Beñat Etxebarría Urkiaga
(Real Betis / Spain)
When an international squad is announced, there is an inevitable trawl through the list of names to see who has been excluded. When you are the manager of the reigning European and World Champions, that process is somewhat exacerbated.
Considering the options and quality of player at Vicente del Bosque’s disposal it is relatively easy to provide an argument advocating why one player was chosen ahead of another. It is also easy to see why players who would grace almost any other European nation are omitted.
The squad for Spain’s recent World Cup double header was no different.
With Pique out through injury, Bayern Munich’s Javi Martinez was called up as cover for central defence. There was no place in the
squad for European Champions such as Mata, Llorente or Negredo.
In the UK, some commentators struggled to comprehend how Juan Mata failed to make the squad and incredulity grows when Mikel Arteta is overlooked time and again. Both players have begun the season in good form and regularly grace the Premier League. Discussion around the omissions however fails to tell the real story.
Rather than trawl to see who was omitted, focus on who was included.
About halfway down the squad list, amongst the diamonds, lies an unpolished gem. A player who is probably unknown outside La Liga but who could be ready to take the step up to the next level, in the process earning his financially stricken club a much needed transfer fee.
Beñat Etxebarria Urkiaga
Beñat developed in the Athletic Bilbao ‘cantera’ at Lezama rising through the ranks with the third and second string feeder teams of CD Baskonia and Bilbao Athletic before making his solitary appearance for Athletic when he replaced Fran Yeste in the final six minutes of a 1-1 draw away to Osasuna.
A further season was spent on loan before Athletic released him at the conclusion of the 2008/09 season. Beñat made the journey south and signed for Real Betis where yet another season in the third tier of Spanish football beckoned.
The breakthrough finally arrived on 29 August 2010 when Beñat made his debut for Betis albeit, in ‘La Segunda’, as a second half
substitute. The Basque player would establish himself in the Betis team as the season progressed, making 36 appearances in total and scoring 4 goals as the Andalusians won a return to the top flight.
Position / Playing Style
Primarily right footed, Beñat operates as a deep lying creative midfielder and normally part of a midfield duo which sits just in
front of the midfield trio in Pepe Mel’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation for Betis.
When you examine the statistics, Beñat does not appear to be that special. Just another central midfielder amongst the technically
accomplished masses of La Liga. With pass completion rates at just 80.9% based upon an average of a relatively low 48.7 passes per game, the statistics are hardly overwhelming evidence.
When you isolate and consider his role and performances for Betis however, you start to appreciate his importance to the side. Betis
seldom see more of the ball than their opponent and this season has seen them with average possession of 45% per game. Their collective pass completion rate stands at 75%, one of the lowest totals in the division.
Beñat makes around 12% of all Betis passes in each game with an average of 1.9 key passes per game (more than Xabi Alonso or Cesc Fabregas so far this season).
From his ten La Liga appearances this season, the man from Biscay has an impressive record of two goals and four assists. His deeper starting position allows him to arrive at the edge of the opponent’s penalty area late and unmarked, offering him time to shoot.
Beñat’s winning goal in the Seville derby lasts season epitomised the class he is capable of showing, mimicking Ronaldinho in the
process, and his ability from distance. He struck a free kick along the ground and under the jumping wall to help Betis secure a 2-1
victory over their rivals. Beñat scored both goals in the victory. (Skip to the 1.40-odd mark in the video below)
Slightly less impressive however is his collection of six yellows cards in just ten games.
The haul of six yellow cards has been amassed from the concession of seventeen fouls, hinting at either poor technique in terms of tackling or more cynical challenges being committed.
Either way, it’s an area which needs urgent attention by both the player and the club to prevent games being lost through needless suspensions. Betis are presently a fairly aggressive
side in La Liga with 38 yellow and 5 red cards accumulated already with the season just beyond its infancy.
In May 2012, Beñat made the step up to international level earning his first cap for La Roja during a 2-0 friendly win over Serbia thus ending a four year wait for a ‘Betico’ to wear the red shirt once more. Despite making the provisional squad for the European Championships, he failed to make the final 23 man squad.
In the summer, Beñat was supposed to take the next step. It was only a matter of time before Athletic Bilbao lost their talismanic midfielder Javi Martinez.
Even though he was not a direct replacement, it was inevitable that Beñat would return home to Athletic Bilbao. Here was one of the few quality Basque players immediately available. Price would not be an obstacle. Except that Marcelo Bielsa did not want him.
Beñat remained a Betico as the season began with his form picking up where he left off last season. ‘Los Verdiblancos’ travelled to the Basque Country on the opening day of the season. The performance and win were a foregone conclusion. Beñat led his side to a 5-3 away win.
With the World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign underway, Beñat this time finds himself on the inside looking out. Part of del Bosque’s 23-man squad for the double header away to Belarus and at home to France although he failed to gain any time on the pitch, the experience in itself will have aided him. With Alonso and Xavi on the wrong side of thirty, there is a gap for a deep lying midfielder and 25-year-old Beñat could provide an alternative.
Domestically, speculation continues to link Beñat with Wolfsburg and with contract talks appearing to have stalled, the Basque may soon be departing Seville.
Whilst there may be uncertainty over his future, there does appear to be certainty that the name of Beñat Etxebarria Urkiaga will have a much higher profile over the next few seasons.
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(photo credit: Real Betis Balompie)