Athletic Club Bilbao and Basque nationalism: the unique history of La Liga
The Athletic Club and Basque nationalism are intimately linked.
As with other groups in Spain, independence and nationalism take root in people’s lives. Take, for example, Catalonia. The northeastern part of Spain is an autonomous government. This means that, more or less, they have relative independence from Spain. True, the area is still inside the country of Spain, but in many ways it looks like its own nation.
The Basque Country is similar in many ways. One of the autonomous communities in northern Spain, the Basque Country does not fall into the stereotypical image of Spain.
The Basque Country and Catalonia differ considerably in one way in particular. Their international appeal and historical significance. Barcelona and Catalonia are economically and socially dynamic. They want to bring things to the world both nationally and internationally.
The Basque Country wants above all to ensure internal prosperity. Promote Basque identities, culture and success to ensure self-sufficiency.
This philosophy is propagated through one of the main football clubs in the region, the Athletic Club. Basque nationalism and Athletic Club go hand in hand. Many people now know the Basque team for their strict policies regarding the players they field.
In addition, the rule is generally that the club only play athletes born in the Basque Country or players from the Basque youth systems. This rule occasionally poses dilemmas regarding the eligibility of certain players to play for Athletic Club.
It is a deeply rooted tradition. It demonstrates the Athletic Club and Basque nationalism, but also how to run a club without the same opportunities as those with a lot of money.
Basque athletics and heritage club
Athletic Bilbao have not always resorted to using only players rooted in the region. Early club photos show the last time real internationals played for Los Leones. Indeed, from the beginning of its existence, Bilbao has welcomed English players. They believed the sport came from England, so the best players come from England.
However, in 1912 officials accused Athletic Club of fielding ineligible players in a cup match. With their title temporarily withdrawn, Bilbao protested and adopted a new currency.
Con cantera y afición, no hace falta importación.
In English, this translates to ‘with local talent and support there is no need for imports’.
In many ways, this reflects the political ideology of the Basque Country. The athletics club and Basque nationalism promote the idea that belief and support at the national level can allow a community or group to thrive.
Athletic Club fans hold so much to their Basque identity that many would rather see the club relegated than lose its tradition. A symbol of independence in an increasingly international game.
Fortunately for the club and its supporters, the club are one of three never to be relegated from the Spanish Premier League. They hold this honor with the two league giants, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
Throughout its history, the Athletic Club has resembled the Basque Country and the independent character of the region. The other big club in the Basque Country, Real Sociedad, followed a similar policy until 1989 when they recruited John Aldridge from Liverpool.
Yet the policy prevents the club from acquiring a player in the market.
Success without massive transfers
Athletic Club has a unique opportunity that almost every other club in Europe does not have. Most of the time, the club does not reuse money from inbound transfers to buy players. This means that the Athletic Club has all the negotiating power when concluding agreements. Essentially, the club have no reason to sell a player for less than the release clause of the contract.
Most of the money gained through transfers, including recent departures such as Kepa Arrizabalaga at Chelsea for $ 88million, is spent on modernizing the youth academy. However, some of the money is used for transfers, including the acquisition of Yuri Berchiche from Paris Saint Germain for $ 26.4 million.
Many former players say the money is just an added bonus for an already stable and profitable club.
“We don’t really need the money,” said Josu Urrutia, former midfielder and Athletic Club president for seven years.
Yet the youth academy is home to the majority of the club’s successes. And, given the relatively limited number of players to choose from, Athletic Club’s recent success is impressive.
READ MORE: Where to watch La Liga on American TV.
Remember that the Athletic Club and the Basque players form a tandem. On the one hand, the club is still in the first division, having never been relegated. In 2012, Bilbao reached the final of the UEFA Europa League, losing to Atletico Madrid. The club then began a series of four consecutive seasons of European competition. Their most successful endeavor came in a quarterfinal appearance in 2015/16.
Nationally, the Athletic Club are fourth all-time in the LaLiga Championships with eight. The club have won 23 Copa del Rey titles in their history, good for the second all-time behind FC Barcelona’s 31. And, in terms of recent successes, the Athletic Club owns the Supercopa de España. Los Leones beat FC Barcelona to claim their third title in the competition.
Promotion through the academy and complaints of discrimination
All the aforementioned successes of the Athletic Club and the Basque players are admirable. It’s more impressive given the circumstances. The Athletic Club grows its players through the academy. It is rare to see a player at the San Mamés stadium in red and white who is not of Basque origin.
The club is a sense of pride for young people. Many consider it the greatest honor to represent the Basque country through the Athletic Club.
Lezama, the club’s youth academy, continuously recruits first-team players. Due to recent success, European clubs have bought a handful of top talent. However, this only speaks of the potential and power of the youth academy.
The message behind Lezama is to promote not only the players, but also the professionals and the humans for the Athletic Club and the Basque Country.
“Athletic Club relies on a wide range of talented people to provide our young players with a comprehensive education that prepares them not only for the elite level of football, but for life in general. “ reads the club site.
An honorable act, but one that arouses anger. Football is a progressive sport for much of the world. For better or for worse, the Basque Country is not a popular place for immigrants.
The people of the Basque Country are not racist, it just speaks of their independent ideology.
However, Athletic Club was the last club to field a black player. Remarkably, this only happened in 2011, when Ramalho made a substitute appearance for the club. Four years later, Iñaki Williams became the club’s first black goalscorer.
The consistency of success of the athletics club and Basque culture is exceptional, but must be put to the test as the game becomes dominated by the big money.