Signing Of Youssouf Diarra Sparks Debate Over Athletic’s Basque-Only Policy

Athletic Club’s Basque-only transfer policy is well known in the world of football today. It is a simple policy used by the club to protect and preserve the Basque identity by only fielding players from the region. On the surface it is quite simple: only players born or formed in the Basque Country are eligible to play for Athletic. While that may seem simple enough, it can be quite confusing and there are the rare instances when a signing puts the policy into debate. It now looks like that is happening again.

Youssouf Diarra

Youssouf Diarra is expected to sign with CD Basconia (Noticias de Navarra)

On Saturday LaCanteraDeLezama.com reported that forward Youssouf Diarra would be signing for Athletic’s feeder club, CD Basconia, and fans have been intensely debating whether or not he actually qualifies under the club’s policy.

Diarra was born in Mali and lived there until his father eventually moved to Catalonia, Spain to work on a farm to make more money for the family. Diarra moved with the rest of his family at the age of 8 and was incorporated into the youth system of Lleida. There he grew and improved as a footballer, but he would eventually leave the area.

At 17 years old he moved to Navarra to continue his studies and joined Pamplona-based club Ardoi where he was placed into the youth system at the Juvenil level. After showing a lot of promise he was recommended by Juan Oyaga, a representative of Inaki Williams, to join Txantrea FC in the Tercera division. Txantrea has an agreement with Athletic Club to help develop players for the Lions and sends them those who have excelled and are ready for the next level of football, such as Iker Muniain. In only a few months, Diarra featured in 33 games for Txantrea and scored 15 goals as a central attacking midfielder. In February he was tested at Lezama ahead of a potential move. While the move has yet to be confirmed or made official, reports agree that he will join CD Basconia unless something unforeseen happens.

Youssouf Diarra

Diarra during his trial at Lezama (Image via LaCanteraDeLezama.com)

Diarra’s move to Athletic has sparked controversy among fans who do not believe that he meets the requirements of the transfer policy. Some have sighted the fact that he only played for Ardoi for a short time meaning he wasn’t actually formed at that particular club. Others say that since he only spent a short time in a Basque Country youth system before becoming a professional that it doesn’t qualify as being formed in the region before turning professional. Furthermore, some have accused the club of orchestrating the short stay at Ardoi in order to make him meet the requirements to play for Athletic.

In the end it is important to remember that Athletic doesn’t have a definition for what being formed in the Basque Country means. Every fan tends to have their own idea of how long a player has to be in the region to qualify, but Athletic has never put a timetable on it. The only clear understanding of that stipulation is that a player must compete at the youth level in the region before becoming a professional. That being the case, Diarra’s time at Ardoi as a teenager does technically mean that he was formed in the Basque Country, even if it was only for a short time.

Those who are upset about the potential transfer are calling for a better understanding of how long a player has to train at the youth level to classify as “being formed in the Basque Country”. Until that happens, if it ever does, players like Diarra are eligible to join Athletic and do meet the requirements. Whether or not the move actually takes place, fans would be wise to keep in mind that Youssouf Diarra is still a young man and should not be the target or harsh words. This isn’t the first time that a move like this has sparked controversy at Lezama and it likely won’t be the last. Despite the intense debates, according to Athletic’s policy Diarra is eligible to play for the Lions.

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