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FM21 - Athletic Club: Los Leones Roaring Back


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NB. Thanks to @bowieinspace for his great work setting last year's thread up. I'll be setting up this season's thread, using much of the same content, but updated. These will be placeholder threads for the next few days but I'll fill them up asap!

 

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Athletic de Bilbao, historically, are the third most successful football club in Spain. As well as being one of only three clubs never relegated from the top division of La Liga – there are no prizes for knowing the other two – they are also third in the number of titles won over the years. Sadly for their supporters the last title was won, along with the Copa del Rey, as far back as 1984.

Most football followers know about the long-standing Basque only policy of Athletic, which has been the subject of much debate, but I suspect that fewer are aware of the benefit that this concentration on home-grown players has had to the Spanish national squad. Athletic Bilbao has had more players representing Spain than any other Spanish club – including Real Madrid and Barcelona. The club has continued its tradition of signing players born in the Basque provinces of Spain or France, although in the late 1980s this was broadened to include players who had moved to the region at a young age.

HISTORY OF ATHLETIC CLUB

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Athletic Bilbao Football Club - Founded in 1898 by a group of students from the Gymnasium Zamacois – who adopted the English spelling because they had studied in England – Athletic Bilbao merged with Bilbao Football Club, consisting of mainly ex miners from the north-east of England and shipyard workers from Portsmouth and Southampton, in 1902. After calling themselves Club Vizcaya for a season they reverted to the name Athletic Club de Bilbao in 1903. After playing in blue and white stripes for a few seasons, in 1910 they changed to the red and white they still play in today – the possible reasons for this can be found in the Atlético Madrid article, as the two clubs shared founders and have entwined early histories.

During the early years, the club was immediately successful, frequently winning the Copa del Rey title. The star player of the time is still remembered in Spanish football today as the leading scorer each year is known as the ‘Pichichi’, which is named after the Athletic player who once scored a hat-trick in a Cup Final.

The appointment of English coach Fred Pentland, El Bombín (the Bowler Hat) led to even more success. A great coaching innovator, who was also in charge of Atlético Madrid and the Spanish national team, Pentland was an early advocate of the style that became known in England, much later, as ‘push and run’ when introduced by Arthur Rowe with Tottenham Hotspur. He was not the only English manager employed by the club; in later years, Ronnie Allen and Howard Kendall also coached here. Their choices of headgear, though, went unrecorded! It is, however, known that Kendall found it so frustrating being unable to buy the players he wanted that it was cited as his major reason for leaving the club.

Under Pentland’s stewardship, Athletic won the League – of which the team were founder members in 1928 – and the cup on several occasions, doing the ‘double’ in both 1930 and 1931. In the second of these remarkable seasons, Barcelona were beaten by 12 goals to 1 in Bilbao – a result which is never likely to be repeated.

All of the games in Bilbao were played at the club’s present stadium, San Mamés, named after a nearby church. This has led to the stadium being known as ‘The Cathedral’, although the atmosphere – especially when Real Madrid are in town – can hardly be compared with one! As well as being known as the ‘Rojiblancos’ because of their colours the team is also referred to as ‘Los Leones’ (the lions) as St Mames himself was an early Christian that the lions had refused to kill.

There was a period when the club had to change its name to Atlético Bilbao, as a result of a decision by Franco to outlaw non-Spanish names and languages. During the 1950s, however, the government’s severe restrictions on foreign-born players in the league greatly helped the Basque club who won several league and cup titles in this time and, in 1956, entered the then-named European Cup for the first time. The club’s successes all helped give the Basque people a sense of identity at a time when they felt very isolated in Spain. There was a famous incident in December 1975, just 15 days after the death of Franco, in which Iribar and Kortabarria, rival captains of Athletic and Real Sociedad, carried the Basque flag – illegal at the time – onto the pitch before a local derby.

RECENT SUCCESS

Bilbao finished up their 2013-14 campaign with a fourth place finish and shot to secure Champion's League football, which they did with a victory over Napoli. Unfortunately Bilbao fell short, finishing third in their group behind both Shakhtar and FC Porto then later were knocked out of the EURO by Serie A side Torino. Bilbao managed to make it to the finals of the Copa del Ray as well, but once again fell short with a 3-1 loss to Barcelona. The club were able to get redemption however, with the ageless Artiz Aduriz scoring a hat-trick in a 4-0 victory against Barcelona in the 2015-2016 Super Cup and also capturing a draw at Camp Nou later in the season. Aduriz ended his resurgent 2015-2016 season with 36 goals in all competitions and getting a call of to the Spain national team for Euro 2016. The club secured a spot in the EURO with a fifth place finish in the 2015-2016 season thanks to not only contributions from Aduriz, but also from some of their more promising first team youth players. 

In 2016-17 the club enjoyed another consistent season coached by Ernesto Valverde, finishing 7th in the league and requalifying for the Europa League (3rd qualifying round) for 2017-18. Heralded as a potential winner of the Europa League in 2016-17, the club lost in the round of 32 to Apoel Nicosia in a surprising result. Following the 2016-17 season, coach Ernesto Valverde moved on to Barcelona after a successful spell at the club. Athletic made the decision to promote Kuko Ziganda from the B team to take control of the first team squad, but sadly this didn't work out and he was removed from his position at the end of the 2017-18 season. In 2018-19, the club moved to appoint Eduardo Berizzo to the helm alongside his backroom team. Berizzo has previously enjoyed a successful spell at Celta and a mixed spell at Sevilla previously, and is well known for his pressing style. Unfortunately Berizzo's style led to some promising football but poor results - ultimately he was removed and replaced by Gaizka Garitano. Garitano had been leading the B team - he brought about improved solidarity defensively in comparison to the leaky football seen under Berizzo, and led the team through impressive form for the remainder of the season, finishing just outside of the European qualification places.

The 2019-20 season started in glorious fashion, when Aduriz scored a sensational last minute scissor kick to defeat Barcelona at the San Mames. That was unfortunately as good as it got. Despite the season being interrupted by COVID-19, Athletic Club remained in European contention for most of the season, only for a poor run of form to derail them once the season resumed. Athletic Club finished a disappointing 11th, although they were only 5pts behind arch-rivals Real Sociedad, who finished 6th. Athletic Club and Real Sociedad both reached the Copa Del Rey final, the first Basque derby final ever. Despite suggestions that this might be permanently suspended and therefore, Athletic Club would qualify for Europe, the final has been rescheduled for April 2021. There is no European football for 2020-21.

RIVALRIES

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The largest one in Spain sees you facing Real Sociedad in a Basque derby. Other rivalries are with another Basque teams Eibar and Osasuna and also competitive rivalries with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Osasuna and Sociedad in particular are also the other main producers of Basque players, but good luck signing any of them. It's exceedingly difficult to pry players from one club to the other, which is how intense the rivalry is. When playing as Athletic, you can expect to sign players on the odd occasion from these clubs, and it gets easier if you're able to build a solid difference in reputation between the sides, however even at that stage, some players will refuse the move. This is something of an unexpected challenge to many newcomers to managing Athletic, in that the majority of Basque players capable of improving the team do not want to join.

WHY ATHLETIC CLUB?

It's one of the more challenging saves in all of FM, because you are limited to signing only players with Basque heritage or players in Spain who are no older than 16 years old. It forces you to focus on utilizing what you have in the squad to the best of their ability and developing your youth and figuring out what you want the DNA of the club to be long term. This offers two different ways to play as Athletic Club:

1) Use the signing of Spanish U16 players to provide a wider base to pick from, or for an added challenge...
2) Only sign Basque players of any age, and do not sign any spanish U16 players unless they already hold Basque nationality. 

Athletic Club have one of the best youth setups in the game, so you can churn out prospects to replenish your first team and keep it home grown. You aren't buying any trophies here with a Tycoon. You need to have a strong handle on youth development and be ready to integrate those younger players into the side. 

EXPECTATIONS

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Athletic has very high standards and expectations. Here you can see you are expected to get into the Europa League as a primary target, and in future seasons, the club wants to be seen as 'the best of the best' and most probably competing for the 4th Champions League place. While doing this, you are required to focus on youth development and, of course, can only sign players of Basque nationality.

