Unai Simon (Murgia, 11-6-1997) is the undisputed holder of the Spanish goalkeeper. He has 20 official matches in a row, something that in the almost 102 years of life of the national team is only surpassed by Andoni Zubizarreta and Iker Casillas. Switzerland, tomorrow’s rival, was the one against which that chain was opened. And the Swiss team was the one that made him live his most electrifying moment with the national team: the penalties in St. Petersburg. Before the new duel against the Swiss, Unai, not a fan of interviews, sits down with MARCA to talk about the game, goalkeepers, football and something else.
Ask. What memories does playing in Switzerland bring you?
Response. Here I made my official debut. We didn’t get the victory, but it’s a nice memory.
P. At home they are hard.
RS The public helps them and their game system is to push, without ever getting tired. We know it well from the Euro and from the previous Nations League. We are going to have to suffer. Our way of playing is to move the ball, make them run, but it’s a team that doesn’t get tired. It makes it very difficult for you to find holes. We know what we are going to face.
P. There is that memory and the penalties in the quarterfinals of the Euro.
R. That coincidence occurred. I think it’s one of the most beautiful moments I’ve experienced with the national team. Hopefully we can experience such a feat again soon.
Q. Coincidence or work?
R. You study the rival. If you see that he has taken three penalties and all three to the right, then here you go. But if you get a Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s 200 pitches and you have nothing to base yourself on. Sometimes I see notes to confidently go to one side, to know what they can do. But there is nothing scientific. If not, it will stop them all.
P. Did you know that only Zubizarreta and Casillas have chained more official matches with Spain than you?
R. I have been told these days. That data is very good. I am very happy for it, and for all the people who have helped me get here. Let’s see if I can get to the figures for them, but they are a bit far from me.
P. In your head is that you are the undisputed goalkeeper of the selection?
R. No. Luis Enrique has made it very clear to us that all of us who are here can play against Switzerland. And that people stay outside who could be here. I don’t feel that neither here nor in my club. The headlines and alternates are labels that are put out.
Q. The example is you. He arrived less than two years ago as the third goalkeeper and of that trio only Unai Simón remains.
A. That’s right. Kepa and David (De Gea) were there, who are not here now. But who tells you that tomorrow the one who isn’t there is me, that they come back or that none of the three that are here now go to the World Cup. They are decisions of the master that must be respected.
Q. Why was there so much self-criticism after the draw in Prague?
R. It was a complicated game. We try to fulfill the approach as best we could within the dates we are on. We must improve things in defense and attack. The statistics say that they have shot you on goal three times and they have scored two goals. That is so. But I understand football with the aim of generating chances, having possessions in the rival field, arrivals… Then anything can happen, but the important thing is that the balance is on your side. In that sense, I think we were as always and were superior to the rival, protagonists of the game.
I feel calm with Eric and with all the center backs of this team
P. From behind I did not see that the fluidity of other times was lacking?
R. Fluidity is very difficult when the rival is so well organized in that 5-4-1. And look, I think we have the best players to do it. You have to go little by little, knocking down the wall with a pick and a shovel. By marking us so soon they got further back and it was very complicated. I could see from behind that the team focused a lot on attack. Much. And we were missing a couple of details in defense that we are working on so that against Switzerland, a rival similar to the Czechs, they do not repeat themselves.
P. Do you notice that there are rivals that change a lot from what they see in the videos to what they propose with Spain?
A. No. We knew that the Czech Republic had changed their way of playing and that they were going to do it with five behind. We are the ones who, due to our way of playing, put the rival behind. Luis Enrique shows us what we are going to find. Then we are the players who must make decisions on the field.
P. Is so much criticism of the central defenders unfair?
R. Everything that is spoken from outside, I speak for my centrals, we do not care. We will never be liked by everyone. Everyone has their criticisms. We know when we do it right or wrong. At the end of the game, of course, we knew that things had to be improved. Hence to demand that it not be played like that seems exaggerated to me. We have a clear game idea and we believe in it.
Q. A lot of criticism has been focused on Eric. Are you calm when he plays?
A. With him, with ii, with Pau, Llorente, Laporte, with Azpilicueta if he has to play central… I am delighted and calm with all of them. Here we all go together, with our role. It has been seen that the selection tournaments are not won by individuals but by the best teams. I trust a lot in the center-backs and in everyone.
Q. Is Spain’s way of playing especially stressful for their goalkeeper?
R. It is true that I have some demands more than in Athletic, beyond the fact that the goalkeeper’s mission is to stop them all. I must be more predisposed to play with my foot, to offer myself with the ball, to be advanced in the defensive line, for aerial play, because we are not a large team… A goalkeeper here is required, and a lot . But I know where I am playing and how I should do it.
I don’t think my father shares that when I play I transmit peace
P. Luis Enrique said that he needs goalkeepers who transmit peace to him.
R. My mother will not say that, because she gets very nervous watching me play. But if I convey peace to the master, fine. There will be people who get nervous with me, others who see in me a passivity… It’s my way of being, of acting in football. It’s my way of being.
Q. Does your mother have such a bad time?
R. Yes, she suffers a lot. My father too, I think, but he keeps it more to himself.
P. What protects better, the goal or your privacy?
R. My privacy! We live in a world where we are very exposed. Everyone knows what we do, where we are, what we like… Because of how I’ve been educated and how I am, I don’t like those things. I keep a lot of my privacy, my private life.
Q. Do you have social networks?
A. Yes, but I don’t use them. They are good for finding out about news, situations of colleagues, but I do not use them to tell more things or about my environment. Sounds like a dump of opinions to me.
I have social networks, but I don’t use them. They seem to me a dump of opinions
Q. If we go a little bit into that most unknown Unai, what do we find, what is it like in his house?
A. Pretty simple. I am from my town, from Murgia. There I am Unai, not the Simón who plays football. I am very calm, someone who tries to change as little as possible. I continue with my friends, my partner… My life is quite simple.
Q. How is Unai when he comes home after losing a match?
R. I am very demanding with myself. That day is one of mourning, of thinking about what we have done wrong. Now it is true that you play very fast. In that I have learned, because in inferiors I could spend two months thinking about a goal that they had scored against me. Professional football requires you to turn the page quickly.
Q. Is Murgia the town of Unai or Mikel Landa?
R. [Risas] It is the town of all the town. I don’t know why, but we have great athletes. Be it for the air we breathe or the beer they give us. But there is Mikel, the athlete Elena Loyo, Larrinaga…
Q. To finish. As Athletic goalkeepers they have played World Cups with the Spanish team Iribar (England 1966) and Zubizarreta (Mexico 1986). What does he tell you?
R. There are not two without three.