Athletic Bilbao’s unheralded star – Jon Aurtenetxe
Jack Tanner takes a look at one of Athletic Bilbao’s unheralded stars, Jon Aurtenetxe.
- By Jack Tanner Follow @RafaMoroni
Following Athletic’s exploits in the Europa League many of the first team have received praise and recognition from across the continent. But one player who has gone largely unnoticed has quietly established himself as the club’s first choice left back.
It had been somewhat of a problem position for the club in recent years with Xabi Castillo, Mikel Balenziaga and Koikli all failing to make the no.3 shirt their own. Both Balenziaga and then Castillo were brought in from Real Sociedad but were too error prone and the limited but solid Koi was often chosen by then boss Joaquin Caparrós.
Though it was an area of the team that needed improving, eyebrows were raised when Caparrós added a fourth left-back to the squad by promoting youngster Jon Aurtenetxe. But as soon as he played – and he was thrown straight in – the decision appeared justified.
Despite his young age (he was just 18 at the time) he instantly looked at ease as if he’d been in the first team for years. Though he wasn’t as attack minded as either Castillo or Balenziaga he had composure and rarely let the team down.
It was clear this was someone with potential and though he was ruled out of the second half of the season through injury, he had established himself as left-back.
The new season saw a change in presidency and with a new coach and rumours linking Nacho Monreal to the club, Aurtenetxe’s place was under threat. But following his return from injury Bielsa reinstalled him in the team with Balenziaga being sent back out on loan and Koi being told he could leave the club. Aurtenetxe carried on where he left off and has been an ever present in the team only missing one game that he was available for.
Though not as attacking as Iraola on the other side, he’s been solid defensively and played as an important part as any player this season – especially with his goal in the Europa League semi-final.
Still only 20 he fits into the exciting young side Bielsa is building and already looks to not only be a regular for years to come but also a future Spanish international.
As one of a long line of Athletic canteranos to have made the first team it shows that Lezama is still one of the leading youth systems in Spanish football and validates the policy of Athletic. Though both Castillo and Balenziaga look to have futures elsewhere, De Marcos has proved himself a more than able deputy when needed and B team youngster Enric Saborit shows promise.
It appears that the left-back problem has been solved.