 

Edited by dothestrand
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THE FIRST TEAM

Athletic have a strong squad capable of challenging for Europe, with good depth throughout the team. This is the recommended best starting XI, though you may very quickly disagree!

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Let's take a look at each section of the team and some of the key players in each area:

Goalkeepers

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  • Unai Simon has broken through as the starting GK over the last season or so and recently won his first caps for Spain. He is your clear first choice and has room to develop. His release fee starts higher than it has in previous games, so less risk of being caught out if you didn't immediately offer a new deal.
  • Iago Herrerin has been the deputy to Iraizoz, Kepa and now Simon for a number of seasons and is a more than capable backup for when you want to rotate Simon.
  • Jokin Ezkeita is very much your third GK and unlikely to be starting any games besides the odd cup game against much weaker opposition. 

 

Defenders

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Arguably the strongest part of the Athletic Club squad. You have good depth in all positions.

  • Inigo Martinez (DC) - A true leader in the defensive area. He is your first choice centre back, and as a bonus he's also left footed/left sided. He's not the strongest aerially, although capable, however his main attributes are on the ground. Both a fantastic ball player but also an aggressive tackler. He can play the stopper role well which suits a stopper/cover combo if you're in to that sort of thing.
  • Yeray (DC) - Yeray is the first choice option alongside Martinez at CB. A fantastically well rounded BPD, albeit like Martinez a touch weak in the air.
  • Unai Nunez (DC)  - Arguably has the highest potential in the defensive ranks, and now represents a fantastic first team option off the rip. He has a fantastic attribute spread and could easily slot in next to Martinez. He's an excellent option to contest for a spot with Yeray, but you can easily rotate the three CBs.
  • Oscar de Marcos (DR/WBR/MR/AMR) - Mr Versatile, can play across every position on the right side and even in CM too, if you're short of options. One of the longest serving players in the squad but starting to decline. His contract expires at the end of the first season and you will probably receive offers during the Summer of 2020 so you'll need to decide if you need to keep him with Capa and Lekue around.
  • Ander Capa (DR/WBR/MR/AMR) - signed from Eibar a few seasons ago, has turned into an excellent all-round RB, particularly in the opposition half of the pitch. Gives you a good wing-back option too if you want to try three CBs as Garitano has done before, to mixed success.
  • Peru Nolaskoain (DC/DMC/MC) - can play CB or as a more defensively minded CM and has pretty good all-round stats in my save, so you might want to keep him in the first team squad, filling in where needed, or consider a loan.
  • Dani Vivian (DC/DMC) - starts the game on loan and despite being highly rated in real life, does not appear as though he will be a long-term option for you.
  • Mikel Balenziaga (DL/WBL/ML/AML) - a solid LB, now 32, likely to be your backup to Yuri, but unlikely to let you down when you give him chances. Contract expires at the end of the first season, so you may let that run down or sell sooner.
  • Yuri (DL/WBL) - superb LB, signed from PSG two seasons ago. Excels in both defensive and attacking positions. Keep an eye on his contract, which expires in two years. Even though he's 30 now, his physical stats are still very good.
  • Inigo Lekue (DR/WBR/DL/WBL/MR/AMR) - can play in both the LB and RB positions but is very much backup material. Starts off in-demand so you may want to sell, but this depends on your long term plans for Balenziaga and De Marcos perhaps.

 

Central Midfielders

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Athletic have good central midfield options which would allow a range of systems to be played depending on your preference. This is an area where Athletic have weakened in recent seasons with the departures of Iturraspe, Benat and San Jose.

  • Dani Garcia (DMC/MC) - A well rounded midfielder who can play in a few different roles. Well suited to play as the more defensive option in a central midfield two/three, but can play in more of an attacking box to box role as well with his work rate and well rounded attacking attributes.
  • Mikel Vesga (DMC/MC) - in my save, he starts off wanted by some big clubs (Marseille, Monaco), which might suggest he's a better option in FM21 than in previous editions. Can play a defensive role or more orthodox CM role equally well.
  • Unai Vencedor (DMC/MC) - a natural defensive midfielder who sits in front of the CBs, he can also play further forward. Has strong physical and mental stats, it's just the technical side that needs a little work. A contender for a loan spell if you have enough other options.
  • Raul Garcia (MC/AMC/ST) - despite his advancing years, he remains a strong option in an attacking midfield role or as a striker. The latter is where you will most likely start him due to a lack of alternatives! Out of contract at the end of the season and on big wages, so you might want to make that decision in the Autumn, depending on how his physicals hold up.
  • Unai Lopez (MC/AMC) - playing a much bigger first team role in real life now, he offers a technically sound playmaking option, with the ability to play wide right, depending on how you use Williams.
  • Iker Muniain (MC/ML/AML/AMC/AMR) - captain and iconic player, has played more of a deeper CM role in recent seasons, but can cover the left flank too (though you have many options there, so it might not be necessary). You may want to think about (as with Lopez) whether playing as part of a two or three man CM axis works best.

 

Attacking Midfielders

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Depending on your formation, how you've lined up in central midfield and who you select as your striker, you still have plenty of options here. The players available to you favour wingers but you can still be flexible.

  • Alex Berenguer (WBL/ML/AML/AMC) - Athletic's main signing this Summer, at a premium because of the clause Osasuna insisted on when they sold him to Torino. Rarely bought by any of us in previous saves, he doesn't have much of a bump. One of many options on the left and has the versatility to play as a wing back.
  • Ibai Gomez (ML/MR/AML/AMR) - an option on both flanks but more useful on the right as back up to Williams. Excellent crossing stats if you have players in the box or want to be aggressive at set pieces. Physical stats suggest more of an impact sub.
  • Inaki Williams (ML/MR/AML/AMC/AMR/ST) - arguably your star man, equally capable as a winger or central striker, with pace to burn. Likely to be in demand but the contract situation means you're in a strong position to hang onto him if you meet your objectives.
  • Inigo Cordoba (ML/AML) - another left wing option, very possibly your starting player in that position and has been a strong performer in previous saves.
  • Jon Morcillo (ML/MR/AML/AMR/ST) - breaking through in real life this season, another wide player of similar quality to Cordoba, but can play both flanks. Given your options, you may want to consider a loan in the first season. 

 

Strikers

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A problem area for several editions of the game as Aduriz aged and started to decline, now that he's retired it's pretty slim pickings. In the short term, you may play Raul Garcia up front and rotate the following two players.

  • Kenan Kodro (AMC/ST) - son of Meho, who played for Real Sociedad and Barcelona, Kenan has only played a bit-part role at Athletic Club. This isn't likely to change. You may want to hang onto him as a first season option, but he almost certainly won't be in your long term plans.
  • Asier Villalibre (ST) - hasn't made the progress expected of him as a youngster, but has often performed in the last few versions of the game. May not start as first choice, depending on how you use Williams or Garcia, but should definitely be a first team option.
Edited by dothestrand
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RECRUITMENT 

Tips for recruitment and scouting

I usually run with the following player filters saved on the player search screen, so I can quickly flick through the options important to me:

Filter 1: All Basque Players
Nationality IS Basque, and Realistic transfer equals unticked

Filter 2: Realistic Basque Players
Nationality IS Basque, and realistic transfer equals ticked (usually set to 'doubtful' interest or above)

Filter 3: All Basque Youth Players
Nationality IS Basque, and age is at most 17 (or 18 if you prefer), realistic transfer equals unticked

Filter 4: Realistic Basque Youth Players
Nationality IS Basque, and age is at most 17 (or 18 if you prefer), realistic transfer equals ticked

If you are keen to also recruit Spaniards of 16 years of age, you can just adjust the youth filters by adding "Nationality is Basque OR nationality is Spanish", Age is at most 16. That will allow you to see Spaniards who you could sign who would then gain Basque nationality later.


Youth Intake Day and the period immediately after

Make sure you immediately scout all youth players from Eibar, Real Sociedad, Osasuna, Alaves and any other Basque clubs who are doing well on the game. I then use the general player search screen to find anyone who has appeared at another club.

I look at a combination of star rating and attributes once the scout has 100% knowledge. Generally I won't pursue anyone with less than 2 gold star potential. Above that, 3 gold star or above potential I always sign, 2 or 2.5 I base it more on the attribute spread and my general feeling on the player (e.g. whether they look pretty good already and perhaps the scout is wrong, or whether they might fit a certain role and perform above their level later). If you are signing any Spanish 16 year old, you can probably be a bit more picky. 

