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Basque soccer club would say 'no' to Beckham, Ronaldo or Zidane

Alberto Letona
Canadian Press

Friday, October 22, 2004

BILBAO, Spain (AP) - Most soccer clubs would give anything to sign superstars such as David Beckham, Ronaldo or Zinedine Zidane.

Not Athletic Bilbao. Fans would consider it a betrayal. The oldest club in the Spanish first division, the Basque team has a century-old tradition of not employing "foreigners" - not even players from other parts of Spain unless they've been schooled in the club's youth system.

At a time when clubs in Spain and the rest of Europe are stocked with players from all over the world, Athletic sticks to it roots.

"We can win titles with our own players," said club president Fernando Lamikiz. "We could sign players from outside the region if we wanted, but we won't betray the club's history. Modern-day soccer is too reliant on marketing."

Athletic draws its players from the four southern Basque provinces in Spain, and the neighbouring three northern Basque provinces in France The area supplies 25 of the 27 first-team members, with two others coming from other parts of Spain.

The club is a reflection of Basque nationalism - an expression of cultural, historic and linguistic differences that separate this northern region from other parts of Spain. Although every player speaks Spanish, 30 per cent also speak Basque, an old tongue undergoing a rebirth.

"We're a unique case in the world," said Athletic fan Alfredo Urrutia. "If Athletic changed this philosophy and accepted players from outside the Basque region, people would stop going to the stadium every Sunday."

Founded in 1898, the club developed when the Basque region was the steel and shipbuilding heart of Spain. English and Welsh settlers immigrated to the area, and some with names like Evans and Jones played for the club in the early years.

The British influence is gone, except for the club's English name - Athletic - rather than the Spanish - Atletico.

Winning is also a tradition.

Only Real Madrid and Barcelona have won more trophies, though it's been 20 years since Athletic won the Spanish league. Last season, Athletic finished fifth and earned a berth in Europe's No. 2 club tournament - the UEFA Cup.

Athletic players say they are comfortable with the team's philosophy, and the trophy room still draws 15,000 visitors a year - many from England and Italy.

"We identify more with the club," said forward Joseba Etxeberria, who rejected an offer from Barcelona. "We're not mercenaries who play for one team one year and another the next."

"We have known our teammates since we were little, we speak the same language and we get on very well," said goalie Dani Aranzubia, one of the players from outside the Basque region. He joined Athletic at 14.

But some fans hint at change.

"Our team can't compete with players from all over the world," Jose Antonio Berasaluze said. "We need to get rid of this romantic vision and adapt to the modern age."

Anyone who agrees with the last paragraph and the fan who would like the Basque-player only policy changed?

Senior Poster of the year 2007
40,147 Posts
King_Henrik said:

"We identify more with the club," said forward Joseba Etxeberria, who rejected an offer from Barcelona. "We're not mercenaries who play for one team one year and another the next."

lol :D Very funny to hear this from Etxeberría, probably the only Athletic player, that could be considered a "mercenary".

Fantasy Liga Txampion
11,971 Posts
Koeman4 said:
lol :D Very funny to hear this from Etxeberría, probably the only Athletic player, that could be considered a "mercenary".
Mercenary my :ass:. If he was a mercenary he would be in Madrid, Barça or Bayern who offered him twice as much of what he earns. We can discuss if the way he treated Erreala was good or bad but he is a lion!


If you´re looking for mercenaries in Athletic ask for some ultrasur named Aitor Karanka. I still don´t understand how could we return someone who said his kid dream was to play for Madrid and that everyone who whistled him would have done the same thing as him.

King_Henrik said:
Anyone who agrees with the last paragraph and the fan who would like the Basque-player only policy changed?
No. Lately all this things around football make me like it less everyday and sometimes Athletic is one of the few things that keeps me connected to it. The article is good btw.

1,106 Posts
Here's good article from uefa.com


Basque passion inspires Vasca
Monday, 27 June 2005
By Andy Hall

Situated on the northern coast, the Basque country, Vasca or Euskadi has a different appearance to the arid zones further south within the Spanish peninsular - the terrain is rugged, mountainous, lush and green while the Atlantic coastline is dotted with fishing ports.

Local sports
Basques are passionate about cuisine and all types of sport, not least their own indigenous games like pelota. Their strength is put to the test during local fiestas with events such as chopping tree trunks and lifting heavy weights. Meanwhile, the local passion for football has seen Athletic Club Bilbao, Real Sociedad de Fútbol and Deportivo Alavés thrive in Europe and the Primera División.


