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Ben Jarman is a freelance football writer with a soft spot for Spanish football, and a fan of Athletic Bilbao. In this piece, he tells us what Toronto FC fans can expect from new signing, Ager Aketxe.
Treble-winning Toronto FC have all but signed attacking midfielder Ager Aketxe from Athletic Club Bilbao on a two-year deal to bolster their strike force ahead of the upcoming MLS season. In a transfer window where Atlanta United have trended towards younger, South American prospects TFC have turned their attention toward a European playmaker in the form of Aketxe.
As with most Spanish clubs, Athletic have insisted on a buy-back clause, should Aketxe live up to the promise that he showed whilst breaking in to the first team three seasons ago under Ernesto Valverde. As Athletic Club only recruit Basque players, the pool of players who meet those requirements become severely limited, and as such the buy-back option was never going to be left out.
Aketxe is an exciting player whose impressive rise through the Athletic Club ranks certainly had fans clamouring for his mark to be made on the first team. However, the slight playmaker has had a turbulent time over the past two years, being sent out on loan to Cadiz in the second division before succumbing to a serious knee injury over the summer limited his playing time this season. More than capable of playing in both the support striker/number 10 role, Aketxe can also operate as a floating winger, coming inside to link up the play. Thriving in space, Aketxe is most effective when coming in off the wing and finding gaps between the midfielders and defensive line – watching a video of his compilations online will demonstrate to any TFC fan what he does best: letting the ball come across his body on to his favoured left foot before driving a low hard shot across the keeper. Let’s not forget his wicked set-pieces and wonderful free-kicks.
Like many of the young Basque players coming through Lezama, Aketxe has put an emphasis on the technical side of his game, boasting impressive close control and a good understanding of patterns of play to become as effective as possible. Conversely, this tendency to drift also means that he can let play pass him by and his decision making and finishing can, at times, be wayward. It is also worth noting that he is not blessed with blistering pace, but makes up for this with body positioning and quick bursts past markers.
Athletic fans will be sad to see Aketxe go and rue that the player never fulfilled his exciting potential at San Mames under two coaches. Toronto, however, have an exciting playmaker who should thrive in the space and slower tempo of MLS.