Once I feel I may sign them but don't want to pull the trigger straight away (or can't), I add them to my shortlist and re-scout every month to see any changes in price/wage or ability. 


Scouting

A good scouting structure for Athletic Club can work as follows:

Scout 1 - Next opposition
Scout 2 - Scouting La Liga, any player age
Scout 3 - Scouting Segunda (Liga 123), any player age
Scout 4 - Scouting Segunda (Liga 123), under 19s only
Scout 5 - Scouting France nation, under 19s only (you could have another scout doing all ages here if you feel it necessary)
Scouts 6 and 7 - Scouting Segunda B (3rd tier), under 19s only

You can of course add a few extras, however I tend to find after the first couple of seasons any outliers (e.g. notable Basque players who have moved abroad) you know of anyway and can scout separately. This combined with the player search filters should mean you don't miss any potential talent. 

 

Top Basque Players Outside of Athletic

The Dream

There are a number of big name Basque players who might provide an option for the future, depending on how their careers go at their respective clubs:

  • Antoine Griezmann - On an extremely high wage (understatement) and a player who could fit into any starting 11...good luck getting the former Sociedad man to Athletic, but would be an absolute no brainer if he became available. In past games, he might be available when his Barcelona contract expires, but his physicals would be in steady decline by then.
  • Aymeric Laporte - Now at Manchester City and a key player in their backline. His wages are within range (just), but his availability will depend on how he gets on at Man City, definitely a chance here if he falls out of favour at City, however you're not short of quality young CB's anyway.
  • Cesar Azpilicueta - It will cost a lot to bring him in, but he's a player who brings immense quality, and can play anywhere across the back line. As you have Yuri, signing him this year seems less important than previous years. That being said, he's so good you'd be an idiot not to have him if available. You might be able to pick him up on a free in 2022 but Chelsea will probably extend his contract anyway.
  • Ander Herrera - The now PSG midfielder may prove harder to snag on this years game, it just depends how things go for him there. If he isn't getting game time, he'll be well worth a look and has a few years left in the tank still at 30 years old.

 

Real Sociedad Players

These guys basically fall into their own category, because signing them can be almost impossible. However following their strong campaign last year, their squad is looking ripe with Basque talent now. There are more options than in past seasons.

  • Alex Remiro - former Athletic Club GK, who left a season ago under a cloud. Expect the fans to riot if you signed him!
  • Joseba Zaldua - A very capable right back who plays at a similar level to Capa and De Marcos. Worth keeping an eye on in case you are in need of someone in that role.
  • Aritz Elustondo - Another good central defender option also capable of playing as a right back. 
  • Aihen Munoz - Solid left back, and given Balenziaga is getting older, he could prove a handy addition to the squad. 
  • Kevin Rodrigues - Solid left back option and likely to be available at the end of the first season when he returns from loan. 
  • Robin Le Normand and Andoni Gorosabal - Two good young options at 23. Worth scouting, but you'll need to decide whether it would be worth your time with other options out there.
  • Nacho Monreal - 34 but still in excellent physical shape. If he became available quickly (or in 2021 when his contract expires), he would provide solid depth for a season or two.
  • Igor Zubeldia - Solid deep lying playmaker type. Young player who can be a starter/rotation option if you're able to get him in. A solid playmaker who is equally a natural at CB.
  • Jon Guridi - box to box midfielder, who's likely to become surplus to requirements, but you'd have to decide whether he's better than what you have.
  • Ander Guevara - has also been transfer listed before in test saves. A younger, slightly better option than Guridi.
  • Martin Zubimendi - superb prospect at 21. If he becomes available, buy, buy, buy.
  • Mikel Merino - Following his transfer to Real Sociedad and continued snub of Athletic, there will be some work to do to get this transfer done. Most realistic chance would be if he moved to another club first. A strong midfielder who would provide an excellent option though if available. He has a somewhat achievable release clause of around 41m as well, but he may not want to join anyway.
  • Asier Illaramendi - An excellent deep lying playmaker, who at 30 has years ahead of him. 
  • Mikel Oyarzabal - An attacking midfielder with massive potential. Given Raul Garcia is ageing, if you were able to bring in Oyarzabal it would be a real coup as he could hold down that position for years. He should always be your number 1 target, but whether timing and luck mean he comes your way is an unknown. The best hope is that Barcelona/Real Madrid sign him and he becomes unsettled/transfer listed.
  • Luca Sangalli - A hard working, two footed box to box player. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
  • Martin Merquelanz - an AML option, but as strong as what you have, therefore would not be a priority.
  • Roberto Lopez - can play across the attacking midfield positions and at 21, has plenty of room to improve.
  • Ander Barrenetxea - A talented 18 year old winger, who already has wonderkid status.
  • Jon Bautista - Would offer another striker option, and is likely to become available quickly, but he's probably in the same category as Kodro.
  • Robert Navarro - starts in the u19s, the former Barcelona youngster has Basque second nationality, and is the most realistic pick up here. His release fee is 6.5m and he would be willing to sign. At 18, he is a potential wonderkid.

Realistically, the best chance you have of signing any Sociedad players is if they get snapped up by a big team, but then don't get game time. There are a few others less talented players who could become good options, but realistically you are likely to have better prospects through the academy at Athletic anyway.

 

Very Realistic Options for the First Two Seasons

Given Athletic's squad is largely capable, there aren't many options out there who are worth picking up at the start of the game. However Athletic have a decent transfer budget at the start of the game (22m), so if you had a few bad injuries in pre season, the following could be potential options, or ones you need to keep an eye on.

  • Stephane Ruffier - a French Basque GK at St Etienne. A very good player and would be worth scouting. Realistically Herrerin and Simon are fine though.
  • Alvaro Fernandez - the Huesca GK would cost between 5-7m and would be a good option if you had an offer for Simon you couldn't refuse.
  • Alvaro Odriozola - valued at 21m, with interest from PSG from the start, you may have to act quickly if you want to sign him immediately.
  • Martin Aguirregabiria - young 23 year old full back at Alaves. Not interested in a transfer immediately but worth scouting and keeping an eye on, especially as Capa gets older.
  • Javi Martinez -  injury prone (knee problems) and expensive, he presents a risk. However in previous FM's has often become available fairly quickly, and a transfer is negotiable right at the start of the game, albeit for a high fee. If you sign him, expect cruciate ligament injuries regularly, but if the club is doing well financially he could be worth the risk. Given Yeray and Unai Nunez coming through, the requirement for a defender like Martinez is lowered.
  • Jonathan Espericueta - the Mexican with Basque nationality...you will need to set specific database options for him to be loaded into the game. A decent prospect, but worth noting due to him playing in the Mexican league. Be sure to load him up, he could be useful! I've not seen him on FM21 yet but assume he's still good. There's one or two others who may pop up in this camp so we will see who appears once the game has been played a bit more.
  • Aimar Oroz - 'the wizard' appears to be the best pick up at the start of a save. A talented young player from Osasuna in central midfield. Available at an affordable rate with good potential.
  • Jon Moncayola - DLP at Osasuna. A young player with potential to be very solid indeed, has an 11m release clause but will need some convincing to join.
  • Ruben Pardo - good central playmaker at Bordeaux, but around the same level as what you have, so you'd be signing for depth.
  • Roberto Torres - 31, but can play all across the midfield, with great technical attributes. A short term option, but would improve the squad.
  • Javi Martinez - no, not THAT Javi Martinez! There's another one at Osasuna who players as an attacking midfielder. Worth scouting. Mainly in here for the name joke

 

Contracts

When you start the game, always check release clauses throughout the team. The last thing you want managing Athletic is not being aware a players release clause is within reach and losing them unexpectedly. The first thing you need to do is offer a new deal to Vencedor as he has a low release clause, but Cordoba, Morcillo and Sancet are around the 27m mark, so you may still be caught out.

When negotiating contracts, increase the clause to what you want it to be and lock it on the first negotiation. They'll ask for more wages but that's ok, you can't risk losing good players and finances aren't a big problem at Athletic. If you don't lock the higher clause, they may respond by locking a much lower value. Also consider locking in a three-year optional extension. Again, the wages requested will increase but if it's manageable, do it!

