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  1. 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.
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