The infamous policy is enduring but the cantera shows a new light
Whether you support it or dislike it, I’m sure you’re aware of Athletic Club’s “Basque-only” policy. The cantera was founded in 1912 and has held onto the limitations of the policy as a way to maintain the cultural identity of the Basque Country. The supporters of the club love it; an infamous poll from the 1990s revealed that over 75% of Athletic’s supporters would rather see the club finally get relegated than abandon the player policy.
Without getting too close to engaging into a political discussion, it’s safe to say that the strict guidelines for choosing players has caused divisive opinions throughout the football world. Whether the club would ever scrap the policy is yet to be seen, but given the tradition involved with football in the Basque Country, I simply can’t see it disappearing.
However, in recent years the policy has loosened up a bit. As a region of just about three million people, the Basque Country has a considerably small population to choose youth prospects from. Center back Fernando Amorebieta was born in Venezuela but is eligible to play for Athletic because he grew up in the Basque Country and his parents were from the area as well.
Enric Saborit, now 20 years old, was signed by Athletic in 2008. The unusual thing was that Saborit was born in Barcelona, in a completely different autonomous community. However, his mother is Basque, and that seemingly gave Athletic the right to pursue the player. Ander Herrera, who grew up in Zaragoza and played in Real Zaragoza’s youth system before playing for the senior squad, was able to be signed by Athletic because he was simply born in Bilbao.
Two defenders and cantera graduates currently playing for Athletic have already made history. Jonas Ramalho became the first black player in the history of the club when he made his league debut as an 18-year old in November of 2011. He has already accumulated several appearances for the club this season as well. The 2012/13 campaign has seen the debut of Aymeric Laporte, at center back and the second player from France to play for Athletic. Laporte, 18, was born in a town outside of the French Basque Country called Agen. However, he is considered eligible to become a member of Athletic because his youth career was with Aviron Bayonnais, a club residing in the French Basque Country.
Athletic currently has a few teenagers in their youth ranks that were not born in the Basque Country. Yanis Rahmani, 17, was born in Champigny Sur Marne, France and came to Athletic’s cantera in 2005 because he had grown up in the Basque Country. He currently plies his trade for CD Baskonia, a feeder club for Athletic. A teammate of his, Victor Monteiro (now 18), was born in Portugal but was able to come to Lezama at age 12 because his parent immigrated to the Basque Country when he was very young. Finally, 17-year old Maecky Lubrano of Castres, France was born outside the French Basque Country but ended up growing up in the region; he now plays for Athletic’s Juvenil A squad.
With guys like these progressing through the youth system, this slowly but surely demonstrates that Athletic is willing to explore all avenues to find young talent. Who knows how diverse Lezama will be in 5 to 10 years?