Edited by dothestrand
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BUILDING FROM THE BOTTOM UP

Athletic Club are a team built from within, their record of retaining their La Liga status despite only signing players from the local region is unrivalled anywhere in the world. In recent years since the world of big TV money began, with more players travelling overseas this in theory should have become a much tougher task for Athletic Club. Indeed Athletic have regularly lost big name players over recent years, such as Fernando Llorente, Ander Herrera, Javi Martinez and most recently, the pair of Kepa and Aymeric Laporte, but there has always been one thing to keep things together and bring year on year development….Lezama. 

Lezama is the club’s academy, and of the current first team squad most have come through Athletic Club’s own academy. Some players left to develop elsewhere before returning (that is a common theme at Athletic, e.g. Benat), and you should always write buy back clauses into player sales. Athletic’s focus on youth and confidence in their academy is so strong, they often turn down the opportunity to recruit other Basque talent to give their academy players a chance. Such a philosophy is a breath of fresh air in the modern footballing world, and one of the reasons I was attracted to Athletic Club on a personal level. In game, you do have the option of signing 16 year old Spaniards to help build a stronger academy. However the purist may prefer to avoid this, and only sign players of Basque nationality at any age – this is also a great way to make an Athletic save just a touch more difficult. It basically becomes a youth academy challenge, with just a few other clubs you’re likely to be able to pluck youngsters from (who normally won't sell to you).

 

Recruitment of youngsters

Be sure to keep a close eye on the academies of Osasuna and Real Sociedad. This is where the best Basque youngsters are most likely going to come through, however (especially with Sociedad) be prepared to be patient or pay over the odds as the rivalry is a fierce one and player loyalty runs deep in the region.

Fortunately, Athletic’s own academy can make the club largely self-sufficient. The structure of B teams and C teams in Football Manager has become more immersive and generally deeper over recent versions, meaning the reserve teams are a more viable way to develop young talent than they used to be.

 

The Current Crop

At the start of your save, Athletic’s youth players are split between Bilbao Athletic (B team) and Baskonia (C Team) and the under 19s team, so before making any squad changes it’s imperative you get to know the players in these teams. Some of them won’t make it, but a lot of them will provide good depth for the first team with some being able to make an immediate impact. One of the biggest things when managing Athletic Club if you're new to the team, is remembering that any player could become important....when managing Athletic, you need to be flexible, you'll need players with lower star ratings for depth, and you'll need to build a tactic around effective players sometimes who might not necessarily be the best in terms of star ratings.

 

Bilbao Athletic & CD Baskonia

A couple of seasons ago Bilbao Athletic played in the Segunda, a big step up from the 3rd tier. This was a great opportunity for these players to showcase their skills and challenge for a role in the first team. However the Segunda is a tough division of seasoned pros, and the young Bilbao Athletic team lacked the experience to challenge in the division and were relegated. Even with that, some youngsters really showed their quality and have earned their opportunities with the first team. Others have continued in the Segunda with loan moves or played for the B side again in the Segunda B. 

Baskonia play in the regional division, and to be honest, in game I tend to use them as a dumping ground for those players who are realistically never going to contribute to the first team as their division is inactive. However at the start of the game the team has a number of potential first team talents worth keeping an eye on. I won't post specific screenshots of players as most (both B, C and under 19s) have a variable potential that could land anywhere within a set range, meaning the same player on one save could be a Segunda level player, while in the next save could be a solid La Liga prospect. It's down to you to keep an eye on these players and track their development - just because someone only has a 2 star potential, don't dump them.....loan them, get them games and the right training schedules, they may contribute in the future.

Please note, players will sometimes begin each save in different reserve teams and with different potential ratings, so don't take the below screenshots as gospel. All players listed have at least 3* potential. 


The key players from Bilbao Athletic (B Team):

1847997838_Screenshot2020-11-25at21_45_07.thumb.png.f8ea3e3435bbf7f19665cb32d1dfd58f.png

 

The key players from Baskonia (C Team):

1669473947_Screenshot2020-11-25at21_46_21.thumb.png.19389bc8a0aa5b72c2c387282c3227a7.png

 

The key players from the under 19s:

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In real life, Oihan Sancet has broken into the first team and you should move him to the first team immediately. Either rotate him with the other central midfielders or loan him to another top (or second) division team to get him minutes. You don't want him to stagnate.

Other players to keep a regular eye on:

  • Oier Zarraga (B team) - an attacking central midfielder with some impressive technical statistics. Look to loan him out to see if he develops.
  • Jesus Areso (B team) - has a nice bump in my game from when I checked in the beta. Not far off Lekue as a backup RB so you could loan him for the first season and make that decision later.
  • Inigo Vicente (B team) - attacking left-sided midfielder. Unlikely to be a long-term pick, so it's a case of when to sell.
  • Benat Prados (C team) - needs to improve his physical stats but has some good technical attributes.
  • Nico Serrano (u19s) - excellent technical ability but needs to spend some time bulking up! Could be a good left-wing option in a few seasons.
  • Nico Williams (u19s) - like his older brother (Inaki), can play both wide-right and up front. Still has a lot of work to do in all areas.

There two main ways you can play as Athletic, either buying up 16 year old Spaniards to hoard talent and make sure they gain Basque nationality, or working carefully with the Bilbao academy players and signing players from the region. Either way, Lezama is an important part of Athletic Club and something that must be taken seriously. When you can only sign Basque players, developing strength in depth is much tougher than at other clubs. If a player is only 2-3 gold star potential, don’t discard them….work with them, develop their key attributes so they can effective first team players, and they may just surprise you. If you're playing as Athletic for the first time, and you're used to signing players based on star ratings to squad build, be prepared to change your approach...you'll need to utilise everyone!

Edited by dothestrand
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SQUAD BUILDING: LOOKING AHEAD

 

Now we've looked at the various prospects in the youth squads, the first team and potential transfer targets, let's take a look at the first team squad and potential moves to upgrade or sustain your team quality over the initial seasons using players within the database at game start (obviously regens can play a part as you get perhaps 2 years in as well!):

Goalkeeper
Starting options: with Unai Simon (23) and Iago Herrerin (32), you are well set for the foreseeable future. Herrerin still has plenty of years left as a back up, but may want to move on if you're not playing him.
Potential upgrades: Kepa at Chelsea is the only real upgrade available here in the goalkeeping ranks, but his price makes it unrealistic for quite a few years at least.
Potential sideways moves: While you'll want to keep Simon, Herrerin is replaceable if prefers to leave. There are a few alternatives you could look at if that happens: Oier Olazabal, Aitor Fernandez, Alvaro Fernandez, Alex Remiro (but you've been warned!) and Sergio Herrera are all very capable. Stephane Ruffier could also do a job for a season or two.
Youth team prospects: Jokin Ezkieta may be good enough to utilise as a back up if Herrerin moves on, so worth considering that also.
Likely players in 1-2 seasons: Hard to look past Simon as your first choice, but the back up is flexible.

Central Defenders
Starting options: with Inigo Martinez (29), Yeray (25) and Unai Nunez (23) you are again quite secure here and this area won't need any major overhauls any time soon.
Potential upgrades: Laporte is pretty much it, but similarly to Kepa above, pricing makes it unrealistic for some time at least.
Sideways moves: Aritz Elustondo and Igor Zubeldia at Real Sociedad would be an ideal pickup should one of the above depart. Be cautious though, they are unlikely to want to join, so losing one of the above may lead to a hole you can't fill.
Youth team prospects: You don't have a huge number of options in your own ranks. Jorge Herrando at Osasuna could be a good option, though the Real Sociedad pair of Urko Gonzalez de Zarate or Jon Pacheco would be ideal.
Likely players in 1-2 seasons: No changes if you can keep your main three in place, dropping Nolaskoain back into defence as a fourth CB would be wise.

