Next Up – Athletic Bilbao
Athletic Club is located in Bilbao, in the province of Biscay (The Basque Country).
The club’s sporting philosophy (Cantera) is governed by a code which states that only players, who have come up through the club’s youth academy or reserve teams of the other clubs in The Basque Country, which includes the following territories: Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Araba, Nafarroa, Lapurdi, Zuberoa, Nafarroa Behera (Spain) and Labourd, Soule, Lower Navarre (France) and only players that were born in these territories, may sign for the club.
as an institution, along with its supporters are characterized by their desire to defend values which are becoming increasingly uncommon in football and in sports overall in the 21st Century.
Still, in recent times, this policy has been somewhat relaxed and players with direct Basque ancestry or with no Basque ancestry but formed in Basque clubs have played for the team. This has gained Athletic both admirers and critics. The club has been praised for promoting home grown players and club loyalty. Athletic is one of only four professional clubs in Spain (the others being Real Madrid, Barcelona and Osasuna) that is not a sports corporation; the club is owned and operated by its members.
The Clemente Era
In 1981 the club appointed Javier Clemente as manager. He soon set about putting together one of the most successful Athletic Bilbao teams in the clubs history. Young players from the Cantera such as Santiago Urkiaga, Miguel De Andres,Urtubi, Estanislao Argote, and Andoni Zubizarreta joined veterans Dani and Goikoetxea.
In his first season in charge, Clemente led the team to 4th place in La Liga. In 1983 the club won La Liga and in 1984 they won a La Liga/Copaa del Rey double. In 1985 and 1986 Athletic finished 3rd and 4th respectively. Clemente’s Athletic acquired notoriety for its aggressive style of play, personified by hard man Goikoetxea . He favoured two defensive midfielders playing in front of twin centre backs and a sweeper and as a result critics regarded his teams as boring but effective.
Athletic Bilbao has failed to win a major trophy since the success of the Clemente era. A succession of coaches including Jose Angel Iribar, Howard Kendall, Jupp Heynckes and Javier Irureta and even a returning Clement in 2005- failed to reproduce his success. Clemente also managed the team from 1990-1991
In recent seasons
Athletic Bilbao have languished in mid-table and the club was embroiled in a relegation battle during the 2005–2006 and 2006–2007 seasons. In 2006 top-flight survival was ensured on the 37th match day when Deportivo de la Coruña were beaten at Riazor 2–1. Javier Clement began his third spell as club coach in 2005, at a time when the club were last in the table. He is widely acknowledged to have brought defensive stability to the team, and so is also credited with having saved the club from relegation, despite this he was not left in charge for the 2006–2007 season.
Season has been the worst in the club’s history, top-flight survival was ensured on the last match day when Levante were beaten at San Mamés 2–0. In December 2008 Spanish media claimed that this match had been fixed and that some of Levante players accepted a bribe from the Basque club. Despite the lack of on-field success, a majority of the club’s supporters think the club’s identity is more important than winning trophies.
According to an El Mundo survey in the 1990s, 76% of Athletic fans would rather see the club relegated than give up the cantera policy. The most successful Athletic team of recent times has been the women’s football team who have won the Superliga Feminina four times between 2003 and 2007.
Athletic also fielded a black player (Jonas Ramalho) for the first time in their history in 2009. It should be noted that this situation was not a result of any previous official all-white rule at the club but more a consequence of the Basque/Cantera policy – immigration to the Bilbao area from outwith Europe was fairly uncommon until the 1990s, so there were few local footballers from ethnic minorities who could have played for Athletic in that time.
Today in addition to Ramalho the club has several other promising players of various other ethnic origins in their (consistently successful) youth teams, which says more of the applaudable aspect of the club’s policy as supporting local young players, as opposed to the more questionable angle of their employment only ‘Basque’ players at the exclusion of all others
Season saw Athletic make steady progress in the league and in Europe. Decent home form, including a victory over Real Madrid, led to the team sitting comfortably in the top half of the Liga and qualifying from their Europa League group, although poorer performances away from Bilbao meant that a really successful run never materialised.
The home games often resulted in draws rather than victories, and this also proved to be the case in the Europa League, where a draw against Anderlecht was was followed by a heavy defeat in Belgium. Ultimately a promising season delivered little, with Athletic finishing 8th, just out of the European places. But in comparison to most recent seasons it was an improvement. Young stars Javi Martinez, Markel Susaeta and Oscar De Marcos played well, if inconsistently, providing for main striker Fernando Llorente and 16-year-old forward Iker Muniain made a successful breakthrough into the senior squad.
At the other end of the career scale, 500-game man Joseba Etxeberria retired after 15 seasons at the club, and Francisco Yeste, who had also played over 300 games in the red-and-white shirt, left soon after.
As a farewell to legendary winger Joseba Etxeberria, who spent 15 years playing for the club, Spain’s Athletic Bilbao took on 200 schoolkids at once, in the name of charity.
Initially it was meant to be two teams of 100 kids, each playing a half, against Athletic Bilbao’s measly 11.
When 100 kids wasn’t enough to… hold a lead, however, the kids ended up fielding both teams at once — all 200 kids — in a bid to even things up a little.
Playing in a 66-80-51 formation (with three goalies) wasn’t enough to crush the might of Atheletic Bilbao, however, who won 5-3.
This Season so far…
Athletic are 10th in La Liga with 19 points, 11 off bottom and 15 away from the top, but only 6 off a champions league spot; They play Barcelona in the next round of the Copa Dey Rey. Not bad at all for a Club with a Philosophy like theirs!
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