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.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. 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?

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

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

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

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

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

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

  11. 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!

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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.

  20. 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

  21. Bilbao and it's tradition and shit are cool, but imagine each team adopting that tradition. They would then only sign their locals, so unfortunately the players belonging to developing nations or nations that don't have a very competitive league wouldn't end up where they should. Guys like salah, Mane, even Ronaldo wouldn't ever be what they are now. And heck without the money this so called traditional clubs earn from Asia they wouldn't even last for a decade. Fuck anti globalisation, that's just an indirect way for European clubs to show their racism. Just gonna pick Bilbao right now in Master's league and fill the team with all the good African, asian and south american players out there. I respected Bilbao and San mames till I realize from this video deep down how fucked up their policy is

  22. 15 secs of Video and 3 errors:
    1. Bilbao is not the Capital of the Basque Country, it is Alava.
    2. In Bilbao Euskera is not well spoken
    3. And there is not that much independentism in Bilbao. Guipuzcua has much more independentism.

    Edit:
    4. There is not – Basque only policy. Fernando Llorente is not basque nor Raul Garcia.
    Maybe you should ask Osasuna (Pamplona) fans about this "basque – only" Policy.

    Edit 2:
    Results of this policy is luckly, Real Sociedad (and all Primera Division basque clubs) are constanly ahead of Athletic in the clasification.

  23. "Culture" and "identity", the two ingredients you need to cook fanatic nationalism. OTOH, quite respectable that they only accept football players formed locally. All teams should do the same or at least have a maximum quota, like it used to be.

  24. What a great club, I am getting disillusioned with football in general. This is one of the few clubs left with any values

  25. In Mexico there is something similar although not really this extreme(as in limited). Club Guadalajara, Chivas, is the only club that fields strictly Mexican talent. Although this may hinder their chances of success many support it. Whenever they win the league it means so much for the supporters as well as the country. These clubs may seem arrogant in the eyes of others but its great to see clubs like these be successful.

  26. Brilliant policy. Every football club should be made to have at least half of their team from their own country.

  27. Thank you for another racist video. Please do on Glasgow Rangers not letting Chatolics to play on there team.

  28. bilbao is not the capital of basquelands, the capital is vitoria. bilbao is the capital of vizcakaya, which is a province in basque autonomous community.

  29. Its worth mentioning that Bilbao won 8 La Liga titles and 23 Copa del Rey ( more than Real… only Barcelona won it more times). Great club, but i like Real Sociedad maybe a bit more.

  30. In America, this would be labeled discrimination to non-Basque players and everyone would lose their mind. It’s a joke.

  31. This is great………… Unfortunately were seeing a lot of racism in football in ALL European countries. It Is a fact that people are becoming a disillusioned with high paid foreign players that kiss a different badge every other year this marred with mass immigration  across Europe by non Europeans and people obviously get pissed off. Its natural to want to see your own represent you. When Celtic won the European championship  every player was born within 6 miles of their home stadium. When I watch my team your be lucky if 3 were born in England!!

  32. This sounds great and wrong at the same time,Hidden Discrimination, I see no difference between Bilbao and Zenit St Petersburg,

  33. Celtic fan, very interesting club, I like how its all held together for the people of Bilbao and the Basque country, its your identity and should never be forgotten. will visit someday.

  34. What about Bosnian Footballer Kenan Kodro (born to Spanish /Basque mother and his father Meho Kodro the Football legend of Bosnian Football who also plays for Barcelona) born in San Sebastian – Donostia or despite the fact his mother is from the Basque country he is classifyed as "Ordinary Bilbao boy" 🙄🤔🤔

  35. an important addition: Athletic Club de Bilbao also signs players from LA RIOJA and NAVARRA, not only from Vasque Country. Fernando Llorente (Born in Navarra and actually in Naples) or Javi Martinez (Born in Navarra and actually in Bayern Munchen) are an example of many others.

  36. Very good video. I’m from Mexico and in here we have an all mexican football team, it’s called C.D. Guadalajara. It would be great for people to know this

  37. LOL This is happening in Mexico too! Guadalajara is actually one of the most successful teams in the Americas and only plays with Mexican players. But you dont see Tifo football talking about them.. smh

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