Right Back
Starting options: with Ander Capa (28), Oscar De Marcos (31) and Inigo Lekue (27), again you are quite secure here. De Marcos will decline, but the other two can hold down this spot without issue for a few years.
Potential upgrades: Alvaro Odriozola - if you can get him you should. Azpilicueta is out there as well, but he's older and not so realistic. 
Sideways moves: Joseba Zaldua at Real Sociedad is one option, but may not be available to you, similarly Andoni Gorosobel at Real Sociedad is much the same. Martin Aguirregabiria might be more realistic, but none of these guys are worth worrying about bringing in unless you have to.
Youth team prospects: Jesus Areso could develop to Lekue's level within a couple of seasons with the right guidance.
Likely players in 1-2 Seasons: Capa and Lekue/Areso.

Left Back

Starting options: with Yuri (30) and Balenziaga (32) this is an area that will require your attention fairly quickly, although you have a little time.
Potential upgrades: There's not any specific upgrades on Yuri out there in terms of ability
Sideways moves: Kevin Rodrigues and Aihen Munoz are worth your attention. This duo are both young and can fill the spot for a good few years. Yuri has a few seasons in him, but if you can get enough money for Yuri to allow you to pay Munoz's release clause, thats a long term move well worth considering. A few other back up options out there like Saborit if you need, but given Rodrigues is available for very little in your first season he's an obvious option if you needed.
Youth team prospects: No real options.
Likely players in 1-2 seasons: Yuri/Munoz and Rodrigues.

Central Midfield
Staring options: Dani Garcia (30) and Mikel Vesga (27) are your most natural CMs and you may wish to alternate them to shield the defence, to allow Muniain and Lopez to provide a more dynamic midfield pair. Or play both against stronger opposition and be more flexible with Muniain and Lopez. Sancet and Vencedor will be good rotation options too.
Potential upgrades: Mikel Merino and Ander Herrera stand out (the former more so due to age), but both are pricey. Javi Martinez at Bayern also a good short term option. 
Sideways moves: Jon Moncayolo at Osasuna is a great pick up, as is AImar Oroz who can develop well. Both could be good options for season 2 and could be better than what you have at the start of the game. Ruben Pardo at Bordeaux or many of the Real Sociedad midfielders are worth keeping an eye on, especially Jon Guridi and Ander Guevara, as they're likely to be transfer listed first.
Youth team prospects: Kepa Uriarte and Oier Zarraga are worth focussing on (the latter may be someone you decide on quicker as he's already 21).
Likely players in 1-2 seasons: Dani Garcia, Oihan Sancet, Unai Lopez, Iker Muniain, Aimar Oroz, Peru Nolaskoain, Jon Moncayolo. Mikel Merino or Herrera if possible!!

Attacking Midfield
Starting options: with Alex Berenguer (25), Ibai Gomez (31) and Inigo Cordoba (23) (also Inaki Williams if you prefer him as a winger) you are well set up here, especially on the left side. However the right side lacks depth and may need some consideration. Jon Morcillo (21) can play as an inverted winger but you may consider loaning him out for the first season. 
Potential upgrades: There's not really any realistic upgrades here, although Mikel Oyarzabal could be a long term target.
Sideways moves: Robert Torres at Osasuna will cost around 10m and at 31, you need to question the value. Still, he can play across the attacking midfield slots and should last a couple of seasons.
Youth team prospects: Nico Serrano needs a few years but looks very good. Ander Barrenetxea at Real Sociedad is a wonderkid but his release clause is way out of sight already. Robert Navarro at Real Sociedad probably will join and his release clause is very manageable at 6.5m. Borja Sainz at Alaves looks excellent in my save but won't immediately join (but his release clause is 3.7m so be persistent!)
Likely players in 1-2 seasons: Berenguer (if you don't sell) and Cordoba on the left, Williams and Morcillo on the right. Nico Serrano may be on the cusp of the first team. You may sell Ibai Gomez after the first season if you can't find a place for him. Navarro should be a realistic pickup too if you like an AMC, though he can play other positions.

Strikers
Starting options: This has historically been the most difficult area, with Raul Garcia and Inaki Williams playing in less familiar positions, though if Villalibre comes good, this may solve a problem. Kodro is likely to be a peripheral option.
Potential upgrades: There's no one out there, unless Griezmann is transfer listed!
Sideways moves: Jon Bautista perhaps?
Youth team prospects: Nico Williams and Ibai Asenjo in your u19s. Both need some work.
Likely players in 1-2 seasons: You'll need to make something work with Williams and Villalibre. Other options are thin on the ground. Pray for good regens!!

Overall the main area to focus on transfer wise is the central midfield and left back areas - within these areas you can make sensible long term changes and secure your position in case regens aren't developing in those areas. We're fortunate to have some good options in game!

Other areas don't require much work initially, however be on the look out for good striking options. Your best bet is for a good regen or to retrain your best alternative. Cordoba has been retrained successfully in past games. Berenguer looks a reasonable option for retraining. Make sure the rest of the side are contributing on the goals front though!

Edited by dothestrand
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Always love reading through these threads every year. 

I'm getting into year 4 of my save. The standout transfers so far have been Robin Le Normand and Martin Merquelanz. Robin came in year 1 and won fan's player of the season. His performance's encouraged me to do something I've never done previously and sell Inigo Martinez in year 2 for a massive fee to Man Utd, which allowed me to sign Merino ahead of schedule. Martin came in for a very small fee and has become the type of secondary goal scorer my team needed. 14 in year 2, 16 in year 3, both seasons splitting time with Cordoba. Retraining him to the right to cut inside improved him alot for me in my most recent season. 

The striker issue is certainly worse than ever in FM21. Garcia is fine year 1, but his legs go quickly. I couldn't get Villalibre going and couldn't get Bautista to sign either, so it was slim pickings. I messed around with using Muniain/Garcia in a false 9/shadow striker combo which worked ok for a while, but couldnt hold up once Garcia moved on. Just rolling with Williams until the wheels fall off seems like the only real option. 

Edited by kevbk6222
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You may need to bite the bullet quickly on Robert Navarro. He starts off with Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd all interested. I offered him a very good salary, much higher than he asked for, to accept a high release clause and to get the deal done quickly. He's absolutely worth it though at 6.5m. He has plenty of room to grow. He's right footed and although he prefers to play as an inverted winger, I think you could develop him as an orthodox winger if you want to play Williams up front longer term. He'll be in the first team squad for now, whilst he gets settled and benefits from mentoring, but I'd like to loan him out after January for regular minutes.

I also persuaded Borja Sainz, a young Basque AMR at Alaves, to enter contract talks. I've had to promise him regular starts, which I know I'm not going to - but hopefully enough rotation of game time will keep him happy. He's on a 5y deal, so enough time to get over it. He needs to build his physical stats up though. It does mean that I'll try to sell Ibai Gomez now to save some wages.

Screenshot 2020-11-26 at 11.00.18.png

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Edited by dothestrand
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55 minutes ago, Mackem742 said:

Ive never managed Bilbao, but it sounds like an interesting save. I got interested when I read the link with North East England miners. Im from NE England and it would be nice to have that link.

Traditionally pretty much all of the Basque teams have played a brand of football very similar to the one you would see in England, sadly this is a bit difficult to replicate long term on fm thought, since it's very hard to build a squad with high workrate, teamwork, bravery and agression while relying mostly on your own youth intake to do so 

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1 hour ago, jakem016 said:

I just looked at him and he wasn't listed as Basque 

Strange, think he was listed as Basque on older fm's, but back then was never good enough on the game to be a viable option 

Maybe it was changed since he is not born in the Basque region or trained at a Basque club 

 

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Finished the 20-21 season in 5th place, with Europa League qualification confirmed. Not that the board were totally pleased. We were sitting in 4th at our stage but then had to play Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Seville, who were all top six (A. Madrid won the title), so that derailed us. Plus the football wasn't that pretty, lots of single goal victories, few players really performing (Unai Lopez was the top performer). Still, I'll take it.

Main Ins: Navarro (Real Sociedad, 6.5m), Sainz (Alaves, 3.7m), Aguirregabiria (Alaves, 1.9m), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich, 1.6m). Kevin Rodriguez and a couple of Real Sociedad regens were signed for the Summer.

Main Outs: Ibai Gomez (RB Salzburg - 3.1m), Lekue (Porto, 4.2m), De Marcos (Al-Nassr, 500k), Balenziaga and Raul Garcia went on frees at the end of the season.

