LaLiga’s most productive youth academy at present is at Real Sociedad – and maybe the brightest rising star of them all is the txuri-urdin’s 18-year-old flying winger Ander Barrenetxea.
Locally born in La Real’s home city of San Sebastian, Barrenetxea came on many radars when he made his first team debut in a Basque derby against neighbours D. Alaves by then coach Asier Garitano in December 2018, aged just 16 years and 359 days, becoming the team’s youngest debutant in LaLiga since 1934 and one of the youngest in LaLiga ever.
The confident youngster also underlined his potential and liking for the big stage by grabbing his first LaLiga goal the following May with a fine strike to seal a 3-1 victory over Real Madrid at the Reale Arena, becoming the youngest goalscorer in the Basque club’s entire history.
Under a long-term contract at La Real that runs until 2025, Barrenetxea has not yet added to that tally in LaLiga Santanader but has shown flashes of his undoubted potential. Current txuri-urdin coach Imanol Alguacil has been carefully introducing the teenager into the senior team, but he has already played 32 games in the top flight – something few 18 year olds can say – and has continued to develop both tactically and technically with experience at this level.
Breaking into the current La Real team is not so easy, especially as Alguacil has so much talent capable of playing in Barrenetxea’s favoured left-wing position, including Portu, Adnan Januzaj and Mikel Oyarzabal. However the youngster got more opportunities in the Copa del Rey last season – and scored three goals and provided two assists as La Real qualified to reach the final against neighbours Athletic Club, a game postponed due to the COVID 19 outbreak earlier this year.
These are exciting times at the Reale Arena, with Imanol’s team riding high at the top of the LaLiga Santander table. New signing and World Cup winner with Spain David Silva has been grabbing headlines, but also astonishing is the number of youth team graduates currently involved in the first team squad. 17 members of the Imanol’s squad previously played for La Real’s youth team, with club captain Oyarzabal, still just 23, a beacon of what is possible for talented attackers coming through. Such an abundance of promising young talent means that Agualcil has regularly fielded the youngest XI in LaLiga Santander over the last two seasons.
Long term, Barrenetxea will be hoping to follow in Oyarzabal’s footsteps into the senior Spain national team. A regular with La Roja’s underage teams in recent years, he made his U-21 debut against the Faroe Islands in October 2020, when La Real teammate Martin Zubimendi also featured. Both could well be in the thinking of coach Luis de la Fuente to go to next summer’s Olympic football tournament in Japan
In the meantime, Barrenetxea will be aiming to gain more regular LaLiga Santander minutes, as La Real continue what could well turn into an unlikely title challenge. He has already shown he can contribute this season with excellent performances in the disciplined draw against Real Madrid and stunning 4-1 win over RC Celta. However, there is a lot more to come from one of La Liga’s most exciting rising stars.