Asier Villalibre “I Have A Very Strong Mindset”
Asier Villalibre may not have had many opportunities at the beginning of the season but the young striker has carved out an important role in the Athletic squad over the last month. In January the 22-year-old scored three goals, which included a brace in the Copa del Rey against Sestao River, and admits that it was a weight off his shoulders. Now, Villalibre is hoping to earn even more minutes.
“At the beginning of the season I was more apart from the group due to circumstances in the team,” Villalibre admitted in an interview with Javier Beltrán of AS. “Little by little I have been making a hole and, yes, I feel more and more important. In December there were moments of uncertainty about what the future could hold for me and we both, the club and I, decided that I should stay Athletic. With hard work and training everything went well. I’ve been improving a lot in training.”
The Lezama product explained that not scoring goals had started to weigh on him and finally opening his account with the first team as a great relief. Throughout his development, Villalibre was always a top goalscorer and finding the back of the net with the first team was a special feeling.
“Those first two goals took a weight off. The truth is that I was overwhelmed. When you see that shots aren’t going in, it seems that they never will and you start saying to yourself, ‘This one isn’t going in and neither is this one.’ When I scored at Las Llanas I thought, ‘Finally’. I have always scored goals and last year there were many, but you always have that pressure in the first team, that weight of having to score. The feeling was different against Espanyol. Scoring in the league against a Primera opponent is the pride of a lifetime. I was working and dreaming about it.”
Looking back on his failed loan moves, Villalibre shared that he faced many challenges. Being away from home was difficult as well, but the time away helped him become stronger and take a step forward in his growth as a player.
“I didn’t adapt very well while on loan. In Valladolid I ran into (Jaime) Mata who had a great season and it was difficult to take his place. I was psychologically sunk at Lorca. I didn’t feel very well, but that also helped me get stronger. I changed my mindset. It was cold outside Lezama and when I returned I began to think more about myself and how I needed to work. Last year I became quite strong. I can trust and believe more in myself and I have a very strong mindset.”
While Villalibre has played a crucial role in Athletic’s Cup run, he didn’t see the field in Thursday night’s win over Barcelona. When asked if he though he would come on if the game went to extra time, the striker responded by saying that everyone was just focused on what was happening on the field.
“I didn’t think about it really, I was thinking about winning the game. We were very nervous about the option of being able to move to the semifinals. The Cup makes us very excited and I wasn’t thinking about coming onto the field or not. I’m proud to be a part of this group. Since I was little I’ve always felt what the Cup means to Athletic. It’s a dream to be here now. The days after qualifying for the semifinals have been very happy.”
The return of Aritz Aduriz, who missed nearly three months with a hip injury, has complicated things for Villalibre. However, the 22-year-old isn’t worried about overtaking Aduriz, but rather just proving himself worthy of more opportunities.
“I’m not thinking about competing with Aduriz. I think I have to keep working, learning, and gradually get minutes. I’m happy that Aduriz is available. Kodro is also very good. He’s training well and we are all working to have minutes. I just try to do what the Mister asks of me and what he asks me to do is pressure, run, and have a lot of mobility up front.”
Having beaten Barcelona, Athletic have now booked their place in the semifinals where they will face Granada. However, the Lions must first travel to Anoeta on Sunday for a Basque Derby against Real Sociedad. Villalibre agrees that both will be difficult, but says the team is really excited about the challenge,
“We are looking forward to the next two matches. We need points in the league. They have a great team and play very well. I’ve played with Gorosabel and Zubeldia with Euskadi and they are very good. Granada are a very strong team, with great players like (Roberto) Soldado who continues to score goals. It will be a very hard tie because they are winning games at home. We will go for everything in the Cup and it doesn’t matter who we face. We will play to win the semifinals and the final.”
It’s sometimes hard to remember that Villalibre is still a young man because he made his debut at 19 years old and has been around the first team for a while. Over the past few years he’s grown a lot as a player and person but has also grown out a full beard which he is proud of. “I like it and I will leave it long,” he answered when asked about it. Asier Villalibre is enjoying his minutes, and life, with Athletic and could play a key role in Sunday’s Basque Derby.