Athletic have always been able to rely on a pool of top local talent. SUR
Born and raised in the Basque country

Born and raised in the Basque country

Athletic's most successful teams are always built around strong defenders; they say there's a local quarry where they mine them

Rob Palmer. Commentator, ESPN

Friday, 4 August 2023, 15:54


There's so much to love about Athletic Club; in fact, there's very little to dislike about the unique team from the beautiful city of Bilbao.

If you know your Spanish football, you'll know that it represents more than the city of Bilbao - it's the sporting figurehead for the Basque region in the north of the country and over the border into France. To wear the famous red and white stripes, you must have been born or raised in the Basque Country.

It's the easiest team to research when preparing for a commentary, as they have the smallest turnover of players in football. There's no "transfer talk" and empty speculation as the options are severely limited. This summer, they've made two free transfers of players who fit the criteria and lost only one significant star. Spain international Iñigo Martínez couldn't resist the temptation of joining Barcelona.

The club do everything in their power to keep players at the San Mamés and there is a premium in the pay-packet to resist the temptation of heading elsewhere. Even so, it's remarkable that they are one of the ever-presents since La Liga was formed and the fourth most successful club in the country.

Traditionally they are a top-10 club, and they excel in the Copa del Rey, reaching the semis in the past two seasons and were losing finalists in the two previous campaigns.

They are fresh in my mind as I'm commentating on their high-profile friendly with Manchester United this weekend.

United pride themselves on naming a former youth player in their matchday squad for the past 85 years, that's over 4,000 games. Athletic's squad is almost exclusively players who have trained at the club's cantera.

The teams are always built on strong defenders. They say there is a local quarry where they mine them. It seems that every generation provides a skilful midfielder with Iker Muniain leading this generation and Ander Herrera returning for a second spell after his career took him to Man United and PSG. Tennis has the Williams sisters; Athletic Club have the Williams brothers. Nico and Iñaki are two crowd-pleasers and international footballers - Nico plays for Spain and Iñaki chose Ghana, the country of his family heritage.

They do relax the Basque-only rule for coaches. Howard Kendall and Marcelo Bielsa were both adopted by the club; current leader Ernesto Valverde was born in Extremadura. He passes the test as he was raised in the territory.

It's a rich football region. Neighbours Real Sociedad will be playing Champions League football and Osasuna will be in the Europa Conference League after a seventh placed finish.

The knowledge is spreading - 20% of the coaches in the English Premier League are from the province of Guipúzcoa, the area between San Sebastián and the French border. Andoni Iraola has just joined Mikel Arteta, Julen Lopetegui and Unai Emery who all hail from the same part of the map. Xabi Alonso could join them soon as he makes a name for himself at Bayer Leverkusen; Imanol Alguacil is one of the most highly-regarded coaches in Spain, following his success at Real Sociedad.

It used to be said that the Basque team play like the English; now the English are being tutored by the Basque coaches.

Reporta un error en esta noticia

* Campos obligatorios