A club’s community values in football has taken a back seat in recent times, with the pursuit of glory now the benchmark for a rich history.
It wasn’t long ago that a fan was able to enjoy a game of football, where their favourite team participated and was enriched by a profound feeling of being united by the rest of the people in the stadium. That feeling which is now become mostly a memory among some of the oldest clubs in football can still be found when a local player – one of their own steps onto the pitch where corporate greed has taken over.
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Los Leones are the most unique club that football has on offer in terms of its roster. The need of elite clubs to splash the cash on star players has become a trend but one that Bilbao has managed to stay away from.
The eight-time La Liga Champions have built a legacy by fielding homegrown and local talents since 1912 and it will stay the same. Although to isn’t a written rule anywhere in the club’s books, but the club like to understand and follow their traditions.
Their motto of “Con cantera y afición, no hace falta importación” (with home-grown talent and local support, there’s no need for imports) is of much value to the club and its fans even today as it did more than 110 years ago.
With such values, there forms a strong bond and mentality for everyone related to the club. Due to their Basque-only policy, Bilbao aren’t forced to sell any of their valuable players for anything less than their release clause.
This means that the club chasing the signatures tends to give in and pay that big fat cheque. But why do Athletic Bilbao have their Basque-only policy and where did it all start>
Why Athletic Bilbao have a Basque-only policy
Yes, the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona have their own history in the La Liga.
But what many do not know is Bilbao too should be considered one of the big guns in the Spanish top-flight. With 8 La Liga titles (fourth most in Spain), 23 Copa del Reys (second only to Barcelona), and 3 Supercopa de Espana, Bilbao also have a rich history of homegrown players to brag about.
After just 14 years since the club was formed, in 192 Bilbao decided to follow an unwritten policy of only allowing players from Spain’s Basque region to play for the club. Any relevant communities of the Basque country or to have played for another Basque club, were eligible to play for them.
A player being ‘from’ these communities does not have to be born there, though. For example, current Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte was the first Frenchman to graduate from Bilbao’s academy in 2012. However, the centre-back wasn’t born in the French Basque region and his sole connection was the blood link to his great-grandparents.
With such club ethos, Bilbao have refused to budge with modern football club requirements. This creates a personal connection with the fans, players and the club that is passed on from coaches to scouts and the generation ahead.
With their Basque-only policy, Bilbao have mad sure each player has come through the academy ranks or local Basque clubs. This ensure the players are aware of the community’s rich background and history and know what it means to represent their club.
Athletic Club Bilbao making €140m in selling Aymeric Laporte and Kepa Arrizabalaga. Two players with a combined total of one international cap. Incredibly well-run club and a genuine model of consistency juxtaposed against transfer madness.
— Colin Millar (@Millar_Colin) August 7, 2018
History of Basque policy
The Basque-only policy applies to only ‘players‘ of Athletic Bilbao. It is understood that the local fans want the players to understand the core values of the legendary club. The rule is exempt from managers and coaches, having hired coaching staff from around the world.
To explain it better, there are two photos in the club’s museum showing two different eras. One with their last lineup that included foreign players in April 1911 and their first lineup in 1912 that had players from their own region. The Basque policy has not only been applied to the men’s first-team, but also their reserve and youth teams, the women’s team (Athletic Club Femenino) and their farm team (CD Basconia).
— FootTheBall FC (@FootTheBallFC) September 28, 2022
Athletic Bilbao on paper might look old school or archaic in a football world moving ever so quickly. That is something that their fans would argue against and with good reason.
Having such ethos and values are rare in today’s football world and everyone at Bilbao represents it has powers of its own and is intimately connected to the fans, club and the players on the pitch.
Many clubs have tried and failed to build mottos and values of their own in the club they represent, but very few have succeeded. Once upon a time, football clubs around the world were like that. Now, in La Liga at least, Athletic Bilbao are the only one left.