There may not be any youth system in the world quite like that of Athletic Club Bilbao’s Lezama.
Due to Athletic’s Basque-only policy, youth development is vital for the club. Throughout the years, Lezama has produced legends of the game and continues to turn out top talents today.
In fact, there are only two players in the current squad that did not spend at least some time at the club’s youth level: Ander Herrera and Gaizka Toquero. This is unheard of in today’s game.
One would think that Athletic’s Basque-only policy would severely hinder them. Losing a star player would force the club to take a big step backward. However, Athletic are one of only three Spanish clubs to have never been relegated, the other two being Barcelona and Real Madrid.
As of last week, Athletic sealed the fourth-place spot in the La Liga table to earn a spot in next year's Champions League—the first time they have done so in 16 years.
This is largely due to their focus on youth development in that they are steadily producing first-team ready players, and they are always on the lookout for other young stars in the Basque Country that could join the club.
The likes of Andoni Goikoetxea, Josu Urrutia, Asier del Horno, Fernando Llorente and Andoni Iraola are all legends of the Athletic youth system, while Iker Muniain and Aymeric Laporte are just the latest stars to come out of Lezama.
But they won’t be the last by any means.
In this article, we will take a look at the top Athletic Club youth stars that you should be aware of while also discussing just how good they can really be for Los Leones.
For this list, youth stars must meet two criteria: They must be under 21 years old and cannot be a member of the first team. Thus, the likes of Laporte and Inigo Ruiz de Galarreta are ruled out.