Every transfer window throws up the same rallying cry: “We can’t compete if we don’t spend.” Manchester United’s failings are put down solely to underinvestment in the transfer market but no one asks why it has been so long since a local boy made good.
If Athletic Bilbao get past Napoli on Wednesday and make it into the Champions League group draw, then the achievement should go down as one of football’s minor miracles. A team that turns its back on the trappings of the transfer market and still holds its head above water would be one thing, but to make it to European football’s biggest club competition with a solely locally sourced squad ought to be a wake-up call to other teams.
Athletic’s coach, Ernesto Valverde, could easily have become Barcelona coach this summer had he not committed himself to finishing the job of getting Athletic into the Champions League proper.
He may still lose players, with Bayern Munich weighing up a move for the midfielder Ander Iturraspe. And Iker Munian, who scored in the 1-1 draw in Naples, is also not short of suitors.
But Athletic’s Basque-only transfer policy means there is little use in them selling players, because the transfer money cannot be spent beyond the region’s borders. As a consequence, only teams paying full buy-out clauses, as Manchester United did for Ander Herrera, stand any chance of signing their players.
Bayern will have to pay every euro of Iturraspe’s €40m (£32m) clause, just as they did for Javi Martinez two years ago. And if Athletic get past Rafa Benitez’s team, then the player himself will want to stay. That’s another benefit of home-grown players – they usually come with an in-built preference for succeeding at home rather than abroad.
All is not perfect and their new San Mames stadium, which will be filled by 50,000 home supporters, is part of an EC inquiry into illegal state aid, as is their favourable tax status over La Liga rivals. But try standing in the cauldron of noise as supporters roar on a team they really feel is theirs in every sense of the word and not thinking that perhaps they deserve a break.
Young local players will thrive under Louis van Gaal at Manchester United, and Manchester City’s academy will eventually bear fruit. Athletic Bilbao should be cherished as the constant reminder that it is possible.
Di Maria is a Real loss
Not that “global” clubs can do without global superstars, which is exactly what Angel Di Maria is. He might not have been sprinkled with stardust in the same way as Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but he was just as influential for club and country last season, and the Real Madrid manager, Carlo Ancelotti, knows it.
On Monday night Real struggled to beat Cordoba – the team who finished seventh in last season’s Second Division and only qualified for the play-offs, which they won, because Barça B finished third. Ancelotti could be seen rollicking Gareth Bale for not tracking back and was uncharacteristically dour post-match. He knows Di Maria’s sale has made his life more difficult, just as it will make Van Gaal’s easier.
Closing in on racism
The wheels are small on Spanish football’s anti-racism wagon and they turn very slowly, but next Sunday a landmark victory will be had in the opening fixture of UE Llagoestera’s season in the Second Division. They will play Leganes behind closed doors after being punished for the action of a supporter who in last season’s play-offs was captured on film making gestures of a racist nature towards a Racing Santander player, Mamadou Kone. Ground closures affect innocent fans, but they are also the only way to drive home the seriousness of incidents that too many still believe are harmless.