El Centrocampista

Who is Beñat? – Introducing Spain’s latest international


Spain boss Vicente del Bosque has named  his  preliminary 21-man squad to play against Serbia and South Korea ahead of the Uefa European Championships which start on 8 June. Needless to say, there was quite an eclectic mix of players in the group that will fly to the Swiss training camp at Schruns that proved so beneficial to Spain’s World Cup preparations of 2010.

The squad will be led by Real Madrid stalwarts Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa, Raul Albiol, and Xabi Alonso. Moreover, other veterans include Santi Cazorla and David Silva, each of who are well accustomed to the playing style of La Furia Roja. On the other hand, a whopping seven players (one-third of the squad) have been given their first international appearance. Many fans will recognise the names of newcomers David de Gea, Adrian Lopez, and even 20-year old prodigy, Isco. But one particular unusual-looking name may stick out; “What is a Beñat?” you may ask. More appropriately, who is Beñat?

Beñat Etxebarria Urkiaga was born in February 1987 in the town of Igorre, located in the Basque province of Biscay. Growing up as a formative footballer, he went through local club Athletic Bilbao’s youth system before finally making his senior debut on 29 October 2006 as a substitute against Osasuna. His stint at Athletic lasted six minutes however and after being loaned out to UB Conquense, Beñat was released by the club after the 2008-09 season. For such an unceremonious departure from Athletic, the 25-year old has shown incredible mental toughness and relentless drive to achieve his first international call-up.

In the summer following his release , Beñat  signed with Andalusian club Real Betis, who had just been relegated to the second division. The midfielder toiled in the reserves for a year before making his first team debut for the Béticos on 29 August 2010 against Granada. After playing 36 league matches,  starting in 30 of them, Beñat helped Betis secure promotion back into Spain’s top flight; where they have just finished a comfortable 13th.

During the past campaign, Beñat scored six goals and made five assists in 35 games. Four of the midfielder’s six strikes came from free kicks – a testament to his tremendous ability from dead-ball situations. His finest match to date was the Andalusian derby against Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan just two weeks ago. In a thrilling 2-1 victory, the player scored both goals from free kicks. The first was a firmly struck ball from about 20 yards that could not have risen higher than five feet;  an impressive feat when you consider the number of players inside the Sevilla penalty area. The second strike was a true work of art; with the match level at 1-1, Beñat majestically passed the ball with his instep right underneath a leaping Sevilla wall and past the hapless Javi Varas. With another free kick goal against Sevilla earlier in the season, it is fair to say that the Rojiblancos may be sick of the sight of their nemesis.

This impressive form has led to the obligatory transfer rumours surfacing of course, with  La Diario de Sevilla claiming French clubs Olympique Marseille and Montpellier are eyeing a move to add Beñat to their squads. Ironically, Athletic may also be in the running to acquire their former youth player if they lose any of their own players in the transfer market this summer.

With Athletic’s Basque-only policy, they may attempt to rekindle a partnership with one of their own; but just as any other club, it may cost them about 20 million euros to pry Beñat from Betis. The player is under contract until 2014, so any premature business will certainly put some money into the pockets of the Béticos.

Despite the Beñat’s impressive season, it is highly unlikely the Basque will make Spain’s final 23-man Euro2012 squad to be named on 27 May. However his inclusion in the preliminary set-up named this week is a fantastic achievement for the Betis schemer and he may possibly slip into Spain’s Olympic squad as one of three over-23 inclusions.

Beñat is a tremendously-gifted player and has become a firm fan favourite at the Estadio Benito Villamarín since arriving in Sevilla almost three years ago. Although he may not get the chance to show his fine array of skills in Poland and the Ukraine this summer,  the name of  Beñat Etxebarria Urkiaga is sure to be one that will be mentioned much more over the coming years.


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