Beñat: An ode to the beating heart of the Bulls

Photograph and copyright owned by MacArthur Bulls FC – facts and figures by James Rhys.

Macarthur FC have enjoyed a fantastic start to life in the A-League. The new franchise from South West Sydney currently lead the league in clean sheets, passes and passing accuracy, and their technically gifted squad has out-passed and, at times, outclassed their opponents on their march to third place.

At the heart of it all is Beñat Etxebarria Urkiaga.

A product of the youth ranks of Athletic Club Bilbao, the Biscay born midfielder racked up over 350 appearances in his homeland, representing CD Basconia, Consequense and Real Betis between two spells at the Basque giants.

Beñat brought the curtain down on a 15 year stint in the Spanish game with a glittering seven year spell in Bilbao, taking the first touch at the new San Mamés Stadium, reaching the quarter finals of the Europa League and lifting the Spanish Supercopa, the club’s first major honour in 31 years, before signing for Macarthur ahead of their maiden A-League campaign.  

Etxebarria has played in every game so far this season, racking up 1,136 minutes in 12 starts and three substitute appearances for the Bulls. Head coach Ante Milicic likes his sides to play a positive, possession-based brand of football, and Beñat has become the personification of that philosophy.

Dictating play from the heart of midfield, the Spaniard has completed 932 of his attempted 1,037 passes (89.9%), and 89 of 118 (75.4%) long passes from the base of midfield. The vast majority (84%) of his attempted passes are positive, with his favoured outlet being the right flank, a third of his attempts heading to the area of the pitch conveniently accommodated by former Athletic Bilbao teammate Markel Susaeta. Just 15.6% of his passes go backward.  

This passing ability has seen Beñat become one of the team’s leading creative outlets. With 34 key passes and three assists, he is Macarthur’s leading provider, tied on three with Tommy Oar. The 34 year old also provides a threat at set pieces, which suits the Bulls striker Matt Derbyshire perfectly. The veteran Englishman is an old school “fox in the box” style forward, and nine of his 10 goals this season have come within the box, five of those with his head.

Despite his attacking output, Beñat is deployed mainly as a defensive midfielder and is effective at breaking up play. At 5’9, the Spaniard is no bruiser, instead using his experience and ability to read the game to anticipate his opponents, leading to 14 interceptions, 48% tackles won, 52.7% successful duels and an impressive 83.3% success rate in aerial duels.

They say that stats don’t tell you the full story, but if you put them to one side, the Spanish international is just a pleasure to watch.

On the ball, he oozes class. Calm and collected with unrivalled vision, it often seems like he is playing the game at a different pace to the other 21 men on the park.

From cutting teams apart with killer passes to strangling life out of the game by maintaining possession, Beñat controls the tempo of Macarthur’s play from the centre of the pitch, like a conductor leading his orchestra in a beautiful symphony.

And he makes it look easy.

Published by James Rhys

Welshman in Scotland dreaming of Down Under. Experienced freelance football writer, media and comms professional. Aston Villa fan, so used to disappointment.

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