Athletic Club’s Basque-Only Player Policy Explained

Athletic Club’s Basque-Only Player Policy Explained

Bilbao, the capital of Spain’s Basque Country,
has a deeply idiosyncratic culture – from their separatist sentiment to their unique
language Euskera. It is a part of Spain, yet completely unique. Unsurprisingly, this bleeds
into their football as well. As a beacon for the Basque people, Athletic Bilbao have come
to fly the region’s flag in Spain. One of the most singular facets of the club
is their ‘Basque-only’ player policy. It’s an aspect of the club that operates
both in the realm of identity and economy with multifaceted repercussions in each. Although their philosophy has evolved greatly
in its cultural significance, the origin was actually very banal and born out of practicality.
In the 1911 Copa Del Rey, the club were accused of fielding ineligible players. Offended by
this charge, they decided that their name wouldn’t be dragged through the muck again
and thus decided upon their Basque-only, or players “formed locally”, signing policy
to avoid any further confusion. At the heart of Athletic Bilbao’s policy
is their academy in Lezama, responsible for churning out over 85% of their players and,
despite oscillating results, has made them the only side in La Liga besides Real Madrid
and Barcelona, never to have been relegated. The academy is recognised by its iconic arches,
an architectural carry-over from their iconic former ground – San Mamés. The iconic training
complex is never short of players, despite the rule. The academy begins a bit later than
most – at the under-10s level, but last year boasted around 1,500 nine-year-olds coming
to train at that entry point. Getting to this stage begins at Los Rojiblancos’
“brother clubs” from the Biscay area and a network of trusted scouts who understand
the culture and requirements for a young player coming to Lezama. How the young talent develops off of the field
is as important as on it. Sporting director José Amorrortu is as interested in a player’s
‘values’ as their technical ability, especially in the early stages of footballing development.
“Kids will have roles and responsibilities as soon as they enter the building; whether
it’s sorting the kit, cleaning the dressing room or carrying equipment. There’s a rota.”
The teaching of consistent values throughout their system creates a uniform culture whereby
peers act as a check and balance. The club is a part of Amorrortu’s DNA, just
like most of the other coaches. Having had a successful stint as player and youth and
full-team coach, he has gained a generational vantage point aiding his understanding of
overseeing the evolution of the club, but also respecting the deep-rooted tradition
in what makes Athletic Club unique in global football. On the effects of the policy, Amorrortu said,
“We have a culture here, an identity. It’s our job to create good people as well as good
players, and nobody does that like we do. Family is everything for Basque people and
we want to do right by our own people. There’s no greater sense of pride for a boy than playing
football for this club.” However, critics are quick to point out that
the club may be being held back by their stubborn adherence to their historical model. Fellow
Basque side Real Sociedad had a similar rule up until 1989 but decided to relax it in order
to be more competitive by signing Irish international John Aldridge from Liverpool. The efficacy
of this move is questionable, with their greatest success actually coming in the years before
the policy was relaxed. With claims of discrimination also waged against
Athletic Bilbao, they have been quick to wave off the suggestion, instead focussing on its
holistic appeal as a part of Basque cultural expression as well as a sort of last stand
against globalisation’s eroding effects on a football club’s identity. It’s not
about Basque superiority, rather about perpetuating an identity. Around 76% of fans said they’d rather relegation
than relax the tradition. In other words, fans are happy to accept inferiority, as long
as this cornerstone of Basque culture remains. Despite positive spin, the club were still
the last in La Liga to field a black player, Jonas Ramalho in 2011, and it wasn’t until
2015 that they finally had a black goal-scorer – Iñaki Williams. This is in large part due
to the lack of multiculturalism in the Basque Country, and larger Spain’s demographics.
When Ramalho played his first game for Athletic Bilbao, Spain had only ever fielded five black
players. Not being an official part of the club’s
laws and rulings, the definition has been outlined by its practice over the years and
has transformed over time through societal change and different club presidents. Sometimes,
confusion and disagreements have arisen over certain players. Players born in the Basque Country but raised
elsewhere are eligible, even in the case of French-Basque, as was the case with Bixente
Lizarazu, who signed from Bordeaux and had spent his youth playing at the French side. Those not born in the Basque country are still
eligible to play on two conditions: they have Basque parentage or have spent a considerable
time in the region’s academies or canteras. How long exactly, isn’t clear. Antoine Griezmann, born in Mâcon in the east
of France, was linked with the club in 2012. The crux of his eligibility boiled down to
his youth spent in Real Sociedad’s ranks. He arrived at the club and studied there,
yet his link was perceived as too tenuous by many in Bilbao. Yes, he was “formed locally”,
but apparently not enough. Most recently, Romanian left-back Cristian
Ganea signed from Romanian club FC Viitorul Constanta despite, like Griezmann, having
no familial ties to the Basque Country. His claim comes from his time spent in the youth
system of Basque side Basconia despite playing most of his professional career back in his
home country. Their policy also has implications in the
transfer market for outgoing sales. Given that the club won’t spend incoming fees
outside of the Basque Country’s borders, there’s very little to tempt them into settling
for anything less than the player’s release clause. Recently, Chelsea found out their bargaining
powers the hard way. Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was set to move to Real Madrid in the mid-season
market for £18m but a smart contract extension netted his club an astonishing £72m. This
strict adherence, or some may say stubbornness, also worked in their favour with Manchester
United’s purchase of Ander Herrera and their city rival City’s signing of centre-back
Aymeric Laporte. For many at the club, victory doesn’t just
come from cups, but from seeing their home-grown talent run out on the field. That their tradition
sustains in a sport so sensitive to change is testament to its power. The strong anti-globalisation message resonates
around the footballing world and the fiercely patriotic club, regardless of results, often
draw near sell-out crowds. As much as an example of what a club can be, Athletic Bilbao are
similarly a mirror highlighting what other clubs are becoming – corporate, faceless entities
with very little connection to their increasingly alienated fan-base. With the Basque-only policy,
Athletic Bilbao should never have this problem.

