Unai Simón “It’s Too Early To Say Whether Or Not I’m A Good Goalkeeper”
Unai Simón won’t turn 23 until June but he’s already established himself as the starting goalkeeper at Athletic and one of the best in Europe. The Lezama product never could have imagined that he would be in this position two years ago, but he’s very proud to be wearing the historic Number 1 shirt at San Mamés. However, at the moment Simón is quarantined at home like everyone else as part of Spain’s measures to combat the covid-19 pandemic.
“I’m alright,” Simón told Iñaki Ugalde in an interview with Mundo Deportivo. “I’m in Bilbao without leaving home like everyone else. Being isolated with the mumps I went through in January makes this something I’ve already experienced. I had to be locked up for a couple of weeks in quarantine. I have a little apartment by myself and I know every bit of it. Being locked up at home isn’t a problem. In principle I’m comfortable.”
One key to staying positive is to have a schedule each day and Simón is following a strict plan. “I get up, have breakfast, and do the morning exercises because we usually have a double session at home,” he explained. “Then I rest a little, maybe take a little nap, and get back to the studios. In the afternoon I train, have dinner, watch some TV, and go to bed.”
Unfortunately, it’s impossible for goalkeeper to work on making saves while confined to home. “We have no specific drills to do as goalkeepers. We don’t have balls nor we do throw ourselves on the beds, but we do have a slightly different plan that the other players. Ours is more upper body or slightly more resistance over short distances.”
In the past Simón has lived with Gorka Guruzeta and Peru Nolaskoain, but this is the first time he’s been alone in Bilbao. “This is all new,” he said. “It’s weird because it just so happens to be my first year living away from home alone. It shocks you to look out the window and see an empty street that is usually full of life and always busy. It’s strange.”
Every night at 8pm the citizens in Bilbao and other areas have opened their windows to applaud the healthcare workers. At a time like this football doesn’t really matter and Simón says those helping fight the sickness deserve all the praise in the world.
“You can see how we value their work with the applause at eight in the afternoon. It seems a gesture that is nonsense individually, but in a group it serves as a support for them because of what they represent. I go out like everyone else, although I’m a little shy and don’t really talk to the neighbors. The doctors and the rest of the health personnel are doing a great job and they are the heroes of this whole situation. Thanks to them we will overcome this.”
In light of the pandemic many Athletic players have made donations which has since been made public by Osakidetza, the public healthcare system of the autonomous Basque Country. Simón explained that no one did it for recognition, but only to do what they could to help the situation.
“It’s the right thing to do. When you want to do a good deed, when someone is in need and you give your grain of sand, it’s not necessary to shout it out for recognition. In reality they are the ones who should get all the recognition. We wanted to contribute in the best possible way in everything we could and Osakidetza made it public. I suppose it’s because they are grateful, but we are even more grateful for all the work they are doing.”
The football stoppage will have a financial impact on clubs, although Athletic are in a very secure position. There has been talk of minor wage decreases and Simón said he would have no problem with lowering his pay if it was needed.
“For my part, I would accept a salary reduction whenever the club needs it. We understand that Athletic is a club that a little more luck in this regard, but if it were needed we would do our part. Athletic is a model club and has always dealt with all situations with the good of everyone in mind.”
Reflecting on his still young career, Simón admitted that he’s still surprised to be where he is today. “Last year’s story is a little strange,” he said. “If they had told me this would happen two years ago I wouldn’t have been able to believe it because I had another plan, to leave Bilbao Athletic for a team in the Segunda. It’s weird but in the end you have to adapt.”
Wearing the Number 1 shirt at Athletic comes with prestige and pressure. With legends like José Ángel Iribar to look up to, Simón says that he just wants to be the best player he can possibly be and that it’s too early to judge his time in goal.
“There is a history here of great goalkeepers. There have always been great goalkeepers here. There is a history but it’s not something I usually think much about when I’m on the field because it’s not necessary to put that pressure on myself. I try to do my job in the best possible way. For now I have played 38 games so it’s still too early to say whether or not I’m a good goalkeeper.”
Simón also benefits from Iribar still being around the team almost every day. The legend offers some advice, but it’s his presence that means the most to the current squad.
“Iribar gives some advice. He talks about positioning and that kind of thing, but only a little. The mere fact that he is with us at the end of a game, accompanying us on trips, or that he encourages you or congratulates you is very important to me. When an Athletic legend tells you those things is’s very emotional and I find it quite comforting.”
It’s still uncertain whether or not football will return this season. More importantly, there’s no idea as to when the Copa del Rey final will take place which will see Athletic face Real Sociedad. The Lions haven’t won the Cup since 1984 and Unai Simón dreams of helping lift the trophy again and taking out La Gabarra.