On Monday Athletic’s chances of singing Osasuna winger Alex Berenguer officially ended. It was announced that he had been sold to Italian club Torino for a fee of €5.5 million which could rise to as high as €6.5 million. Also, an anti-Athletic clause was inserted into the agreement, meaning Torino would have to pay Osasuna €1.5 million if they were to ever sell Berenguer to Athletic Club. Napoli had offered more for the 22-year-old but refused to agree to the anti-Athletic clause that Osasuna required.
Despite missing out on Berenguer for a second straight summer, Athletic had their chance. The Lions could have elected to pay his €9 million clause and he would have made the switch to the San Mames. Berenguer had already agreed to personal terms with Athletic and was even house shopping in Bilbao. However, Athletic were very vocal about the fact that they were not going to overpay for him, especially with a young star like Inigo Cordoba waiting in the wings. They wanted Berenguer, but they also had plenty of faith in Cordoba.
Last summer the same thing happened when the Lions refused to raise their bid for Mikel Merino who eventually joined Borussia Dortmund. Athletic had a lot of faith in Mikel Vesga and didn’t feel the need to break the bank for Merino. On the surface it doesn’t look like that was a bad decision. After one year in the Primera Vesga has proven that he can play at a high level, but the Basques are also still trying to sign Merino from BVB this summer.
It looks like that is what has happened here. Sure Berenguer has shown flashes of something special with Osasuna, as well as the versatility to play anywhere along the wing, but Athletic has kept a eye trained on Lezama and the incredible displays of Inigo Cordoba have not gone unnoticed. Cuco Ziganda of all people is well aware of what he is capable of doing and wasted no time in calling him up to the first team for the preseason. That faith already appears to be getting rewarded and players like Iker Muniain have praised the Lezama product.
In just three preseason games Cordoba has wowed fans and has arguably been Athletic’s most dangerous attacking player, providing two assists along the way. His pace, dribbling ability, and elusiveness have given defenders a hard time and he has looked very comfortable both in the system and alongside the other first team players. Still just 20 years old, Cordoba looks every bit a first team player and, unless something changes, will have a role in Ziganda’s squad this season.
Many fans have been wondering for several months now what would happen if Cordoba was an Osasuna player like Berenguer. Would the Lions be going all out to sign him? Everyone can probably agree that they would at least be making a push. While there is no way of knowing how that scenario would work out, it is clear that the young winger is very talented and could become something special at the San Mames. Like Berenguer, he is fast and has great dribbling ability. He may not be able to play left-back, but he does pass the ball well and creates more chances for teammates. He is also left-footed, unlike Berenguer, which is something Athletic has wanted to add to the squad for a few years now. It will be many years before we can accurately judge whether or not trusting in Cordoba was the right decision, but right now it looks like Athletic has made a wise choice.
So far fans have praised Athletic for betting on Lezama instead of overpaying for someone else. Both Berenguer and Cordoba are exciting young wingers and could become great players for their respective clubs. That being said, it is already exciting when a youth product gets a chance like this. It has been nearly 700 days since Athletic last made a transfer signing, but they have added several quality players to the team by promoting from within. Last year Kepa Arrizabalaga, Mikel Vesga, and Yeray all proved more than capable of competing in the Primera after being promoted and Cordoba may be the next player to add to that list.