Hodei Oleaga “I Left To Show That I’m Qualified To Play For Athletic”
Athletic’s goalkeeper battle was one of the biggest debates over the summer. Unai Simón and Iago Herrerín were in competition to be named the team’s starter while either Hodei Oleaga and new signing Jokin Ezkieta would be given the number three role and play with Bilbao Athletic. In the end, Oleaga was sent on loan to Melilla in the Segunda B where he has been enjoying a fine season after a slow start.
“It’s been very good,” Oleaga told Javier Beltrán of AS. “At the beginning it was a little difficult. When you leave your home for a new place you have to get to know things. We started badly but we’ve been improving with several additions in the winter market that are helping us a lot. The table is very tight, if you win two games in a row you came move up.”
Oleaga went on to explain that his ultimate goal in leaving on loan was to prove that he’s ready for a role in the Athletic first team. Earning a place will be challenging, but the 23-year-old believes that he has the quality to convince the manager.
“I left to have minutes to show that I can continue at Athletic. The club facilitated my exit and now I have to demonstrate that I’m qualified to play for Athletic. What I want is to return in the preseason and show the coach that I can stay there. I want to show that I’m ready. I don’t know what will happen. Unai Simón is at a high level. He has confidence and he’s contributing a lot to the team.”
Athletic’s long-running success of producing top goalkeepers makes it difficult to break into the first team. Oleaga recognizes the challenge ahead, though he’s confident that he’s taken important steps forward in his development this season.
“They train us well at Lezama to develop so many good goalkeepers. The two goalkeepers at Basconia are also playing well so those us who are above them have to compete even more. There is always a fight during the preseason to see who can stay or needs to find a good destination. Everyone wants to stay, convince the coach, and stay in the team. I have matured in many things, especially with being calm. I’m adding minutes and that gives you poise that young goalkeepers lack. I’ve improved a lot in that aspect.”
Just because a player is out on loan doesn’t mean they are separated from the club. Oleaga shared that he’s in regular communication with goalkeeping coaches at Athletic and feels supported while away.
“I usually talk to Peio (Agirreoa) and Aitor (Iru), the two goalkeeping coaches, who comment on my performances after every match or two. They tell me how I’ve done, the good and bad, and check in on how the week has been. We usually talk about specific areas and they give me advice. I feel supported by both because they care about my day to day. It gives me confidence.”
When asked about his goals for the remainder of the season, Oleaga gave a simple answer. “I want to finish as high as possible with Melilla and if we can enter the playoff that would be even better,” he responded. “On an individual level I want to continue to grow as a goalkeeper spend the preseason with Athletic to convince the coach.”
Of course, Oleaga has also been keeping a close eye on Bilbao Athletic and his former teammates. “They are having a very good season, they have very good players in the team and I know that because I’ve played with them,” he said. “Ezkieta and (Ander) Iru are very good goalkeepers and that’s why they’re there. I think they are doing well.”
To end the interview, Oleaga reflected on Athletic’s season to this point. “Well lately, despite the results, the team has been superior to opponents in most games,” said the goalkeeper. “We haven’t had luck in front of goal. It would be very exciting to reach the final and win it.”
Like most goalkeepers to come through Lezama, Hodei Oleaga has a bright future ahead and he’s determined to earn his place at San Mamés this summer.