Squad is a little bloated but I'll happily loan my young players out. I expect much of the same into the second season. Lack of goals remains an issue.

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Haven’t started my save yet. In your first year do yous prefer to qualify for champions league or Europa league. I prefer europa league so I can give the youngsters more game time. Don’t know if it makes much of a difference.

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7 hours ago, weematt7 said:

Haven’t started my save yet. In your first year do yous prefer to qualify for champions league or Europa league. I prefer europa league so I can give the youngsters more game time. Don’t know if it makes much of a difference.

I'd take qualifying for the CL in the first season, sure! Chances are the two Madrid's and Barca will be miles ahead and you may finish 4th with a strong season, but otherwise 5th or 6th is fine for me first up. Of course Sevilla, Valencia, Real Sociedad and Villarreal are probably going to be in the mix too. As you make changes to the squad, develop young players, etc. regular CL football is easier to obtain after a couple of seasons onward. 

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Alright I completely folded and picked up the game - was gonna get it in January but couldn't resist!!

@dothestrand double check the release clause on Navarro, it may have changed between beta and full release? Was 12.5 on my game (GBP) I think. 

Smashed through my first half season, picked up Navarro for his release clause in the summer, and then stretched a deal for an unhappy Odriozola in January in instalments for around 30mil. He's roughly on a level with Capa who has been excellent, but you've always got to take the chance to get those players if they are there. Hoping to get Oroz in the summer but they're not budging on his price right now and he signed a new deal for a higher release fee already. 

I've gone super well first half of the season, sitting in 3rd currently with a reasonable gap to 5th place and a superb goal difference. Playing a 4-2-3-1:

Simon, Herrerin
RB: Odriozola, Capa (De Marcos still in squad but leaving on a free)
CB: Nolaskoain, Nunez, Yerary, Martinez
LB: Yuri, Imanol (Balenziaga sold)
CM: Garcia, Vencedor
CM: Unai Lopez, Sancet
RW: Williams, Morcillo
AMC: Muniain, Navarro
LW: Cordoba, Berengeur (Serrano coming in also, will sell Berengeur in the summer)
CF: Garcia, Villalibre 

In the summer I'll likely transition Cordoba to the CF role as I've done in previous FM's, I might give Morcillo a run up front as well to see how he goes as then I can make room for Artola in the first team squad. 
 

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End of the 21-22 season and look at this table! Whilst it's great seeing the big guns tumble down the table, it hurts for Sociedad to win it. They won 12 of their last 14, drawing the other two. Ridiculous form. They had 8 of the highest 14 averaging players too. Hopefully someone picks off Januzaj and Isak. 

1026669201_Screenshot2020-12-02at23_24_22.thumb.png.5da30973f1662a71de118dc4c9202d7d.png

Another steady season, without being spectacular. Only Javi Martinez, Unai Lopez and Inaki Williams averaged more than 7.0. A lot of players coasting really and I'll be considering some futures. I think by the end of the Summer, the squad would've moved on considerably from the starting squad, so I'll update where we are - as one of the starting posts suggests, after 2y you should expect to be in a transitional period.

Transfers in: Moncayola (Osasuna, 2m), Munoz (Real Sociedad, 1.6m - was going to be a Bosman but signed him early), also lots of other Basque regeons.

Transfers out: Vivian, Ezkeita, Kodro, Dani Garcia, Berenguer. None of whom were missed.

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Finally bought the game and decided to start with Athletic. One issue that might have been raised at the Beta stage is the fact that there is no Copa del Rey final for the season 2019-20. IRL it has been postponed due to Covid to April 2021. The in-game situation is very frustrating as it'd be a chance to gain silverware from season one and against our rivals from Donostia no less. It's a shame that SI canceled an entire competition.

I did managed to reach the final and win the cup, but I am quite pissed off there is a missing year because of a simple match-postponement.

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So as we begin the third season, the transition of the squad is nicely taking shape. Pretty much everyone who I wanted to move on has done so, replaced by regens rather than established Basque players. Luckily, there have been two excellent intakes here, and some great Basque prospects at other teams we've picked up. Martinez and Yuri will be the next players phased out. Saving their wages will be nice.

GK: Unai Simon, Alvaro Fernandez (2.5m from Huesca, a good prospect IRL), Juan Perez (250k, a backup GK from Osasuna)

RB: Miguel Bidaurrazaga (26.5m from Eibar, 17yo regen - he's why I sold Ander Capa), Martin Aguirregabiria

LB: Aihen Munoz, Yuri

CM: Inigo Martinez, Yeray, Unai Nunez, David Martin (1m regen from Real Sociedad - seriously, someone call the police because they've been robbed)

DM: Unai Vencedor, Peru Nolaskoian, Ander Herrera (he's back!)

CM: Unai Lopez, Oihan Sancet, Iker Muniain

AM: Robert Navarro, Inaki Williams, Jon Ander Telletxea (one of our regens), Nico Serrano (looking excellent now!)

CF: Ander Villalibre, Jon Pradera (6m from Real Sociedad - what are they doing? He's the new Morientes apparently!)

I have about ten other regens who could be first team quality in 3-5y. I've got very lucky so far. They should be loaned out until they're ready.

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These guys will be loaned out but let's hope for good seasons as they'll replace Yuri and potentially Muniain soon. Gomez is the new Patrick Vieira apparently!

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First season over and I am pretty happy overall. Finished 3rd on 80 points behind Barcelona and Réal Madrid. Better still, we bring two trophies home with victory in the Super Cup and in the 2021 Copa del Rey.

I played the whole season with a balanced 4.2.3.1. It was not football champagne, but we were solid defensevely (conceded 17 in the whole season) and my attackers always seemed to nick a goal or two. I was impressed by Iñaki Williams, whom I played up as a Complete Forward. He finished the season with 19 goals and came third in the Pichichi. I am very happy also about the inclusion of Morcillo and Sancet. Whereas, both Ibai and Villalibre disappointed me and I think I will try to move past them next season.

At the beginning of the season I let De Marcos, Herrerín, and Balenziaga out. In January Barcelona came for Raúl Garcia and even though they offered only € 2.5M, I accepted so as to free wage budget. I also loaned out Noloskoian as I wasn't sure I could offer him much playing time this season. My two only signings were Oroz, but with a loan-back clause, so he will play for us only starting next season, and David Garcia from Osasuna in January. The squad has been the following:

GK: Simón, Ezkeita

DR: Capa, Lekue

DC: Yeray, Martínez, Núñez, David Garcia (since January)

DL: Yuri, Imanol

MCR: Dani Garcia, Vesga

MCL: López, Sancet

AMR: Morcillo, Córdoba

AMC: Muniain, Garcia (until January)

AML: Berenguer, Ibai Gómez

ST: Williams Villalibre

Going forward, my target are to find a solution to get another second-choice striker instead of Villalibre and poach Odriozola from Réal. He is unhappy having played a merely 8 league games and none as a starter. They ask € 28M though, so I guess I have to try paying in installments. 

Last but not least, the youth intake was not glorious, but I managed to matched a bid for one of our affiliate youngster who scouts rate at a five star potential. I think it is actually the first time in ten years playing FM that I use this feature.

Aupa Athletic!

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2020/21 Review

La Liga - 2nd (Atletico Champions)

Copa Del Rey - Lost on final to Sevilla

Supercopa - Lost in semi final 

A really promising first campaign, narrowly missing out on silverware in the cup final. 

Early on in the summer and I’ve lost Inigo Martinez for his release clause to Man Utd. Disappointing but given the fee for a 30 year old, alongside having Nunez and Yeray makes it not a total disaster. The only annoying thing is at the time of sale the board were only giving me 10% of the fee towards my transfer budget, so I have little to spend. A real shame because I could have paid Mikel Merino’s release clause to strengthen my midfield. I did however bring in Javi Martinez to add some experience and quality for the bench/rotation. 
 

Youth intake has been a solid one too with some good prospects coming through! Hopeful of getting back into the top 4 this season but also aware that without Martinez and Raul Garcia we are probably a weaker side now. This season will be focused on developing Serrano, Artola, Sancet etc and I’ll be trying to increase my budget to bring in Mikel Merino or Oroz. Merino would replace Dani Garcia and be an immediately improvement on our current 11

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22 minutes ago, kingjericho said:

@bowieinspace loved reading your updates last year, looking forward to this year too. What tactical setup are you using? With this squad most people seem to choose 4231.

