Unai Simon: 7 Things to Know About the Athletic Club Keeper Wanted by Real Madrid

90min Staff
Athletic de Bilbao v FC Barcelona - La Liga Santander
Athletic de Bilbao v FC Barcelona - La Liga Santander / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Two years after Real Madrid were heavily linked with (but ultimately did not sign) Kepa Arrizabalaga, Los Blancos may be going back to Athletic Club in search of a new keeper, with 22-year-old Unai Simon the latest supposed target.

It was reported that Madrid had all but sealed a €20m deal to sign Kepa for January 2018, before manager Zinedine Zidane apparently put his foot down over the transfer to stick with Keylor Navas.

Six months later Real Madrid signed a new keeper anyway in the form of Thibaut Courtois, while Kepa replaced the Belgian at Chelsea for a world-record £72m.

Real Madrid v Ajax - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
Real Madrid v Ajax - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg / David Ramos/GettyImages

Courtois has underwhelmed in his first season-and-a-bit at the Bernabeu; his debut campaign coinciding with the club's worst in modern times. Worse still, he also failed to make the ten-man shortlist for the inaugural Yachine Trophy. The horror.

Predictably, Florentino Perez is back in the market for a stopper, with Bilbao's latest breakthrough act Unai Simon linked, presumably as some sort of attempt to rewrite history after the Kepa fiasco.

Here are seven things to know about Simon...

1. He Has a €50m Release Clause

Athletic Club v Valencia CF  - La Liga
Athletic Club v Valencia CF - La Liga / Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/GettyImages

Firstly, as with all Athletic Club players, Simon would be a relatively easy purchase for Madrid. Just stump up the release clause and he's yours.

After penning new terms earlier this year, the buyout option in the young keeper's contract was raised to €50m (around £43m).

It's a high price to pay for a goalkeeper with just 15 La Liga games under his belt but it just might be worth it to end a lot of drama and avoid missing out on another Kepa (now a Europa League winner, Yachine nominee and Spain's established number one).

2. He's a Euro Under-21s Winner

Spain v Germany - 2019 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Final
Spain v Germany - 2019 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Final / TF-Images/GettyImages

Simon went to Italy and San Marino as Spain's starting keeper for the victorious European Under-21 Championships this summer. However, after starting the opening defeat to Italy, he was dropped for Alaves' Antonio Sivera, who played the rest of the tournament.

He has represented Spain at Under-16, Under-18, Under-19 and Under-21 level, with many expecting him to oust Pau Lopez as the senior team's third-choice goalkeeper in the not-too-distant future.

3. He's Had a Pretty Meteoric Rise

Athletic de Bilbao v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander
Athletic de Bilbao v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Simon's rise from loaned out academy prospect to first-choice number one at Athletic has been remarkable.

The departure of Kepa in the summer of 2018, an injury to Iago Herrerin and a contract standoff with third-choice Alex Remiro saw Simon jump from Bilbao's fourth-choice - loaned out at second-tier Elche - to starter in a couple of months.

Unfazed, Simon put in a man-of-the-match display in only his third start against Real Madrid, making key saves from Luka Modric and Gareth Bale as they drew 1-1 at San Mames last September.

While relegated to the bench for much of the rest of the 2018/19 season once Herrerin returned, Simon has since been reinstalled as the club's first-choice in 2019/20.

4. He's Kept a Clean Sheet Against Barcelona

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona  - La Liga
Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - La Liga / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

He's already done something Real Madrid as a club haven't managed since October 2006 - keep a clean sheet in La Liga against Barcelona.

On the opening day of the season, Simon kept Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele et al at bay before Aritz Aduriz scored a spectacular 89th-minute winner to seal a memorable victory over the defending champions.

That shutout was one of four clean sheets already this season (one more than Real have managed), with Gaizka Garitano's mean defence the joint-best in the league so far in 2019/20.

5. He Has Made a High Profile Error This Season

Athletic Club v Real Valladolid CF  - La Liga
Athletic Club v Real Valladolid CF - La Liga / Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/GettyImages

A roaring start to the new season for Simon was punctuated by own high profile clanger in the 1-1 draw against Real Valladolid, where the keeper somehow fumbled a simple cross off defender Iñigo Martinez and into his own goal. Whoops.

To be fair, prior to that he had made a couple of big saves in the same game.

6. His Idol Was 'Gent' Gianluigi Buffon


If you're looking for inspiration as a young keeper, there are worse examples to follow than 2006 World Cup winner Gianluigi Buffon.

As quoted by Mundo Deportivo, Simon cites the veteran 'gent' as someone he tried to use as a reference point.

He is quoted as saying: “When I started looking at goalkeepers, I had great affection for Buffon... It seems to me that he was a gentleman on and off the field.” 

7. Muddy Knees = No Problem


Like many goalkeepers, it seems 6'4 Simon was pushed into the position because of his height.

The Basque native, who has been with Athletic Club since 2011, revealed how he ended up between the sticks and his affinity for diving around in the mud.

"I've always been a goalkeeper yes, but I'm not sure about how I started," he said, via Mundo Deportivo. "The coach I had as a child in my town, Gotzon, told me 'try to see if you like it'. Since I was big and they gave me stick, I stayed there. 

"I had a good time...we had a field of natural grass, with mud...the only one who had a bad time was my mother when she came home to me covered in mud."

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