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Athletic Bilbao

Why Beñat will be a key player for Athletic Bilbao

Beñat Etxebarria Urkiaga, born 19 February 1987, known as Beñat, is a Spanish professional footballer who has recently signed for Athletic Bilbao.

Born in Igorre, Biscay,  Beñat came through the prolific youth ranks at Athletic Bilbao, Lezama, and played his first three years with both the third team, CD Baskonia, and the reserve side.

On 29 October 2006 he appeared in his first – and only – La Liga game, which consisted of six minutes against CA Osasuna in a 1–1 away draw after replacing another youth product, Francisco Yeste.

In the 2008–09 season Beñat played with UB Conquense in the third division, after which he was released by Athletic. In the summer he signed with Real Betis, but spent his first season with the reserves also in level three.

On 29 August 2010 Beñat made his debut for Betis’ main squad, playing the second half of the 4–1 home win against Granada CF and assisting on a Salva Sevilla goal. Three days later he scored in his first start, a 2–1 home triumph against UD Salamanca for the season’s Copa del Rey; in the league campaign he contributed with 36 matches (30 starts, 2.521 minutes of action) as the Andalusians returned to the top flight after three years, netting four times.

On 2 May 2012, Beñat scored twice (his fifth and sixth goals of the season) in a 2–1 win at Sevilla FC for the local derby. The winner came in the 90th minute.

On 24 November 2012, Beñat netted the game’s only goal in a 1–0 home success over Real Madrid. He scored with a shot from outside the 18-yard box in the 17th minute. He finished the campaign with 34 games and four goals, helping the club finish seventh and qualify to the UEFA Europa League.

In June 2013 Beñat returned to Athletic Bilbao, signing a five-year contract for a reported fee of €8 million.

Beñat played with the Spanish youth teams at the Under-17 level. He made his debut for the full side on 26 May 2012, playing 45 minutes in a 2–0 friendly win with Serbia in St. Gallen and thus becoming the first Betis player since Juanito to don the national team shirt, nearly four years later.

So what makes this 26 year old, 177cm and 72 kg central midfielder a vital key for Athletic Bilbao?

Dominantly right footed, Beñat operates as a deep lying central midfielder and normally part of a midfield duo which sits just in front of the midfield three in Real Betis’ favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

Beñat makes around 15% of all Betis passes in each game with an average of 2.0 key passes each game (more than Xabi Alonso or Cesc Fabregas so far this season).

You might wonder, how does he provide goals and add himself in the score sheet?

His deep starting position allows him to arrive at the edge of the opponent’s penalty area late and unmarked by the opposition, giving him time to shoot and score.

He also makes his presence known with scoring goals from freekicks and/or assisting a goal through headers from long range free kicks.

He kicks it almost similar to Pirlo. He swirls the ball high and it enters through the net at the lower sides of the goal. His most notable free kick was against Sevilla in the Seville derby where he shot a set piece under the defensive wall and scored.

When you consider his role and performances for Betis, you start to appreciate and accept his importance to the club.