When Mikel Vesga joined Bilbao Athletic back in 2014 there was a lot to be excited about. The midfielder was supposed to spend the preseason with the Alavés first team, but refused to sign a contract renewal because he wanted to match the switch to Bilbao. Since then he has helped Bilbao Athletic earn promotion, been promoted to the first team, and has become a starter at the San Mamés under Kuko Ziganda. On Monday the 24-year-old gave an exclusive interview with Javier Beltran of AS and admitted that he didn’t even have to think about it when Athletic offered him the chance to join their club.
“I saw it as an opportunity for me. I have always been a person who likes to leave home and focus on sport. I did not even think about it. I came and was able to enjoy the experience. Alavés understood that I was not going to renew, even though they offered me the chance to spend the preseason with the first team, and they decided to bet on others at the club who were going to continue for the next year. The same has happened with Asier Benito [who joined Bilbao Athletic over the summer] and he was already beginning to rise through the youth ranks the year I left.”
Vesga went on to say that he is very thankful for the confidence that Kuko Ziganda has shown in him and that it was an amazing experience helping Bilbao Athletic earn promotion to the Segunda. He also praised Iker Undabarrena whom he was partners with in the midfield and believes that he could one day join the first team too.
“I am thankful for his [Kuko Ziganda] confidence. He wants me to improve, like everyone else, and has known me from the early stages of my career. It was an incredible year when we earned promotion. We have a great group and we enjoyed the entire year, so that was icing on the cake. It is very complicated to earn promotion, it took many years. Iker [Undabarrena] and I obviously played at ease together and his injury was really bad luck. I’m sure he’s going to be an Athletic player for many years.”
The turning point in Vesga’s career was when he was loaned to Sporting Gijon last January. He immediately became the best player on the team and says that the move really helped him gain the confidence that was needed to succeed in the Primera. Still, he knows that he has a lot of room to improve.
“It helped me to gain confidence, to see that I could compete in the Primera and be important for a team that were not doing so well. When you get loaned out, you leave with the idea of working hard to come back. I did not expect to be a starter this year, the competition is so strong. My position has been very well covered for the last few years and its always been hard to get regular minutes. I still want to improve a lot and have a lot of room to do so. I need to improve in the defensive aspects of the game, but being a bigger guy I have to get stronger in aerial battles. I can still adapt more to the Primera and play faster as well. My goal this season is to keep growing, get better in the Primera, and take another step forward.”
In closing, Vesga says that he loves the way Sergio Busquets plays football, but that Mikel San Jose and Ander Iturraspe as his reference points at Athletic. He believes that both midfielders are vital to the team’s success this year and also says the who squad is calm about the futures of Kepa Arrizabalaga and Iñaki Williams.
“Well, I like how Busquets plays, but the profile of a tall guy in my same position makes my teammates San Jose and Itu [Ander Iturraspe] great references for me. They have gone through everything and played internationally as well. Iturraspe is vital for Athletic. He had the bad luck with the injury, but he is doing very well now. He is a wonder and a guy who play very well and is going to contribute a lot. Are we afraid of Kepa or Iñaki Williams leaving? No, we are all calm. We want them here and we are all sure that they will stay here.”
Mikel Vesga and Athletic Club will be back in action on 10 September when will they host newly promoted Girona at the San Mamés. The Lions currently sit tied for fourth place in the La Liga table with four points, so they will be looking to add another three on Sunday to continue their great start to the season. Kuko Ziganda has already proven to be very focused on player rotations so it will be interesting to see who starts against Girona and who will be rested for Thursday’s Europa League group stage match against Hertha Berlin.
*This interview was conducted by Javier Beltran of AS and has translated in its entirety.