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I first played with Athletic Bilbao (Los Leones) in FM11 and then again in FM15 so I wanted to return to managing a club I am very fond of. I managed to win trophies in FM11 but not the league but in FM15 I landed the league title after a few seasons in charge which I still hold as one of my greatest achievements in FM as I had to beat a Real Madrid team (managed by Brendan Rogers!) who were at the peak of their powers with Ronaldo and hammering teams most weeks. I won my first 10 games of the season and so did they; there was barely any room for error but in the 2nd half of the season I managed to open a small gap which I was able to hold on to (including an incredibly nervy draw against Real). I also wanted to try for the first time to post regular updates about my progress so I hope you will follow and I hope others will want to try Athletic Bilbao and get some tips from my progress. If you don't already know, Athletic Bilbao have an almost unique transfer policy of only selecting Basque players; the Basque region is a relatively small region in the north of Spain and over the border into France with a population just over 2m people. Athletic relaxed their policy to also include players who have had their footballing education in the Basque region hence the increase of non-Spanish nationalities playing for Athletic in the last 15-20 years. This means in FM you can buy Spanish 16 year olds and they will become Basque, gaining their homegrown status at Bilbao. Other notable Basque clubs include fierce rivals Real Sociedad from San Sebastian, Osasuna from Pamplona, Alaves from Vitoria-Gasteiz; Eibar and then a number of smaller clubs many of which are affiliated to Athletic such as Barakaldo, Cultural Durango, Portugalete and Sestao River. The only other notable town is Irun who play home to Real Union. The only French Basque club of note is Aviron Bayonnais who are famed for producing Didier Deschamps (the stadium is named after him) and more recently Aymeric Laporte who Athletic sold to Man City for £50m. They unfortunately play in the French Championnat National 3, a league not playable in FM (I would love to do a save where I made Aviron Bayonnais a big club in France to increase the quality of the pool of Basque players before moving on to Athletic). Taking on Athletic in FM basically means you will be trusting in youth and the good thing is that the facilities and youth recruitment are exceptional. The sale of players in recent seasons such as Kepa to Chelsea and the aforementioned Laporte to Man City have meant that Athletic have a more than healthy financial situation as they can rarely go and spend big to replace (although they did manage to land Inigo Martinez for a big fee from Real Sociedad to replace Laporte). Unfortunately, you will have to brace yourself every time the transfer window opens and big clubs come knocking for your best players. There are a number of notable and some World Class Basque footballers to keep an eye on playing in other countries as well as in Spain. I already mentioned Laporte (DC) and Kepa (GK) who play in the PL but there is also Ander Herrera (MC), Cesar Azpilicueta (DRC), Nacho Monreal (DL) and Fernando Llorente (CF). Ex Bilbao player Javi Martinez (DC/DM) at Bayern and Antoine Griezmann who is playing at Atletico and Odriozola (DR) at Real. Mikel Merino and Mikel Oyarzabal at rivals Real Sociedad also present excellent transfer targets. There is also Uruguayan Giorgian De Arrascaeta playing at Cruzeiro. (Recognising Basque names will probably become a skill e.g. Mikel is typically Basque; Xabi (as in Alonso) instead of Xavi and then also a lot of Ks, Zs and TXs). Right then, I am of course playing FM2019 and this is only my 2nd save as I don't get as much chance to play as I used to (so I have no idea how I'm finding the time to write about it). In real life, this season has been a struggle for Athletic, flirting with relegation before pulling up to mid-table since sacking their manager so I am expecting a tough ride with the loss of star keeper, Kepa and an ageing striker in Aritz Aduriz who, at 37, is defying the ravages of time. Goals are therefore hard to come by but they do have some very capable attacking players such as Iker Munain, Inaki Williams, Raul Garcia and Markel Susaeta. I settled on my squad of 25 as follows and will predominantly play 4231 and 433 (with DM), I should also note that when playing FM, I always disable the first transfer window as I like the game to start as in real life: Goalkeepers: Herrerin, Simon and Remiro Right backs: Lekue, Capa, De Marcos Left backs: Yuri, Balenziaga, Ganea Centre backs: Martinez, Yeray, Nunez and San Jose Midfielders: Iturraspe, Dani Garcia, Rico, Benat Attacking Midfielders: Raul Garcia, Unai Lopez Left Wingers: Muniain and Cordoba Right Wingers: Williams and Susaeta Strikers: Aduriz and Villalibre My first thoughts of the squad are that it is a little imbalanced with 3 left backs although Yuri and Ganea are versatile as is De Marcos at RB who can play pretty much anywhere in midfield and I will use him there when needed. San Jose and Iturraspe represent good options at DM and Raul Garcia and Williams will provide alternatives at Centre Forward. Herrerin is the senior keeper but begins injured so I will go with Remiro and give chances to Unai Simon who has big potential. Unai Nunez also has significant potential at CB so I will give him chances but Martinez and Yeray will most likely be my first choice CB partnership with Mikel San Jose offering competition. Rico is getting on and will be a back-up and Dani Garcia is decent (and I do love a box to box midfielder) but with determination of 6, he is a concern. Benat in midfield is a must for his creativity and he will most likely be partnered with Iturraspe. Raul Garcia will be first choice at AMC but Unai Lopez will be given chances (he was a star for me in FM15 but he hasn't developed to be quite as good but still offers a good option here). Muniain is a shoe-in at LW with Cordoba as back up with good potential. Susaeta and Williams will fight it our for RW but I suspect Williams will be my first choice, although there will be other options including Williams up top or at LW with the option to play Muniain at AMC. Aduriz will be a target man up top and I will try to give Villalibre chances who pipped Guruzeta into my squad. I believe in the last couple of versions, Villalibre was a wonderkid but I guess he hasn't developed as much as expected but still represents a good option with good potential.
Thanks to @Ghents and @El Payaso for content! 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 BILBAO 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 17-18. Heralded as a potential winner of the Europa League in 16-17, the club lost in the round of 32 to Apoel Nicosia in a surprising result. Following the 16-17 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. RIVALRIES 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. At the start of the game, some key players are ageing, so you'll need to start preparing for the future...