4-2-3-1 is probably the most sensible choice with the current squad, it's a good formation for a high defensive line (sensible since most of the defders are a bit rubbish in the air) and you will not run into trouble trying to replace Raul Garcia 

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I tend to play 4-1-2-2-1 with a sitting midfielder, two playmaker/box to box midfielders, two wide attacking midfielders and a striker. To be honest I play that with every side I play with mostly but it provides the solidity in midfield I like with Athletic Club (I can play Garcia or Vencedor behind Lopez/Muniain/Sancet) though I accept it lends itself to pretty cautious play and I tend to win a lot of games 1-0. 

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9 hours ago, kingjericho said:

@bowieinspace loved reading your updates last year, looking forward to this year too. What tactical setup are you using? With this squad most people seem to choose 4231.

Thanks! I'll try to get more depth into my next update the first one was kinda brief!

I'm using a 4-2-3-1, high line for the reasons @Falahk notes above. Defenders are pacey enough but not aerial monsters, albeit they're not terrible. I also think there's enough work rate in the side to play a more aggressive press, it suits the squad well. I'm playing with wingers instructed to play the channels and sit narrow, using Yuri and Odriozola/Capa to provide width as they're excellent for that, I just make sure my wingers/wide forwards are left footed on the left and right footed on the right, because I want them pushing outside the defender and shooting from that angle rather than overcrowding the middle. For my AMC I have them in an advanced playmaker role who can roam wherever he wants, and a supporting role up front (which changes depending on the situation), to allow the wingers to form basically a narrow front 3.

In midfield my two sitters are a CM(D) and a DLP(S)...you'll never see me using any kind of roaming role in a double pivot system!

Edited by bowieinspace
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2021/22 Season Review

 

La Liga - 3rd, 77 points (-3 on 20/21)
Copa Del Rey - Lost in 3rd round to Real Madrid
Champions League - Lost in group stages to Lazio and Man City, 3rd in group with 10 points (bit unlucky not to get through!)
Europa League - Lost in first KO round to Feyenoord (bottle job)

Supercopa - Lost in final to Real Madrid

Bilbao Athletic - Promoted to La Liga 2

A transition year expected and a transition year we got. We underperformed at times, regularly failing to take our chances while being punished by goals against the run of play, as an example we lost 4-2 to Valencia with about 5 games to go, while we had better xG 2.78 - 1.02. It was a bit of a year like that really, but we still did ok and as per my previous update, I was happy just to consolidate and finish top 4 again knowing we are undergoing a squad transition.

Transfers (including summer 2022 so far, currently in May)
In - Aimar Oroz, 8mil. Aihen Munoz 8.25mil. Stephane Ruffier 300k. Gorka Zabala 2.9mil (newgen)
Out - Berengeur 8.5mil, Villalibre will also be sold when he returns from loan

 

Squad for 22/23
GK - Simon, Ruffier, Ezkeita
RB - Odriozola, Capa
LB - Yuri, Munoz (Imanol loaned out)
CB - Nunez, Yeray, Javi Martinez, Nolaksoain
CM(D) - Dani Garcia, Joseba Elustondo (Newgen), Vencedor loaned out
CM (Playmaker) - Sancet, Unai Lopez
RW - Artola, Navarro
AMC - Muniain, Oroz,
LW - Serrano, Morcillo
CF - Cordoba, Williams

YoungSTARS:

 

Joseba Elustondo - Central midfielder, being trained in a more defensive role

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Xabier Galan - Young left back

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Ibon Igoroin - Promising attacking player, being trained more as a centre forward...although his finishing his low he seems to know where the net is!

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Diego Santisteban - Another solid attacking player

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Gorka Zabala - Creative midfielder, big hopes for this man!

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Edited by bowieinspace
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Just finished up the 2024/25 season in my save. Another 2nd place finish in the league behind Real Madrid, who have won the league 6 years running. This year the team felt more capable than ever of competing with the top top teams, beating PSG twice and advancing past Bayern, but we're still well off the pace of Real Madrid, who are the most consistently great AI team I've seen in any version of FM. 

 

This year Inaki Williams had the single best goal scoring season I've ever had on FM. 56 total goals. 45 in 34 league games, only 1 goal of which was scored from the penalty spot. If he didn't miss a month due to injury I think he could have cracked Messi's all-time single season goal scoring record. Impossibly, that type of season wasn't good enough to win league player of the year, where he finished 2nd. :confused: 6 years into the save I still don't have a clear idea on who will ultimately replace Inaki when his legs fall off, but hopefully that is a problem for a couple seasons down the line. 

 

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Season 2 Review - 2021/2022

Competitions:

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La Liga: Winners! Totally unexpected to be honest. The squad wasn't much stronger than last year but the tactic I've created worked super well and we just kept on winning matches. 

UCL/Europa League: Came third in a very tough group. In the EL we reached the Semi-Finals, but Manchester United was a step too high for us in a period where we had several players out injured.

Copa del Rey: Knocked out by Atletico.

SuperCopa: Winners for the second year straight.

Transfers:

Odriozola joined us for 28M EUR. I poeached also Jon Bautista from la Real for 4.1M EUR to replace Villalibre as second-choice striker. Also Oroz and Kevin Rodrigues were now available having been on loan the previous season. I did not sell anyone. 

Players Performance

Super happy about my two strikers, Williams (playing as Pressing Forward with Attack duty) and Bautista (playing as a Poacher). They scored 24 goals each. Odriozola has an immediate impact as well, why youngsters such as Morcillo and Sancet really stepped up and became an integral part of our team.

I will probably trim down aging players such as Yuri and Dani Garcia in the next pre-season now that I can still get good money for them. The idea is going for Muñoz as new left-back and introducing Vencedor to the first squad.

Intake/Regens

Here are the four best youngster. I am amazed by Eneko Imaz who will probably get some first team football already next season.

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I'm doing and did a few youth only saves (promoted team after one year holiday in the lowest league of a country) but my feelings for Bilbao never left the building :) Would a youth only challenge be a 'bigger' challenge with Bilbao, knowing that they already have good finances and facilities? doubting..

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Season 3 Review - 2022/2023

Another season to remember and another unexpected Liga title, making two in a row. I tweaked the winning tactic of last season to make it more tiki-taka-ish and accomodate two playmakers on the pitch. At the end in came down to just a point difference to Barcelona, who destroyed us on day 37. But on the last match day we secured a comfortable win against Granada to bring the title home. I am also positive about our progress in the UCL where we reached the Quarter Finals. Sadly, after overcoming Bayern we went down to 95' goal against Shaktar. Semi Finals were in our reach, but it wasn't to be.

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The only real addition to the squad was Roberto López from Sociedad for 18M who operates as vice-Munian in the #10 position behind the striker. While Mikel Vesga, Yuri, and Dani Garcia all left during the summer as part of a rejuvenation effort on my side. Also Zarraga left for Cadiz for 4M as I couldn't find a place for him on the team. I inserted a buy-back clause though in case I would need a good rotational option in the future. 

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So the squad currently looks like this (screenshot below with first XI selected). Williams and Bautista had another great season in terms of goals, banging 17 and 20 respectevely. But for the moment I have only eyes for the first newgen to be included promoted into the first team, Eneko Imaz. Believe I have a genuine wonderkid here.

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Sadly, this year intake was garbage, so much so I fire my HOYD and poached Osasuna's one. I will try to steal some youngsters from smaller Basque teams as I am not allowing myself to sign non-Basque players, even if they are 16. For next season the idea is to try to get Aihen Muñoz to replace Rodrigues

On to the fourth season! Aupa Athletic!