At 45, José Antonio Goikoetxea can look back on more than 24 years in coaching. Having been in charge of the team for two seasons, he led his side to the Spanish amateur title last season. His playing days were spent in the centre of midfield for the Bizkaia-based Arenas Club, but he quit at the age of 21 to take up coaching, starting with training children before moving on to senior teams in the Bizkaia region.

uefa.com: What are you hoping to achieve at the Regions' Cup finals?

Goikoetxea: Our squad comprises players who are competing in clubs in the Tercera División. Many of our regular players are now heavily involved in the battle for promotion with their respective clubs and so unfortunately, I doubt that we will be able to count on them during the finals. We have put together a new side - quite an experimental team – but I hope that we can be just as successful without the absentees. If I felt that we were not in with a chance then I would have to stay at home - you must go on to these tournaments with the hope of winning.

uefa.com: Have you enjoyed playing in the competition so far?

Goikoetxea: The experience of qualifying in France was fantastic. The entire week is dedicated solely to football with a timetable and structure that is more or less the same as a professional team. The players are in the same place, wake up at a specified time for training in the morning then play a game in the afternoon. We played on very good pitches and in every way, the experience was very positive for us.

uefa.com: What do you feel are the strengths of your team?

Goikoetxea: We have a common characteristic of Basque football meaning that above all, we are a team – a unit that functions as one. I think we have a very compact, industrious side, one that is prepared for sacrifice and to give the maximum.

uefa.com: What kind of professions do you and your players have?

Goikoetxea: Some of the players are students who are continuing their education at university and others have jobs – one is working in an administrative post and another works in construction. It's a young team, half of whom are studying.

uefa.com: What would winning the trophy mean to you?

Goikoetxea: For us, winning would mean everything, not only for us but for the region. This is an official, European tournament and is a great opportunity to display our talents.

1,106 Posts

Athletic future in safe hands
By Jorge Sagarminaga

Athletic Club Bilbao's youth team academy at their Lezama training headquarters is regarded as one the finest places a young player can attend to hone their footballing skills.

Major talent
Having already produced prodigies such as Asier Del Horno, Julen Guerrero and Aitor Karanka, the club has every intention of continuing its rich tradition of churning out major talents. In fact, the next generation are already being groomed, with Fran Yeste, Andoni Iraola, Javier Casas and Carlos Gurpegi all expected to enjoy successful careers. Many young Bilbainos dream of pulling on the classic red-and-white striped shirt, and the club try to turn as many of these fantasies into a reality, as Del Horno discovered before departing for Chelsea FC this summer, earning the club a tidy profit of €12m.

'Proud feeling'
"Apart from being an economic boost, the sale of Del Horno gives us a huge feeling of satisfaction," said Lezama co-ordinator Txema Noriega. "To watch a player who has graduated through the ranks here and is now recognised all over the world makes us feel proud. Our work is not about making great players with the aim of selling them - what we try to do is bring young players up into the first team that will be Athletic stars for many years but, if they go to be a success elsewhere, then we are still proud."

So what is the secret recipe when it comes to producing these major talents? Well, Noriega believes it is a combination of an impressive scouting network and constant surveillance of children in the area from the age of ten upwards. "We have a number of scouts who regularly observe the locals clubs with whom we work and also the schools," Noriega said. "The system is divided into zones called 'mini-Lezamas' - the most promising players come to train with us one day a week.

'Lucky 20'
"Then in December and January, they will start proper competition and at that point, we start filtering the wheat from the chaff," he added. "From 100 youngsters, we will select 50, who will continue at Lezama. The group is then whittled down to 18 or 20 players, which forms the squad that will play as Alevín B the following season."

'Study time'
The daily routine for the youngsters is also incredibly demanding - especially when club rules insist that their education must play a key part in their development. "They will be up at 7.30 in the morning to go to school and then in the afternoon, must combine training with their studies," said Noriega. "A typical day would finish at 10pm.

Above all we want to turn them into great footballers and great people

Txema Noriega

'Great people'
"Later on, older players are brought into the club residence at 15 or 16 years old," he added. "The club pays for their studies - teachers and classrooms are provided and they are monitored closely. Above all we want to turn them into great footballers and great people."

'European chance'
This year has been a real bonus for those who graduated into the youth team as the club opted to give them some vital experience by entering them into the UEFA Intertoto Cup, something which has proved very popular with many of the team. "This is the chance of a lifetime for them," said Noriega. "To play for Athletic in Europe under the orders of [first-team coach] José Luis Mendilibar and even get to train with some first-team stars is a great stimulus." Perhaps some the current crop will soon be joining Del Horno in the UEFA Champions League.
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