José Ángel Iribar, the mythical Chopo, took almost four years to reach twenty international matches with Spain, from his debut against Eire (5-1), in 1964, until February 28, 1968, in a Spain, 3 -Sweden, 1. There were 1,449 days between one and the other. Unai Simón, who faces Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu today (9:00 p.m.), only had to wait 368 days to complete the same route. Iribar reached 49 games, beat Ricardo Zamora’s record dating from the 30s of the last century and played 12 years with the national team. If Luis Enrique continues to trust Simón, he could quickly pulverize the numbers of the man who continues to inspire the Lezama goalkeeping school, which he regularly attends. After the absolute international with Spain, another four goalkeepers in his shadow, take over the goals of the different national teams.
“The secret? Give continuity to the projects. Ours has been with clear ideas for nine years, although I have been in Lezama for 15 years. It was formed by Amorrortu and we continue with the current technical direction ”, points out Peio Agirreoa, the goalkeeping coordinator of the Athletic factory, the man who replaced Iribar in the red-and-white goal. He is a native of Ondarroa, a town of 8,300 inhabitants that has given the Bilbao club several goalkeepers; the last, Kepa Arrizabalaga, but also Iñaki Bergara – currently the goalkeeping coach of the Belgium team -; and also to the Real: Eñaut Zubikarai.
The last summons of the lower teams in Spain have included Julen Agirrezabala (San Sebastián, 21 years old), who has already made his debut in the League with Athletic and is fixed in the Under-21s. He played against Elche, in the first match in the League, and against Barcelona at San Mamés, after completing a great preseason and very satisfactory performances in flashy venues, such as Anfield. He replaced Unai Simón, who took a vacation after the Olympics. In addition, Alex Padilla (Zarautz, 18 years old), who currently alternates between Bilbao Athletic and Basconia, has already played with the Under-19 team, as has the youth Aimar Peñalver (Egillor, Navarra, 17 years old) with the Under-19 team. 18. He has not yet made his debut with Spain, although cadet Iker Pagazaurtundua (Usansolo, 15 years old) has been called up for the Alfaz del Pi U-15 tournament that begins today.
“One of the most important things is recruitment,” says Agirreoa. “For a club like Athletic it is important to know where there may be players who can reach the first team, and in our case, goalkeepers.” According to the section coordinator, “it is something that has always been taken care of in Lezama. We had Iribar as goalkeeping coach when he retired, who was a mirror in which to look at himself, a luxury for those of us at that time. We were one of the first clubs to have a specific coach, then supported by Manolo Delgado ”.
The department in which goalkeepers are simmered in Lezama consists of seven trainers. In addition to Agirreoa, there are three Athletic exporters: Dani Aranzubia, Armando Ribeiro and Iñaki Lafuente. Along with them, Iñaki Julián and Iñaki Gómez. “We make a specific plan from the youngest,” says Peio Agirreoa. “Every day, the goalkeepers do a different job than the rest of the footballers who train in Lezama and we believe that our way of working pays off. It’s not just those five. Kepa (Chelsea), Aitor Fernández (Levante) and Remiro (Real Sociedad) have also trained here ”.
For Agirreoa, “the training methods evolve with the game. Now the feet are used more, but one of our objectives is that they learn to lock, something that is used less and less. You have to block everything. If you catch the ball you have solved the problem. It can’t always be done, but it should be done whenever possible, ”he says. The profile Lezama is looking for is that of “tall, strong, powerful goalkeepers. The physical is very important ”.
The head of the Athletic goalkeepers points out that “Unai Simón, since he reached the age of 14, is the goalkeeper who has improved the most. When he came, he was not so good, but in four or five years his evolution was brutal, he has improved a lot “, above all,” in the psychological aspect, which for a goalkeeper is very important. When you play in that position, you come up with a good save, but Unai does not come down with a mistake ”.
Julen Agirrezabala, the U21 goalkeeper, has proven his worth, according to Agirreoa, “with very few games. He has been here for four seasons and in lower categories, due to our way of working, the goalkeepers alternate, but with 15 or 16 games with the subsidiary he already gave a very important performance ”. Of Alex Padilla, the under 19 goalkeeper, of Mexican mother, who sounded for the lower categories of the Tricolor, although Santi Denia recruited him for Spain, Agirreoa points out that, “he is very big, he has a lot of size, and he plays very well with the feet. It has a very good performance ”. Also the other internationals, “although they are young and there is a lot of work ahead. They still have to make a lot of mistakes and correct them ”.
The coordinator of the goalkeeper area of the Bilbao club states: “We are working well. It is very important that we put the Athletic virus on them, which is a goal with a lot of weight and it is not easy to get there; Let them know that myths like Iribar have passed through here ”.
By the way: the last goalkeeper to arrive at Marcelino García’s plans is Colombian. His name is Kevin Ríos, he was born in Cali, but has lived in Sestao since he was three years old. He played in the teams of his town and in Arenas de Getxo. The Athletic coach summoned him last week for a training session with the first team.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.