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Season 3, 2022-23 done and dusted and we brought the title back to the city. It was a close run thing as you can see. You may notice that us and Real Sociedad were level pegging going into the last day but we had the superior head-to-head so GD wasn't going to be a factor. Luckily, our game was home to Osasuna, who we demolished 4-0 to win in style. Otherwise, it was another strange season. We were humiliated in the CL with 1 win and 5 losses against Inter, Dortmund and Marseille. Not much in the way of star performers - just Yeray, Nunez and Unai Lopez with an average rating of 7 or greater. We're bedding in lots more youngsters and whilst I need to hang onto Herrera as we're weakest in CM, decent offers for Martinez, Muniain or Williams would be seriously considered. We've got some great CB options coming through and Serrano is a wonderkid at AML and Navarro also excelling at AMR, so Muniain/Williams are arguably less essential going forward as they age. I find Muniain a pretty poor dressing room character so may drop him as captain anyway. If these guys head out (EDIT: I sold Muniain to a Saudi Arabian club for 15m as he had 1y left on his contract and would not re-sign - I was able to sign Barrenetxea from Villareal for 18m instead - Real Sociedad had previously sold him), then next season could be tricky but CL football has to be the minimum now.

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Edited by dothestrand
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2022/23 Season Review

 

La Liga - 1st, 90 points (+13 on 21/22)
Copa Del Rey - Lost in semi final to Real Madrid
Champions League - Lost in quarter final to Liverpool
Supercopa - Lost in semi final to Real Madrid

Bilbao Athletic - solid lower mid table in Liga 2

What a wonderful way to end the season - 9 consecutive wins in the league took us clear of the pack. We were in a dog fight for 1st-5th but a superb run of form in the second half of the season, and a relatively poor season from the other top teams saw us comfortable league winners in the end. Usually you'd expect one of the big teams to hit around 90 points or more, but this year the next best was 79. 

Our form stemmed from a switch from a 4-2-3-1 to my favoured 4-3-3:

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Transfers (including summer 2022 so far, currently in May)
In - Alvaro Fernandez, 2.5 million
Out - Yuri (Free, leaving next month), Javi Martinez (Free, leaving next month), Stephane Ruffier (free, leaving next month). 

I will likely let Morcillo go if there's interest alongside Dani Garcia who has one more year on his contract, same with Ander Capa as I have a very good young RB coming through.

 

Squad for 23/24 (4-3-3)
GK - Simon, Fernandez, Ezkeita
RB - Odriozola, Capa
LB - Munoz, Xabier Galan (Imanol loaned out again)
CB - Nunez, Yeray, Nolaksoain, Roberto Sesma
DM - Joseba Elustondo, Gorka Zabala
CM - Aimar Oroz, Robert Navarro
CM - Oihan Sancet, Unai Lopez
RW - Artola, Muniain
LW - Serrano, Igoroin
CF - Cordoba, Williams

YoungSTARS

I've got a ridiculous pipeline going at the moment so going to limit screenshots to players who are hitting the first team:

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Edited by bowieinspace
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Played my first season Got third place with 78 points and won both Supercup and the Spanish cup (against Rayo) 😂

 

We Got back Kepa from Chelsea before our games in the champions league and our reserves Got promoted to La Liga 2 and Basconia (c team) Got promoted too, so now the play in a real league 😀😀

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2023-24 season finished and it was a slightly sobering follow-on from the dizzying heights from the season before. We had a very tough start and were W4 D6 L0 from the first ten games, I think, so we were behind the big guns from the outset. Still, there was daylight between us and Real Sociedad, so CL was easily secured. We reached the QF of the CL before losing to Inter (and we won our group, which was impressive given Liverpool were in Pot 2!) so that was a positive sign. I want us to kick on in Europe, though finishing 4th will make that job harder as we will inevitably be in a tough group (funny how 'random' those hard CL draws are!)

Signings in: Roberto Lopez (Real Sociedad, 21m) and a series of Basque regens. As mentioned before Barrentxea came in to replace Muniain at the end of 2022-23. He was excellent on the right flank. 

Signings out: Inigo Martinez (Milan, 12m) - not ideal but he had a season left on his contract and wouldn't re-sign. We have plenty of options and he is earning silly money. 

We have an embarrassing number of regens out on loan - 16 who are in the first team squad for training/mentoring - basically we've become the Basque Chelsea. Roberto Lopez has left after one season after a) he complained about being played out of position and b) performed badly - we'll make a slight loss but that's fine. We have so many attacking options that he won't be missed. Only likely to be regens coming in now, though Azpilacueta and Griezmann are now on Bosmans, so who knows?

Attached are my three wonderkids, though Serrano was one before he turned 21. I have 12 players with 5* potential and 6 more with 4.5*. Hopefully most of these get close to that level.

I changed to a 4-2-3-1 formation this year to accommodate the vast number of attacking midfielders we have. Not that it's made us weaker in central midfield, and therefore opening the defence up (we only conceded 18 goals - Simon won European GK of the year). Herrera and Lopez are excellent as a base. Having three attacking midfielders works to the extent that they're generally versatile and can rotate positions (Serrano and Barrentxea can play both flanks, for example) - I even manage to play Williams up front now (Villalibre was loaned out but will be sold now). I wish we were more incisive in attacking areas. I basically am the Basque George Graham - I love a 1-0 win!

 

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43 minutes ago, weematt7 said:

Has anyone had problems moving players between squads??

I had something weird happen in this regard, I tried to move a B team player to the first team for mentoring and it wouldn’t work. I continued a few days and tried again with no luck, then moved him to the under 19s which worked fine, and then to the first team. Was a bit weird

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10 hours ago, ernemann said:

Played my first season Got third place with 78 points and won both Supercup and the Spanish cup (against Rayo) 😂

 

We Got back Kepa from Chelsea before our games in the champions league and our reserves Got promoted to La Liga 2 and Basconia (c team) Got promoted too, so now the play in a real league 😀😀

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Yeah my C team got promoted a few seasons in..super exciting to be able to actually utilise the c team this year

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2023/24 Season Review

 

La Liga - 1st (won by a single point over Barcelona), 88 pts (-2 on 22/23)
Copa Del Rey - Lost in 3rd round to Getafe
Champions League - Lost in quarter final to Lyon
Supercopa - Winners

A double! Pleased to win the Supercopa and then take the league title, just beating out Barcelona in a very tight run in. In the Champions League we were the better side vs Lyon but they scored with their only shot/chance in the second leg to grab a key away goal, while we missed far too many chances. No major tactical changes of note.

Squad for 24/25

GK - Simon, Fernandez
RB - Odriozola, Arrue
LB - Galan, Munoz
CB - Yerary, Nunez, Nolaskoain
DM - Zabala, Olazabal
CM - Sancet, Elustondo
CM - Navarro, Oroz
RW - Artola, Igoroin
LW - Serrano, Muniain
CF - Williams, Cordoba

Other squad players: Unai Lopez, Inigo Lopez, Jokin Ezkieta. Would have no issues seeing either Lopez depart as I simply don't need them, but Unai Lopez is a very capable player to have come in during an injury crisis so inclined to keep him around.

 

You can find screen shots of my newgens above linked who form part of the first team...as per my previous update I've got quite a pipeline there's just no way I can show them all, so here's an u19s and B team squad view to go alongside the player screenshots linked above. Lots of exciting young players coming through and a few close to making a break into the first team for sure. I expect come the end of this season I'll be well placed to start replacing Muniain who is turning 32 soon, alongside Cordoba who is a rotation option only for me now.

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2 hours ago, RyanSuperfly said:

is anyone else having a issue where players you promote to the first team are not staying up and get put back in the b/c team after pressing continue? or if there is something i need to do to stop it?

It’s a known bug at the moment. Work around is to move them to the under 19s first

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Started a save with Athletic, i disabled the 1st transfer window and dived into tactics and youth development.

Some important players got injured during preseason like Munian (3 months out) and Raul Garcia, here is the basic tactic:

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A basic 433 with a DM, focusing to defend and counter-attack. The concept is from Mourinho's "nike defense" back in his Chelsea time.

After 9 league matches team is quite solid defensively, concede just one goal and that was a penalty. 

Players tend to miss too many chances up front and we have some of the worst record in the league.

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Without that freaky 5-0 against Getafe scoring record would be awful.

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Seems that i have to make a "Composure focused" training schedule.

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I find that tactics with a lot of aggressive roles/positive mentality tends to create that, because you pack the box and have a lot of shots that are easily blocked/saved. With two cwb’s and wide forwards cutting in, plus a bbm and an ap on attack you’ve got 7 players who will often form a forward line. If the results are coming in well then probably don’t worry about it!

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