The summer is in full swing and that means that football clubs across Europe are working hard to make signings and improve their squads ahead of the new season. This will be Athletic’s first year under manager Cuco Ziganda who was promoted after six years in charge of the reserve team. As Ziganda begins preseason training next week there will be 10 players who will return from vacation with only one year remaining on their current contract. Every case is different, but these 10 players’ futures will need to be decided.
The first four names on the list should cause no concern whatsoever – Aritz Aduriz, Benat, Kepa Arrizabalaga, and Ager Aketxe. Aduriz is already 36 but has been playing the best football of his career. The striker will sign an extension if he believes that he can continue playing at a high level. Benat, who recently turned 30, is one of the most important players at the San Mames and the club has already approached him about a renewal. A deal is expected to be reached in the near future with both sides eager to get the deal done.
Kepa has already verbally agreed to a contract extension until 2022 that will be signed when he returns from international duty with Spain’s U21 team. He is the present and future at the goalkeeping position and has been outspoken about his desire to remain at his boyhood club. Meanwhile, Ager Aketxe proved while on loan at Cadiz that he can play a role at Athletic and is expected to be a part of Cuco Ziganda’s squad. The team has need for depth behind Raul Garcia and this precisely what the 23-year-old can offer. Reports suggest that he could sign a contract extension this summer when he returns from vacation.
The next next set of names are not quite guarantees for extensions, but that doesn’t mean that their time is coming to an end – Xabi Etxeita, Eneko Boveda, and Mikel Rico. Etxeita and Boveda have both spent time in the starting lineup before the emergence of Yeray last season. The defensive duo have provided immense depth to the team and are likely to remain in the team past this coming season. The only hindrance in their way could be Unai Nunez who will train with the first team this summer. If the 20-year-old shows that he can play at the highest level, it could crowd the bench. This could be the last season for one of the two, but that isn’t certain right now.
Mikel Rico is a proven veteran whose presence in the locker room cannot be overvalued. He does play in a crowded midfield and found it difficult to get minutes last season and the possible arrivals of Mikel Vesga and Mikel Merino could all but end his chances of having a role under Ziganda. However, he has been a leader off the pitch in a way that fans cannot see and that alone could put him in line for a renewal. Rico’s future will likely be decided by how the upcoming season plays out.
The last set of names are the ones with the biggest chance of leaving the San Mames – Enric Saborit, Javi Eraso, and Kike Sola. Saborit just extended his contract for the upcoming season, but that was mainly due to the need for depth at left-back more than a reward for his performances. Saborit just hasn’t played at the same level as his teammates, but the Lions have no one else behind Mikel Balenziaga. If they can sign someone like Alex Berenguer it could likely make Saborit expendable.
Javi Eraso and Kike Sola will also likely leave the club, perhaps as early as this summer. They play in positions that are already crowded and they haven’t been able to perform at the same level as their teammates. Eraso spent most of last season completely out of the squad and the return of Aketxe will likely end his time at Athletic. Clubs such as Eibar and Leganes are interested in signing the 27-year-old. Lastly, Kike Sola has already been living on borrowed time, spending the last three seasons on loan away from Athletic. The 31-year-old is not seen as a Primera striker anymore and will likely be allowed to leave the club for free this summer.
Despite the fact that 10 Athletic players will begin preseason training in the final year of their contracts, fans can rest easy knowing that the club is working on renewals for those who have earned them. Though Ernesto Valverde has left Bilbao, the squad is still extremely talented and will only get better if players like Mikel Merino and Alex Berenguer are signed this summer. Athletic Club is poised for another impressive season and it will now be up to Cuco Ziganda to the lead the Lions into battle.