5 Reasons Why European Clubs Should Follow the Athletic Bilbao Template
The story of Athletic Club Bilbao began in 1903. British workers in the shipyard, who had formed Bilbao Football Club and Basque students returning from their studies in England, who had assembled Athletic Club, joined together to form the club we know today.
Throughout their history they have engaged in a Basque-only player policy, which to some may indicate a weakness, but they are only one of three teams that have never been relegated, along with powerhouses Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
Here are five reasons why other European clubs should follow the Athletic Bilbao template.
Too many clubs in Europe lack an identity, a purpose. Bilbao have a clear one. They are a club for the fans, they want to recognize their Basque heritage and want to produce talented footballers instead of splashing millions of Euro on one individual.
One might say that Bilbao is an eccentric club; not quite fitting in with the crowd but still respected an enormous amount. The appointment of Marcelo Bielsa this summer only adds to the club's independence. This independence is explicitly linked to Basque nationalism and it gives Bilbao a clear identity.
When a club is owned by its socios in Spain it can only mean one thing, a fanatical fanbase. The Real Madrid and Barcelona are fine examples, as well as Bilbao. A club really is nothing without it's fans. I'm sure there is nothing worse for a player than when he steps out into the tunnel and sees thousands of seats empty.
A sense of belonging and protection engulfs the fans when they are at the stadium. The actual game is not 40,000 fans watching 11 men play. It is 40,011 men, women, children all playing as a unit, a collective.
The Cantera policy that Bilbao operate is met with both criticism and praise. Although rules have slightly relaxed in recent years, Bilbao still have a policy of only employing Basque players.
Cantera means 'quarry' in Spanish and it refers to a team's youth policies and academy. Bilbao have one of the most famed in Spain and have sent many players to the National team, second only to Real Madrid.
Not only does this save and generate money for the club but allows the club to introduce young players early because they understand the ethos of the club, what it means to play for Bilbao.
A club that has identity, a fanbase and a good youth system will always be dependable. The reason why Bilbao have never been relegated is because they know that nobody will turn their back on the team. No fans booing, no players looking for transfers.
The fact that the club plays like an International team, the coach and fans know the players. They know how they respond to certain situations. Therefore the players will trust the fans and the fans will trust the players to come out of a bad period together.
Whether Bilbao go on to become a superpower in world football (unlikely) or they fall into a hole and become relegated, Los Leones will always be remembered. They have a great recognition of culture that you will only find in Spain.
If clubs could harness the fan's beliefs and culture and use it positively, just like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao, it would make the world of football full of passion and electricity. A better footballing world if you will.