Athletic Club Present The Lezama Sports Plan
Rafa Alkorta was named the new Sporting Director at Athletic Club in December following Aitor Elizegi’s victory in the Presidential election. The legendary defender has been working alongside Andoni Ayarza for the past two years to develop their vision for the youth academy and since taking control they’ve been analyzing the state of Lezama before introducing their project this summer.
Elizegi made it clear from the start that he would leave the first team and academy under Alkorta’s control. Over the past few months, several coaches left after not being offered renewals and others took their place. The new direction has been well underway and on Monday Alkorta, Ayarza, and Director of Methodology Andoni Bombín appeared before the media to formally present the Lezama Sports Plan for the next three years.
“Our goal is to develop professionals”, Alkorta began. “We want the best players to come from our lower levels and to be happy. We want Lezama to be one of the best academies in the world, that coming to Lezama should be a happy day for every child. We have the best coaches and facilities in the world. We want to get every boy to the first team, and for those who can’t to be able to make a living around the world in other leagues.”
“The important thing for us is finding talent”, the Sporting Director continued. “We will be the ones shaping that talent. We have enough people here to help players reach the first team.” Above anything else, the ultimate goal is to first find the talented players from around the area, train them well, and see them become professionals. Lezama will use this three-step approach to developing top players.
After taking over, Alkorta’s team spent several months just analyzing the current condition at Lezama. “There was nothing wrong with the way things were”, he explained, “but we have other ideas”. The Sporting Director then took the time to thank all those who had worked at the academy. “There were great professionals at Lezama. Everyone did impeccable work and there was nothing urgent to fix. We simply had a different idea.”
Finally, Alkorta turned his attention to the football being played at Lezama. “The goal is to win everything, every Sunday, from the youngest team to the first team”, he said confidently. “Training is the priority, we have values, and if we can do it while also winning then that is even better. We want to win like everyone else.”
Andoni Ayarza, who will oversee Scouting, was the next to speak and laid out the vision for what type of players will be brought to Lezama. “We are looking for footballers with character, who are highly competitive, and have a winning mentality and ambition”, he said. “We want players who are proud of their time at Athletic.”
From there, Ayarza revealed that there are a total of 152 clubs in the Basque Country who partner with Athletic. This summer 57 players have joined Athletic and 50 of them have come from those affiliated clubs. Out of the remaining seven, four have come from other clubs in the Basque Country and three from other parts of Spain.
Ayarza also explained that there will be a new Department of Psychology led by Sports Psychologist David Rincón. The Department will also include a Child Psycholgist and Family Psychologist. Atheltic will also provide services to aid youth players in housing and academics for those who are in need.
In closing, Ayarza introduced a new technology called “Dathak” which will be an observation tool used to track player growth and development. Alberto Iglesias will oversee the Analysis Department which will track player growth during specific stages of development in order to strengthen the process. Ayarza also shared that one of the top goals for the current Board is to complete the first team facilities at Lezama while also introducing new residences for young players.
Andoni Bombín spoke last, putting an emphasis on the young players and methods that will be used at Lezama. “We want to conserve the essence of our players”, he began. “Athletic is beautiful and something to be enjoyed. We have to educate the kids in our values so that they develop their potential.” Teaching players the importance of the club is integral at an early age.
“It’s more important to enhance the strengths of the players rather than trying to minimize the weaknesses”, Bombín continued. “We believe that the player who is at Juvenil A can already see the possibility of reaching the first team, but with competitiveness and good results. Training and competitiveness must go hand in hand. Some believe that it has to be one or the other, but we believe they both work together.”
The specifics methods used at Lezama will be intentional. “We want organized teams with a high rhythm of play”, he said. There will be a “base from which all coaches will have the freedom to operate” meaning every team will have a similar structure. “We aren’t going to stick to any specific system, but teams will work with a four-back defensive line, unlike the previous years where many teams used only three defenders. The intention is to be together, organized, to recover the ball, and play vertical football. Teams at Lezama will prioritize a combination game.”
In closing, Bombín shared that the academy will also put an emphasis on the physical growth of players and will use Strength and Conditioning Coaches starting at the Cadete A level. In addition, Carlos Gurpegui and Tiko will also act in coaching roles and will be given the freedom to work individually with players on and off the field whenever they see the need.
The Lezama Sports Plan has two intensive focuses – the protection and growth of every young player that arrives at the academy and preparing those players to become professionals who will hopefully one day make it to the first team. Lezama is already one of the greatest youth academies in all of football, but Rafa Alkorta aims to make it the very best.
The entire presentation can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4LePNj0oQI