Asier Villalibre “My Time Will Come”
It’s been three years since Asier Villalibre made his Athletic first team debut. Just 19-years-old at the time, the striker was one of the most promising young players coming through Lezama and already been tipped as the successor to Aritz Aduriz. Villalibre’s debut was supposed to be just the start of something very special, but what followed wasn’t part of the plan.
“You start to think ‘it’s already been three years’ which seems like a very long time,” Villalibre told Iñaki Ugalde in a recent interview with Mundo Deportivo. “It’s a date I remember with great enthusiasm. Let’s see if I can repeat it tomorrow against Eibar. I was happy to debut. We won at Eibar and I have an assist to Muniain.”
After making his debut, Villalibre was then sent on loan to three different clubs in the Segunda where he barely saw the field and was rather unhappy in the last two. “I went to Numancia because they had an injury. I was only there for six games to help the team. As an experience, it was good. It wasn’t as easy to play at Real Valladolid because Jaime Mata was there. At Lorca it was more of the same.”
Playing on loan was the first time that Villalibre had ever lived outside the Basque Country and it was a difficult adjustment. Not playing regularly made it even more difficult, though the starlet admits that he learned much during his time away.
“It’s not easy to leave home. I was away, I wasn’t playing, and even though I thought I was a professional because I was in the Segunda, I was still a 19-year-old who was alone because my parents were here working. It wasn’t an easy stage, but in the end I learned a lot. Yes, I missed home. If I went out and played I didn’t miss it so much, but I wasn’t playing it was even harder.”
Despite the negative experiences, Villalibre doesn’t believe that the loans hurt his progression. In fact, he says it helped him to become more confident and fight for his opportunities.
“I thought the loans were going to affect me in a negative way, that my confidence would lower, but it was the opposite. I changed my mindset based on that. I became strong and said ‘I have to trust myself more’. Last year I started giving it my all and had a good season.”
Villalibre admits that it wasn’t hard to make friends while on loan, though he missed home. He thought that he was already a professional footballer before he left Lezama but the time away confirmed just how special life is at Athletic.
“The truth is that I got along very well with my teammates, but it’s not the same. This is more of a family. I also missed Basque because I like to speak it and listen to it every day. There were times where I would feel a little lonely. When things go wrong a call or a visit isn’t a bad. You miss some love because you still belong to the club, although I have no complaints. I had been at Lezama since I was 13 and I appreciated the change when I left at 19, but seeing the reality is also good.”
After returning, Villalibre made the decision to reject other loan offers in favor of spending the year with Bilbao Athletic. The move proved to be just what the young striker needed to regain his confidence and best form.
“I was young, 20 or 21, and I decided to go back down. I think it suited me. I couldn’t be promoted during the season because of a contractual issue. I arrived at Lezama in the first year of Cadete, although I had spent the whole year before testing. I came from Gernika. There was talk of me, but I never gave it much importance. In my environment we handled it naturally.”
Now that Villalibre has been fully promoted to the first team it’s been difficult to have regular minutes. The striker has featured in just one game so far this season but says it’s normal for a player his age to have to wait and fight for opportunities.
“I don’t think my progression has stopped. Reaching the first team is very difficult and so is playing at 21 or 22 years old. It’s normal to arrive, burn stages, improve, and then the pace slows down with training. I believe that I am improving and that my time will come. You always expect to have more games, but it’s not easy to be young and have playing time. I already know what my role is in this team. I have to work every day to get minutes. Maybe the beard can fool people, but I’m still young. I have a lot of time to improve and I take it patiently.”
Villalibre may not be seeing the field much this season, but he’s still happy to be learning every day in training. At the moment he isn’t considering leaving the club on loan again in January and hopes to have a chance to play against Eibar on Saturday.
“It’s never easy to go without playing, but I’m trying to get along with what I’m given. I’m training well, which is the most important thing. If you aren’t playing and stop training, things get worse. My time will come. Right now I’m not thinking of leaving in January. Let’s see if I can have a chance against Eibar after training well this week.”
The Buffalo, as many call Villalibre, has been an Athletic fan since he was a kid but the nickname was given to him before he even joined the club. “It was given to me by Txus Gojenuri, a Lezama coach, the year I was testing at Athletic because he told me that I was very strong and rammed defenders,” Villalibre explained. “After that everyone else did it too.”
Growing up as a striker, Villalibre followed the career of Athletic legend Ismael Urzaiz and later Aritz Aduriz. Being able to train alongside Aduriz now is very special for the 22-year-old who wants to absorb as much as possible before Aduriz retires at the end of the season.
“When I was younger I looked up to Urzaiz who was strong and finished well. Then I looked to Aduriz. On top of that I’m lucky that he’s here and I can learn from hime. I don’t know what my style is. I don’t like to say if I’m good in one way or another, but I do like to play on the counter attack. I’m young and have a good teacher by my side. Aduriz teaches me a lot about how to finish. He has set the bar high.”
In closing, Villalibre shared his love for the club he holds so dearly. “I have breathed Athletic since childhood,” said the striker. “As far as my family, I would say that they and my friends are proud that I play for Athletic. Gernika and Athletic are everything to me.” Asier Villalibre has the potential and quality to become the striker of the future and, until then, he will continue waiting patiently with confidence that his time will come.