When Marcelo Bielsa signed on for a further year with Athletic Club de Bilbao, the news was met with great jubilation. Not surprising, given the feeling the Argentinean had injected into the Basque club that had been heightened during his first season at the club by two Cup finals and a top 10 finish. However, the new contract he signed came with a list of demands, or requests depending upon interpretation, and one of those was Aritz Aduriz.
A 31-year old striker, in the final year of his contract, who has barely played over the last season hardly sounds like someone massively appealing to a club looking to move to the next level. Aduriz, though, is a special case, and his age is but merely a number.
His signing last week for €2.5m was seen as a little more by a few, given the aforementioned details, but the money will be well spent given what Aduriz will provide Athletic with over the next three years. He’s returning home in a sense too – although born in San Sebastian he’s a product of Athletic’s own Lezama system.
An unsuccessful year at Valencia restricted Aduriz to the role of substitute, and though he may find himself doing similar with his new club, his work will be of greater significance. The striker will primarily take much of the pressure of Fernando Llorente, who when injured last season had no replacement. Athletic’s football lacked another dimension, and the long balls being floated to the edge of the area were futile without Llorente’s presence. Aduriz’s aerial ability is on a par with that of Llorente’s, even despite their height difference, as few have the sort of leap the 31-year-old possesses. He’s capable of playing with his back to goal too, and even better than Llorente when looking to get in behind a defence when the game is stretched. His ability to move into the channels and offer basic link-up play will be essential as Athletic look to retain fluidity in their approach.
It’s quite possible he could feature alongside Llorente too, and give Bielsa that much coveted plan B that was absent last season. When teams like Granada set out their stall to frustrate Athletic at San Mames, it was relatively easy as they dealt with predictable and slow football. The pair together will create more problems and ask more questions of vulnerable defences, rather than letting them get an easy ride.
A hard-worker and diligent on the field too, although he’s ageing, Aduriz has plenty of attributes to offer Bielsa and his approach. His reputation as a poacher will see him take up smart positions in the penalty area and pull away defenders, leaving room for the lively characters of Iker Muniain and Markel Susaeta to intertwine.
The move has a ripple effect on the team too. Gaizka Toquero was often sent on as a central striker for Athletic without fruition. Aduriz’s arrival means he can move back out into his wide right berth, and take pressure of Susaeta who had a more physically demanding campaign than most. With 63 games played he was one away reaching the total of 64 set by Jurado – the most by any Spaniard in a single season. Bielsa had no natural outlet to replace him, thus demanding more of Susaeta’s weary legs as the season came to a climax.
He may not be in his mid-20s or prolific anymore, but Aduriz represents an intelligent purchase for Athletic as they look to build on the exploits of last season. Making more purchases like this means there is no reason why they won’t.