Athletic Facing Increased Competition From Clubs Scouting In Bizkaia
If youth development is the foundation of Athletic Club, then Bizkaia is the cornerstone. For decades the Lions have benefited from partnerships with other clubs in Bizkaia to ensure that the very best players from the region are always wearing the Zurigorri colors and being trained at Lezama. Every young boy and girl dreams of playing for Athletic and Bizkaia continues to produce remarkable talents year after year.
“For someone from Bizkaia, it’s always special to play for Athletic”, says defender Iñigo Martinez. “Every kid from Bizkaia dreams of playing for Athletic since they were little.” Being the premier club in the region draws young players to San Mamés and Athletic have always had their pick of the players from the area. Even today, top prospects are joining Lezama every year but the wealth of talent has also caught the eyes of other clubs.
In 2014 only two players from Bizkaia left to join clubs outside the region. That number grew to 15 in 2016/2017 and this summer 10 players have already accepted offers to leave Bizkaia before contracts even expire on 30 June. “Every day we are seeing more scouts and in more fields”, says Aitor Martínez, the Sporting Director for Baskonia Football Eskola de Basauri. “For the past few years there has been a great increase in scouts from other clubs.” Speaking with Javier Ortiz De Lazcano of El Correo, Martínez explained that many other clubs are scouting much more heavily in Bizkaia these days.
“Primera clubs will take 15 of our players this year, seven girls and eight boys”, he continued. Of those 15, Athletic have signed eight. In truth, the Lions still have their pick of the best talent as playing at San Mamés is the ultimate dream. However, increased attention from other clubs will create competition. “We have seen scouts from Eibar, Alavés, Real Sociedad, Barcelona, Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Chelsea, and Tottenham last season”, revealed Danok Bat President Gotzon Astoreka.
Apart from Athletic, Danok Bat is the most successful youth academy in Bizkaia. Andoni Pérez, one of their top prospects, is close to signing with Real Zaragoza after being rejected by Athletic. Villarreal have also been scouting the region extensively and now have 7 players from Bizkaia in their academy.
Most academies have responded by protecting their Juvenil players which has led clubs to target the even younger players. Meanwhile, clubs like Athletic are even adding release clauses to those players. For instance, the Lions have just signed Eibar starlet Beñat Hurtado who will join the Cadete team on a five-year contract that also contains a €6 million release clause.
“The clubs from outside are working more and more to recruit Cadete, Infantil, and Alevin players because they don’t have to pay the clauses of Juvenil players”, explained Santutxu President Miguel Angel Gomez. Over the past few years, Villarreal have signed four players from Santutxu. Interest is growing from other clubs, especially in the players who haven’t been signed by Athletic.
Normally, when a player wasn’t accepted by Athletic they would stay at one of the partnered clubs in Bizkaia and try to prove themselves. At this point, some are choosing to accept offers from other clubs instead. “The kids aren’t waiting for Athletic”, says Aitor Bouzo, President of Ermua. “They leave as soon as they have an offer from a Primera club. It doesn’t seem logical that a 13-year-old boy would go to Eibar if he isn’t signed by Lezama instead when he can continue his training perfectly at Arenas. That boy leaves his surrounding and that seems excessive.”
As expected, the neighboring Basque clubs are the ones most seriously scouting in Bizkaia. “Real, Eibar, and Alavés are doing great things with their academies”, Rafa Alkorta admitted in an interview back in February. “They will force us to be the best again and we will be. We will be the reference in scouting, in coaching, in working methods…All these clubs have good budgets. They come into Bizkaia and they sign players, they have good residences. We must sharpen the ingenuity even more so that all the players in Euskadi want to come here.”
Despite the increased scouting from other clubs, Athletic are still the ones signing the top young players. Those who aren’t accepted into Lezama are now more likely to leave Bizkaia and even then Athletic have proved successful in recruiting those who begin to show impressive potential. The Zurigorri have regularly signed promising starlets from other areas of the Basque Country as well. Increased scouting will bring added competition, but so far the presence of outside clubs hasn’t hurt Athletic’s ability to sign the best of Bizkaia to Lezama.