Unai Núñez “I Want To Keep Playing And Improving”
The future of Unai Núñez has been the biggest question in Bilbao for over a year now. After months of rarely seeing the field the young defender grew frustrated by his lack of minutes and started to consider leaving his boyhood club. Playing time was the biggest demand from Núñez and since January the 23-year-old has become a regular in the starting lineup which has begun to change his outlook.
“When people talk about you it’s either for good or bad,” Núñez told Iñaki Ugalde in an interview with Mundo Deportivo. “I’m trying to focus on myself and improving. Everyone will have their own opinion about what is said in the media. The truth is that since a few rumors have come out the fans have encouraged me more to stay and to renew. I feel loved by the fans.”
Naturally, Núñez was asked about his immediate future with the club and explained that he isn’t looking too far ahead right now.
“I’m calm. I have a contract and today all I know is that I have a contract with Athletic. Anyone who is asked if they want to spend their entire career at Athletic will say the same thing. You have to live day by day, year by year, and whatever has to happen will happen.”
The defender went on to admit that other clubs have reached out to him about possibly leaving Athletic. Bayern Munich and West Ham have reportedly offered to pay Núñez’s €30 million release clause.
“Well despite not having the minutes here that I would like, there are clubs, important clubs, that are interested in me. That means that you are doing things well or that you have the quality to do well. It gives you encouragement to move forward and fight for what you want.”
In regards to the interest and ongoing renewal talks with Athletic, Núñez is leaving it all up to his representatives. The Lezama product changed agents back in October but says it wasn’t to help get a specific deal or transfer.
“My agent is the one handling things. All I know is that I have a contract and I’m calm. I changed representatives because I saw with my previous agent that I wasn’t going to be able to face this state of my career. No agent is tied to any one team and no agent can’t take you to a team if they don’t really love you. At the moment I’m very comfortable and I want to continue this them.”
After being brought into the starting lineup things have looked much better for Núñez. However, he shared that being taken off following Iago Herrerín’s red card against Tenerife was very frustrating. In the end, the success of the team was the most important thing.
“Those are bad moments because you have the opportunity to play at the start when you haven’t played much and, on top of that, you’re the one that gets taken off. It’s a bit painful but you always have to help the team. If the coach say that it was the best thing for the team then I understand perfectly. The most important thing is the team, beyond that I was upset about the change. What I want is the best for the team and for me because if we advance to the next round I have more chances to play.”
Athletic president Aitor Elizegi recently said in an interview that since Núñez is having more playing time he has to decide whether or not to sign a renewal. “I’ve been told some things, but since I haven’t read it I can’t really respond to it,” said the defender when asked about the comments. “Everyone has their opinion and all I know is that I’m calm. If you give me the opportunity to play and do my best, which I think I’m doing now, then whatever has to happen will happen.”
Even in the midst of the contract drama Núñez has had the support and affection of Athletic fans. He says that the fans are different from those of any other team, but can’t compare Athletic to other clubs because it’s all he’s ever known.
“Athletic fans are different from those you see at other clubs. They support you in the good times and the bad. I can’t say anything bad about the fans because I feel very loved. Regarding the club, I can’t say if it different from others because I don’t know. This is the only club I’ve experienced.”
In hopes of understanding where Unai Núñez is on a possible renewal, the defender was asked how he would title the interview. I want to continue at Athletic or I want to play. “What I want is to keep playing and improving,” answered Núñez. When asked if he wanted to do that at Athletic he responded, “Playing and improving personally. What has to come will come.”
Turning the attention to Athletic’s magnificent Cup run, Núñez shared that the team were fully confident that they could eliminate Barcelona. The fans played a huge role in the outcome at San Mamés and the defender was blown away by the celebrations after the match.
“It all started during the week. We believed that we could do it. You saw the fans that were plugged in, the reception we had when we arrived to the stadium and when we entered the field. All of that was beautiful and gave us a lot of strength. We were able to endure the whole game and at the last minute we were lucky to score a goal. For me, it was the biggest goal because it mean that we eliminated Barcelona from the Cup. I’ve never lived a moment like that and it reminded me of when Athletic reaches the Europa League final. When the players decided then to do that kind of celebration I thought how great it was to be able to celebrate with the fans.”
Athletic’s success in the Cup to this point has everyone excited. The Lions haven’t won the Copa del Rey since 1984 and Núñez says that it would be his ultimate dream to lift the trophy.
“One of the best dreams is to play for a title with Athletic and, most of all, to win it. It would be amazing. For every kid here, from Bilbao, playing for Athletic and being able to win a title with your team is very special. We have to fight for it and fight in Granada to reach the final. If we advance we will see who comes next. I dream of having the trophy in my hands, about taking out La Gabarra. Being at the City Hall with our fans has to be amazing.”
While the Cup campaign has been a massive success, Athletic have been struggling for points in La Liga. The recent change in formation appears to have brought better performances but the results are sill lacking.
“We’ve gone nine games without winning, but streaks are part of football. In between league games we’ve had the Cup and we have done well in that tournament and are having our reward. The league, in any case, is what feeds us and now we must focus on it and winning the next game.
In addition to having problems in front of goal, Athletic haven’t been nearly as dangerous from set pieces as in the past. Núñez revealed that the team has been working hard to improve in this area.
“I remember when I came to Lezama as a child scoring from corners and set pieces was very important. We haven’t scored from a corner in two years. It’s a goal that we have because we want to help the team. We rehearse everything well, but due to circumstances in the game sometimes things don’t go well.”
The change in formation has been the main reason for Núñez having more minutes over the past two months. Although it’s a new system to him, the 23-year-old says that he prefers to play with five defenders.
“I’m at east playing with five defenders, the whole back line of five is at ease. If you gave me a choice right now I would prefer to play with five, but all my life I’ve played with four and I’m more comfortable with that because I’m more used to it. Lately we’ve played better football. We touch the ball more and have had more chances, but we aren’t finishing those chances. Goals are going to come and they will come soon.”
In closing, Núñez shared that he is happier now that he’s playing regularly. Personally, he feels much better but the team has to improve for Athletic to reach their goals by the end of the season.
“I’ve already said many times that what I want is to play and now I’m playing and I’m happy, at a personal level at least. Collectively things aren’t going well, but better results will come. The team is comfortable with this system. The results aren’t coming, but we aren’t conceding many chances or goals. We’ve also been better when we attack. The goals aren’t coming but, I insist, they will come.”
With Aitor Elizegi stating that a renewal offer is on the table, Núñez must now choose whether to sign a new deal with his boyhood club or continue to entertain the idea of leaving Athletic. Several clubs have already shown interest in the starlet who is now facing the biggest decision of his young career.