Luis De La Fuente “Athletic Is A Clear Example Of Commitment To Youth Development”
Spain U21 coach Luis de la Fuente has one eye fixed on Lezama. As a graduate of the academy and former Athletic defender, the manager has complete faith in the young players coming through the system. Rising stars such as Unai Simón, Unai Núñez, and Oihan Sancet have all played under de la Fuente at the international level and he’s quick to praise the club’s commitment to developing young players.
“Athletic is a clear example,” he told Mundo Deportivo. “In Spain there are teams that are clear examples of commitment to youth development. Of course, Athletic has very good people at the base and this generation is very good. It will be necessary to give them time so that they can develop their full potential. There’s never any doubts with Athletic.”
When it comes to the next group of prospects coming through Lezama, de la Fuente is very familiar with the players. “I know a lot about that generation from 2000 and 2001,” he says. “Sancet, Vencedor, (Asier) Córdoba, to name some. Sancet has already debuted. Those of us who are involved in the world of football already know about the ability of these guys.”
Apart from the likes of Sancet and Vencedor, the next group of starlets included Nico Serrano and Nico Williams who have both been promoted to Bilbao Athletic for the upcoming season. De La Fuente sees something special in the pair, but says they have to stay grounded to realize their amazing potentials.
“They have a long way to go. They have a lot of work to do, a lot of sacrificing to do and dedication, and that is why you have to bet on them. They have very good potential and a long way to go, but you must take care of those thousand details that are needed to succeed in football. They have the base. When we talk about grassroots football I always say that in my time there were better players than me, but they didn’t make it to the Primera and it was for a reason. They are players with something different, but that doesn’t guarantee anything if they aren’t aware that they have a long way to go.”
De La Fuente also took the time to praise Unai Simón and Unai Núñez who were both important players in the team that won the 2019 U21 European Championship. To the manager, Simón is already one of the best in the country.
“Unai (Simón) has a lot of merit and his success doesn’t surprise me. I know him well. He’s been with me since U18s through the U21 European Championships. Four years. I have bet on him at all times. I already said that he was going to be Athletic’s goalkeeper of the future. I have an exceptional relationship with him and he knows the appreciation that I have for him. He has a long way to go, things to improve, but he’s among the best goalkeepers in Spain.”
When it comes to Núñez, de la Fuente is confident that the defender can become one of the best in football. “Unai Núñez has enormous potential,” he says. “He’s a central defender with a fantastic future and I hope he can continue for many years at Athletic. I want that because I like for the best players to be at Athletic and he’s one of the best in Spain in his position.”
Spain’s U21 team won’t have the chance to defend their European title next season due the tournament being postponed. In addition, Athletic Copa del Rey final has been pushed off until next year when fans can safely attend. “The best news is that the Cup final will be held when this virus is overcome,” de la Fuente said in agreement. “The best news for humanity is that it will be played with the public.”
De La Fuente’s familiarity with Lezama and youth football eventually led to questions about Julen Guerrero’s son, Julen Jon, who currently plays for Real Madrid. The manager was full of praise for the teenager, but couldn’t comment on why he hasn’t joined Athletic.
“Julen is very intelligent, he knows perfectly the steps that his son has to take. The kid couldn’t have a better advisor, better family, or professional environment. In football when things have to happen they will happen. He’s a boy full of potential, but with a long way to go. He has the advantage that his father is going to advise him very well and he’s not going to let him relax because he’s going to be demanding. He’s going to be pushed until he reaches his goal.”
Eventually de la Fuente would like to return to Athletic, but he’s happy with his current role. “My focus right now is on getting my team ready to play in Europe and the Olympic Games,” he says. “I’m not thinking about other things, but of course I would like to train at Athletic one day.” A homecoming at some point in the future would be very exciting for Luis de la Fuente and Athletic Club.