95 thoughts on “Athletic Club’s Basque-Only Player Policy Explained

  1. Its an interesting debate. were do you draw the line between protecting your own culture and being needlessy aggressive towards outside influence?

  2. In a time where all politics is about spreading globalism, it's nice to see people retaining their cultures and people. Be careful Bilbao, you'll be called racists soon!

  3. It’s one the best rules in football to many clubs would give up and sign loads of duds it’s good to see

  4. Wow. I came in expecting to condemn such an insular way of thinking, but this actually is truly quite beautiful.

    Wonderful, fulfilling, and unique to see a community bond together and form such a love and joy over their football and their people.

  5. I was always wondering why Athletic Bilbao never sell players for less then their release clause. Now i know. Thanks Tifo!

  6. Great video, but I think you forgot to mention that Athletic is the 3th or 4th Spanish team with more titles, with 23 Copa del Rey and 8 LaLigas

  7. Athletic Bilbao are like the modern day Spartans, refusing to change the customs and traditions for modern day, good for them. Just remember what happend to sparta though.

  8. Great vid, except Vitoria is the capital of the Basque Country, not Bilbao, even though it is the most important city

  9. Yay systematic racism! I understand they want to keep it local but to deny players like Greizman because he isn't Basque enough is racist straight up and down. With that being said I hope Catalonia gets their Independence just to fuck over the Spanish nat team and their splinter team(s). "Racism still alive, they just be concealing it"- old Kanye West

  10. The only soccer club I like. Real passion and genuine players. Unlike RM, which buys players left and right and claims to be the best club in history.

  11. Club Guadalajara (Chivas) is historically Mexican National players only, to give the countries youth a window of opportunity.

  12. Javi Martinez once was the most expensive player in the history of the Bundesliga once he signed for Bayern Munich and Iñaki Williams fulfills all the requirements: He was born in the Basque Country, hence he is Basque, and formed in Lezama.

  13. Bilbao is not the capital of the Basque Country, just its bigger city. The government is located in Vitora-Gasteiz, making it its capital.

  14. Hahahaha you tried to explain but went wrong the moment you first opened your mouth 🤣 BILBAO IS NOT THE CAPITAL OF THE BASQUE COUNTRY. Vitoria-Gasteiz is.

  15. This is one of the greatest lies of all time. They got lots of players that are not from there: Muniain, Williams for example they are from Navarra, wich is a different region of our country. Javi Martinez was from there aswell. Llorente used to play there and he is from La Rioja, wich is another different region. The problem is they think they are better just cause they are basque, and they are constantly expanding their zone. For God´s sake, they even have a romanian player right now!!!!

  16. Athletico Bilbao is right. Homegrown players should be nurtured. If you take lots of outsider then football just became money grabbing game. What is use of club like Chelsea if they buy all their players from outside.
    No player loves such club. 6+5 rule should be implemented

  17. I think its a great idea. they should not be criticized for wanting to only include Basque players. People should respect and accept the Basque culture. Its just a different approach to running a football club.

  18. I'm big fan of Athletic. I have page on facebook called Athletic Bilbao – Hrvatska (Croatia). You can check it.

  19. This is racism. Europeans MUST and NEED to embrace diversity. There is no such thing as an indigenous European.

  20. I'm from Bilbao and even though I love football as a sport I absolutely despise the bussiness that surrounds modern football. Thats why I'm in love with Athletic, two of my family members founded this team in 1898 and I will forever support the policy that comes with such a historical team.

