my life. First of all there is the health of my family, of course, but I have dedicated almost every hour of my life to football. It’s what I have worked on the most and what makes me happiest in life. I love it. I’d play every day.”
Villalibre has already been through more than most players his age. Naturally, there have been difficult times but the Lezama product believes that he’s done a much better job handling doubts by simply trying to enjoy the game of football.
“I’ve doubted myself a few times and I have to trust myself more. I’ve failed many times and thought I’m not going to make it. There are always insecurities and fears but I have overcome them little by little. My Aita once told me, ‘Asier, I see you without confidence. I want you to think like when you were a child and you went out on the field and had a good time.’ It helped me a lot. I have to remind myself that I have to go out and play. It’s a game and you have to have fun. That’s when the doubts went away.”
For years Villalibre has heard countless fans refer to him as the heir to Aritz Aduriz. Expectations have always been high, but the young forward says that the only thing he can promise is that he will work to be the best possible version of himself.
“My reference is Aritz Aduriz, but I can’t say that I will or won’t be the next striker for Athletic. I am who I am and I can only assure you that I will do my best to be the best Asier Villalibre that I can be. I hope to succeed at Athletic. Nobody knows, but I hope so. For a striker, scoring a goal is the best feeling you can have. When you score a goal you are totally free.”
In closing, Villalibre was asked about the fact that he doesn’t use social media like most players his age. “I don’t use them much,” he admitted. “I have an Instagram account, but I don’t upload any photos. I don’t know much about the social networks. I use my phone for WhatsApp and to talk to friends. I also have a Twitter to watch news, but I don’t use it. I don’t like to tell everyone about my life.”
Asier Villalibre will be expected to feature in Friday’s friendly against Eibar and hopes to make the most of the opportunity. The striker has barely seen the field this season but has shown the potential to become a very important player at San Mamés for years to come.