Ander Barrenetxea overcame an injury nightmare to become a key player for Real Sociedad

After only playing six matches in 2022 because of injuries, Barrenetxea has been back to his best in 2023.

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Still only 21 years of age, Ander Barrenetxea has already experienced a lot in his young career. The Real Sociedad No.7 debuted for his hometown team almost five years ago and has already gone through the high of winning a trophy with the club and the low of suffering repeated injury setbacks. Now, in the 2023/24 season, Barrenetxea – or Barrene, as he is often called – is standing out in attack for Imanol Alguacil’s side, having scored four goals and provided two assists across all competitions.

Born in 2001 and on Real Sociedad’s books since 2013, Barrenetxea has lived his entire life supporting La Real and dreaming of playing for the team. That dream became reality when he was just 16 years and 359 days old, as he made his debut against Deportivo Alavés in December of 2018 to become the first player born in the 21st century to play in LALIGA EA SPORTS.

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Around that time, the football world was reminded just how young this talent was when Barrenetxea was spotted riding one of the San Sebastián public bicycles home after he’d played almost the entire 90 minutes of a 2-1 victory over Getafe CF in April of 2019. The reason was simple: he was too young to have his driving license yet.

For the young footballer, taking a bicycle home after a game was normal. He’d always been an active teenager, which makes sense since his mother, Azu Muguruza, was the successful basketball coach of Club Deportivo Ibaeta. So, in the mind of the youngster, riding through the streets of the Basque city after playing a top-level football match seemed the most normal thing in the world.

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Over the following year, however, Barrenetxea’s life would change significantly, as he became an even more integral part of the Real Sociedad first-team setup. He played many minutes in the early rounds of the 2019/20 Copa del Rey, which La Real would go on to win against Athletic Club in the coronavirus-delayed final. Over the first five rounds, the winger scored three goals and provided two assists, including a pass to set up one of Alexander Isak’s goals in the memorable 4-3 victory at the Bernabéu.

After the high of winning a trophy with his boyhood club, their first piece of silverware in 34 years, Barrenetxea then had to suffer a hellish 2022. In that calendar year, he played just six total matches as one injury after another left him on the sidelines. That was a very tough period for the player. As he explained in an interview with El Diario Vasco: “I had serious doubts as to whether I would be the same as before. I wondered if the pain and limitations would stay forever because I couldn’t even run. I was stuck at home and couldn’t lift my leg. I felt helpless.”

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However, 2023 brought much more joy for Barrenetxea. His first game back was a Basque Derby in January in which he came off the bench as part of a 3-1 win at the Reale Arena before his second game saw him score in a victory over Rayo Vallecano. From there, he hasn’t looked back and he needn’t have worried about not being the same player as before.
Barrenetxea has been flying and, after helping Real Sociedad clinch Champions League qualification at the end of last season, he has been a regular starter for them to begin 2023/24. His recent goal against Benfica was not only a beautiful strike but it helped the Basque side to qualify for the Champions League last 16.

For Barrenetxea, being able to experience all of this with his hometown team and after overcoming so many injury issues makes it even sweeter. He’ll turn 22 in December and, at such a young age, still has so much room for growth. His next goal is to make it to the Spanish national team and, given how he has achieved every other objective he has set so far, it’s likely he’ll succeed in this endeavour too.