Football

Athletic Bilbao are one of a kind

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Imagine you've just turned up to watch Manchester City versus Manchester United; instead of watching the likes of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Wayne Rooney, you see Leon Osman, Wes Brown and Danny Pugh.

No, it doesn't mean both clubs have spiralled out of control - those three players are part of a small selection of players born in Manchester. Now you see how slim the options are, you realise Athletic Bilbao's Basque-only policy is remarkable.

If you thought the comparison of the Basque country to Manchester was unfair, you're probably right. Manchester actually has a much larger population. There are around 2.5 million people living in Manchester compared to just over 2 million people residing in the Basque region - to put it into context - there are 8 million people currently residing in London. 

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Bilbao's success

Bilbao's obvious restrictions would suggest that they'd be perennial underachievers, always struggling at the bottom end of the table. As you know, though, that isn't the case. Despite their constraints, Bilbao has reached a Europa League and Copa Del Rey final in the past five years - not forgetting their triumph over Barcelona in this year's Spanish Super Cup. Not bad going for a club whose transfer targets are limited to less than 0.0003% of the world. 

The relative success they're enjoying looks set to continue, at least for the time being. They currently sit fourth in the La Liga table and just beat Augsburg 3-1 in the Europa League, add that to their seventh place finish in the league last season and they are looking like a solid outfit. 

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How long can their policy last?

As beautiful and admirable as their Basque-only policy is, surely it can't last forever. With the money that is in football currently, Bilbao's lack of transfer targets is holding them back against their rivals. While they possess an equal amount of money, they haven't got anyone to spend it on.

The problems start to come when the bigger clubs come calling for their star players; at times they simply have no-one to replace them. When Fernando Llorente left for Juventus, Bilbao went from Champions League contenders to relegation candidates, it turns out the Basque region was short of world-class target men at that period. 

At the moment they're enjoying a spell of fruition regarding their squad: Iker Muniain, Oscar De Marcos and Markel Susaeta are three of their standout players - the Bilbao hierarchy will be hoping they can keep hold of them for a while longer. Should they all be sold, Bilbao could be falling on hard times once again.

Joseba Etxeberria

While the loyalty of the current crop at the San Mames is honorable, no-one comes close to the achievement of Joseba Etxeberria. The Basque legend controversially moved from rivals Real Sociedad (who scrapped their all-Basque policy to sign John Aldridge) in 1995, once he signed for Bilbao he never left.

His loyalty wasn't due to lack of other options - Etxeberria was highly coveted throughout his time in La Liga, attracting attention from Real Madrid and Valencia. He ignored the glamour of the Spanish capital to stay at his beloved Bilbao; his love for the club was so intense, he agreed to play for free in his final year.

Etxeberria's gesture was a rare moment of respect among all the greed in the modern game. If only there were more like Etxeberria, and if only there were more clubs like Bilbao, football might just get its soul back. 

Do you think any team in the Premier League could adopt a policy like Bilbao's and still be able to challenge in England's top flight? Give us YOUR opinion in the comment box below! 

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Topics:
La Liga
Athletic Bilbao
Europa League
Football

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