I´m glad to say that the last two blogs that I have written, for true faith, have received some good and interesting feedback, from far and wide, Mags and non-Mags. Most people have agreed with what I have written or have contacted me to put me right on one or two small details that I´ve got wrong, I welcome all the comments people make and I´m happy that people are enjoying what I´m writing. As has been pointed out a lot by the editor, on various occasions, the people who write for the fanzine are not professional journalists and all have proper jobs, families and lives to run whilst writing the odd thing for true faith.
The events of the last few weeks at United, like the sale of Cabaye, the derby defeat and the JFK farce, have got me thinking what if. Bearing in mind, as I said earlier, I´m not a professional journalist and have not had copious amounts of time to do lots of research about what I´m going to say next, but here goes.
I´d like to return to a subject, or a club, that I covered a few weeks back. That club is Athletic Club de Bilbao and regular readers of this will know that I did a blog about a recent visit that my two lads and I made there just before Christmas. This time though I´d like to make a comparison between how their club is run and how Newcastle United currently operates (I won´t use the word run).
Most people know that Athletic choose only to play people who come from the Basque Country. In reality that is the greater Basque Country which includes four regions/provinces in Spain and three in France and not just the autonomous Spanish community/authority. Even so that only gives them a pool of around three million people to choose from. For some this is viewed as a very political statement by the Basque people, many of who want total independence from Spain. Others criticise the Basque only policy as at best being xenophobic and at worst racist or even an infringement of European employment law and to be honest until recently I struggled a bit with it. That was until the other week, when I was discussing this with one of the lads that goes to CAP Ciudad de Murcia games and then it became clear to me and I started to relate it to what was/is happening at United.
Now I totally agree and understand with what Athletic are doing. I doubt many Athletic fans, unlike Newcastle fans, really worry when the transfer window comes around. OK a few years ago they lost their main striker, Llorente, to Juventus but I doubt they were worried. They knew that any transfer fee would be invested back into the team. That doesn´t mean that they will search the world (or France) for their next star player, rather that the money will be invested into the Lezama facility, their youth academy based about fifteen kilometres from Bilbao. http://estadiosdeespana.blogspot.com.es/2012/02/bilbao-ciudad-deportiva-de-lezama.html
Athletic also invest heavily in local football and currently have two feeder clubs in the regional Tercera divisions. One club is in Bilbao and is called CD Basconia another club is based in Pamplona (Navarre) and is called UDC Chantrea.
The majority of the Athletic first team and B Team squads played for Basconia whilst the likes of Iker Muniain, called by some the Spanish Messi, was developed at Chantrea. Athletics’ B team sit in a playoff place for promotion to La Segunda but unlike the English league system, reserve teams in Spain play in the same football pyramid as their senior team. However, the reserve team can´t play in the same division as their senior team. Only under-23 players or under-25 with a professional contract can switch between senior and reserve teams. Current B players, like midfielders Iker Unadabarrena and Jonxa Vidal, have played at Spanish national youth levels and both played for Basconia. A recent recruit to the B team, from Basconia, is Iñaki Williams, a black lad who was born in Bilbao but has Ghanaian parentage, hence the very Basque first name and English second name, he´s meant to be good. Basconia currently sit ninth in the Tercera (Group 4) so that gives you an idea on how strong the regional Basque leagues must be. To put that into perspective it´s like Newcastle United investing in Gateshead and Blyth Spartans whilst also pumping lots of cash into youth leagues too.
The club has a level of fan ownership as well and whilst, in my opinion, not a perfect model the 40,000 or so members do have some say in how the club is run. The current president, Josu Urrutia, was voted into office by the fans and is an ex-player of the club. The current manager, Ernesto Valverde, played for the club 170 times, between1990-96 (he probably played against United in ´94 but I haven´t checked). All in all from top to bottom the club lives and breathes Athletic. When a player pulls on their famous shirt he gets it, he´s not only playing for a team he is playing for his team and his people. The manager gets it, the president get it because they are all understand what the club means to the people who turn up to support it week in week out…..what a contrast eh? Incidentally, Valverde has just been voted the La Liga coach of the month for January
Add to this fact that last weekend Athletic drew with the mega rich Galaticos of Real Madrid. I watched the game on TV and Athletic matched them in every department and at times were better than their illustrious rivals. Currently they sit in a Champions League position and are bucking the trend in modern football, this is taken direct from their website “Athletic Club is an institution and along with its supporters is characterized by their desire to defend the values which are becoming increasingly uncommon in football and overall sport in the 21st Century. Our pride is reflected to the hilt in the clubs policy concerning the Young Player’s and Reserves. This has become a uniting force which outweighs the discrepancies to be found in our daily lives, making our philosophy different to any other and different to the way football is understood throughout the world.” I tend to agree with that statement. When I was growing up the north east of England was known as a hot bed of football, to be honest I think the Basque Country deserves that mantel much more, don´t you?
I make no excuses for the Athletic “love in”, however next time there will be more on the local scene that’s going on around me, but I had to get that one off my chest, thanks for reading!