Asier Villalibre “I Have A Tremendous Desire To Play In Front Of Our Fans Again”
The year began well for Asier Villalibre who found himself thrust into the starting lineup and playing regular minutes before suffering a back injury. After a month of recovery the striker was in the process of returning to training before the season was suspended. Now quarantined at home the striker is trying to do everything he can to be ready when football returns.
“I was training well,” Villalibre said during Tuesday’s virtual press conference. “What I had was the desire to play with the group with some care for contact. It’s a shame because I was already picking up the pace. Being at home has stopped that a little bit but the day will come when I can train.”
When asked which game he remembers the most Villalibre gave a surprising answer. Instead of his first team debut, the striker responded that it was Athletic’s 1-1 draw with Espanyol back in January. “It was my first game as a starter in the league and above all I scored a goal. I celebrated with euphoria and screaming and then I remembered all the people who have supported me, my girlfriend, family, and friends. I was very proud and will always remember that game.”
Still just 22 years old, Villalibre understands that reaching the first team takes patience and persistence. Even when he left on loan the striker struggled for opportunities but continued working to earn his place at San Mamés.
“Everyone wants minutes and to play, but you shouldn’t be in a hurry. The younger ones, the youth teams at Lezama, are encouraged to simply enjoy football and their friends. They can’t think about reaching the first team because you can get overwhelmed. It’s true that I didn’t play much while I was away, but I learned a lot physiologically. I hardened a lot. I saw how cold it is outside and that everyone wants to be here. It helped me appreciate what is important and work harder.”
Football will return, hopefully sooner rather than later, and Villalibre is looking forward to being back on the field. In addition to the Cup final, the Lezama product is excited to play in front of fans once again.
“I have a tremendous desire to overcome this situation and play in front of our fans again. The important thing right now is to take care of ourselves and stay at home. We have that responsibility. I want to win the Cup final in front of our people. There is no favorite in the final. We will go with everything.”
Throughout his time at Lezama, Villalibre was regularly referred to as someone who could one day take the place of Aritz Aduriz. “Nobody has to be a replacement for anyone,” he responded when asked about the comparisons. “Every player is an individual and what each player needs is minutes and confidence.”
Although Villalibre prefers not to talk about comparisons he does admit that he looks up to Aduriz. “I would love to be like him (Aritz). He’s complete, a clear reference for me. I have no better example than Aritz.”
When asked to choose one aspect of Aduriz’s game that he would like to have himself, Villalibre had a bit of trouble. In the end, he chose the thing that has made Aduriz deadly inside the box.
“I would take so many things from him that it’s hard to choose one. He moves so well, he’s very smart, and he finishes very well. If I have to choose one it would be his headers which are impressive. It’s very rare to see him miss a shot. Having that percentage of finishing goals is incredible and I hope to be like that.”
Apart from Aduriz, Villalibre also shared that he enjoys watching Luis Suarez. Like the Barcelona forward, Villalibre has excelled in using his strength around the box but says he has to be better when playing in space.
“I like Luis Suárez’s game because of his style, how he plays, and how well he uses his body and space. I really like it. I must improve in mobility and seeing space. I have to take better advantage of space and sometimes not stay at the top. It’s what I must improve the most. I have to continue working like this year to show that I can be here.”
Before the back injury and stoppage Villalibre was beginning to show signs that he could become a key player for Athletic moving forward. The 22-year-old still has plenty of room for improvement and is dedicated to getting better. Once the season resumes, Asier Villalibre will be eager to get back on the field and start scoring goals once again.