The reports are that Athletic coach and former Chile National Team manager Marcelo Bielsa is interested in signing Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann. Beyond the fact that the player is valued above where the frugal Basque club are more than likely capable of signing the Frenchman, and the fact that Griezmann is a tad on the confrontational side to fit in with the very tight-knit Athletic players, some of which have been playing together since they were children, the fact that Bielsa is interested in bringing in a player that on the surface seems so removed from the philosophy that people ascribe to Athletic Bilbao, that of an any Basque club that represents their roots and represents their region, as one friend stated, ¨they are the real Mes que un club.¨
Well, it is true that Athletic Bilbao is more than your ordinary club. The relationship that they have with their supporters and vice-versa is not seen at any other club in Spain, and few others around the world can make a serious case for themselves, but Athletic Bilbao are different from most clubs because of their philosophical stance of only signing players from their cantera. Now, that is a tricky ideal to explain because of some erroneous misconceptions.
Here is what the club website says: ¨Our sporting philosophy is governed by the principle that determines that a player can play in our ranks if they have been formed in our own cantera and in those of other clubs of Euskal Herria, which includes the following territorial boundaries: Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Alava, Navarre, Lapurdi, Zuberoa and Nafarroa Beheira, as well as, of course, the players and players who were born in any of these.¨ It is not a Basque-only policy, or at least it isn´t so today. In the club´s early days they limited themselves to sign players strictly from Bizkaia but they have relaxed their qualifications since then. They allow Basque players from other regions, players formed in the youth-teams of the likes of Real Union de Irún, Real Sociedad, Deportivo Alavés, and many others, plus they have not discounted the idea of signing players of Basque descent from other countries.
Fernando Amorebieta was born in Venezuela to Bizkaian parents, but the club had also looked at signing a player like Gonzalo Higuain who is Basque from his maternal grand-mother´s lineage. He has studied Euskara and belonged to basque organizations in the diaspora. In their day Diego Forlan, Roberto Ayala, and Didier Deschamps would all have qualified. Non-Basque players have and are playing for Athletic Bilbao and will continue to do so.
read more: The philosophy of Athletic Bilbao