    I'd rather be relegated than abandon our philosophy.

  21. They only sign Basque players and are still a solid team after all these decades. Respect

    Also, I would love if older former players would come back and retire there

  22. You guys are just tremendous. The detail put into making these videos and the topic selection is a class apart. My best wishes to you guys.

  23. I remember when I was younger I was so surprised to see that many of the players from real Madrid weren't from madrid

  24. I play for Pachuca U17 academy right now but my family is from Basque, will i still be able to play there if I wasn’t born there?

  25. I remember whe the team's striker is Llorente-Aduriz-Muniain and the keaper is gorka iraizoz and the defender is andoni iraola

  26. Bilbao is not the capital of the basque country, the capital de facto is Vitoria-Gasteiz and the historical capital is Iruñea/Pamplona.

  27. Ok so this is how it goes when people like it's unique keeping tradition when people don't like it's racism and fascist interesting I don't mind just saying oh makes me wonder IF one of Premier League club have this policy?

  28. Great video though there is a claim that is totally wrong regarding the eligibility of players not born on the Basque Country. These players are not eligible by having basque parentage. Full stop. Players not born on the Basque Country but been form as football players in basque teams are eligible, as Cristian Ganea actually is.

  29. Guys, honestly, I really appreciate your comments regarding my team. I grew up with an Athletic shirt. My school mates were Athletic supporters, same as my family, friends, teachers, my friend's families, my girlfriend, the policeman who did fine me, my Karate teacher and so on. Everyone in Biscay is an Athletic Club fan, even if they don't like football. Athletic Club is for us the same as your neighborhood or town team. We all support him because of our neighbor, school mate, friend, etc plays in it. Athletic Club is our team because our people play in it.

  30. It’s such an achievement that they have managed to stay in la liga since their existence considering that they can only sign player born in the basque region or have family ties to the region

  31. Inb4, this regionalism will be deemed racist by global media in 10 years and the club's culture will be destroyed

  32. Actually Cristian Ganea has a basque Grandfather, that was also a point of eligibility for him.

  33. Beside Ajax this is the club i have the most respect for. goodluck in the future and keep on to your talents and soul!🙌🏽

  34. Actually the description is wrong, Vitoria is the capital of Basque Country. However, I am one of those who think it should be Bilbao.
    Anyway, great video!

  35. Club Guadalajara from the Mexican Primera Division have a Mexican-Only player policy. Funny that both teams have very identical kits. 🤔

  36. If anybody has a problem with a policy like this they can fuck off as thats what pro football is all about, taking pride in where you're from and supporting them through thick and thin. I think any real football fan appreciates Bilbao as most clubs wouldve done away with a policy like this in todays era.

  37. The Bilbao women’s program is the exact same, only signing Basque-born females. The team has won the women’s La Liga several times, but their weakness is the UEFA competitions.

  38. In FM it is really challenging to manage this club but as long as you maintain high standard of youth facilities just like in real events, production of talented youngsters never stops.

  39. In 2009/10 one of their most famous players, Joseba Etxeberria, played out the final year of his contract for FREE! As a gift to the club and fans. How's that for a gesture?

  40. This should be the model of how all clubs should be, rather than the plastic lottery winner model re Man City and CheaT$ki etc.

  41. There are many mistakes in this video:
    – The capital of Basque Country is Vitoria-Gasteiz, not Bilbao
    – Athletic has a policy, and they break their rules when they decide it in cases like Laporte.
    – Athletic pays transfers for Basque players, even when the other club decide not to negociate.
    – Some seasons they former less players to become professionals than Real Sociedad or Villarreal
    – Athletic do the same than Real Madrid or Barcelona moving children to not pay transfers and form them as players instead of be formed for the clubs from origin
    – Athletic is one the clubs in Spain who receives more public money from Basque goberment and Bizkaia's council
    – Players like Fernando Llorente or Javi Martinez who decide to leave the club after finish their contracts receives buillyng from the fans and media

    Athletic was a great club, but now is a fake club and don't respect other Basque team's and players

  42. Quick correction. Lizarazu was allowed to play with Athletic Bilbao not because he played for nearby Bordeaux but because he was born in Saint-Jean-de-Luz which is in French basque country. Aymeric Laporte was a harder move to pull for Bilbao since his basque connection was that his grandfather was born there.

  43. I like the emphasis on youth but it does reek of racism whichever way you look at it. Like the Sicilian mafia. You can't be a made guy unless they can trace your ancestry back to the old country

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