Athletic Bilbao cantera

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Athletic Club (youth system)
Club Athletic Bilbao logo.svg
Full nameAthletic Club
GroundInstalaciones de Lezama, Biscay,
Basque Country, Spain
PresidentAitor Elizegi
CoachAndoni Galiano
LeagueDivisión de Honor
2018–19División de Honor, Gr. 2, 7th
WebsiteClub website
Current season

The cantera (quarry) of Spanish professional football club Athletic Bilbao is the organisation's youth academy, developing players from childhood through to the integration of the best prospects into the adult teams.

The final category within the youth structure is the Juvenil A (Basque: Gazteak A) under-18/19 team which represents the club in national competition. The successful graduates then usually move to the club's affiliated team for younger players, CD Basconia, or less commonly direct to the reserve team, Bilbao Athletic, both of which are also considered part of the cantera due to being stages in progression towards the senior team, albeit competing in the adult league system.

The academy is based at the club training complex, Lezama, which is often the name used informally to refer to the system itself.

Background and structure[edit]

The top football clubs in the Spanish leagues generally place great importance in developing their cantera to promote the players from within or sell to other clubs as a source of revenue. As a club who have a small pool of players to choose from due to their Basque-only policy, this focus on home-grown talent is even more vital to Athletic Bilbao.[1][2][3][4]

Markel Susaeta is an example of a player who joined the club at a young age, moved steadily through all youth levels and established himself in the senior team

Most of the senior team players in recent seasons are youth academy graduates:[5] 15 of the squad in 2014 (as per analysis from the CIES Football Observatory).[6][7] In 2016, Athletic's total of 17 'homegrown players' (as per UEFA guidelines: three years of training between 15 and 21 years old) still at their formative club was the highest across Europe's 'big five' leagues,[1] significantly more than all other elite clubs apart from neighbours Real Sociedad.[8][5] Including eight former trainees at other eligible clubs, Athletic's total of 25 homegrown players ranked as the fifth-highest across the continent, although only third in Spain behind Real Madrid and FC Barcelona who retained just a few of the many high-level professionals they produced. Moreover, further end-of-year analysis demonstrated that these graduates were not merely backup squad members but integral elements of the team, involved in 64% of the minutes in the 2016–17 La Liga, where they finished 7th.[9]

The core of boys from the local Biscay province are first introduced into the Lezama Alevín teams at around 10 years of age[4] and advance by an age group every season through Infantil, Cadete and Juvenil levels; there are collaboration agreements in place with the small clubs in the province, whose staff collaborate with Athletic scouts to identify any standout talents emerging at each stage.[4] The players who are retained by Athletic after their Juvenil A spell (aged about 18) typically join the club's farm team in Basauri, CD Basconia, playing at the regionalised fourth level of the Spanish adult system. Their squad is normally expanded further with new signings from the wider regions's youth clubs,[10] most notably Danok Bat[11][12] and Antiguoko[13] who regularly challenge the professional academy teams for the title in their División de Honor group. A number of senior players have also emerged from the Txantrea club in Pamplona[14][15] who have a collaborative agreement with Athletic[16] (renewed for four more years in 2017).[17]

The 2018 transfer of youth graduate Aymeric Laporte (left) brought a revenue of €64 million into the club

The players usually spend one or two seasons at Basconia, some going out on loan to other local clubs, before the best are promoted to the reserve team Bilbao Athletic and then on to the senior team when considered ready to do so.[1] There are exceptions to this sequence; notably Iker Muniain showed such promise that he was promoted early to Juvenil A as a 15-year-old in 2008, was selected by Bilbao Athletic as soon as he turned 16 in January 2009 and became a senior team regular at the start of the next season.

The club received its first large transfer windfall for a player who had graduated from the youth system since the €12 million deal of summer 2005 which took Asier del Horno to Chelsea[18][a] in January 2018, when Aymeric Laporte (one of the few French players to have played for the club at any level) moved to Manchester City for a fee of around €64 million, his contractual release clause amount.[19] That deal was eclipsed seven months later when goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, an Athletic player since the age of 9, was acquired by Chelsea for his release clause of €80 million, making him the world's most expensive goalkeeper.[20][21]

  1. ^ Javi Martínez and Ander Herrera were sold for large fees but were not youth players at Athletic; Fernando Llorente departed for nothing under freedom of contract

National competitions[edit]

The Juvenil A team play in Group II of the División de Honor Juvenil de Fútbol as their regular annual competition. Their main rivals in the league group are Real Sociedad and Osasuna. The under-17 team, Juvenil B, plays in the Liga Nacional Juvenil which is the lower division of the same structure.

The team also regularly participates in the Copa de Campeones Juvenil and the Copa del Rey Juvenil, qualification for which is dependent on final league group position. In these nationwide competitions the opposition includes the academy teams of Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla and Real Madrid.

International tournaments[edit]

For many years Athletic have been active in entering their youth team into international tournaments to gain experience, and in recent times these events have gained prominence in the football calendar. In 2012 the Juvenil team (including Aymeric Laporte and Iñaki Williams) appeared in the invitational NextGen Series but this was subsequently discontinued.

In 2013-14 Athletic's senior team qualified for the Champions League group stages, meaning that the Juvenil squad could play in the 2014-15 version of the UEFA Youth League. In the subsequent years there was no further chance to participate in that competition due to the senior team failing to qualify. The alternative route into the Youth League would be to win the previous season's Copa de Campeones but Athletic Juvenil have so far been unable to achieve this.

A younger age group (The Cadete B squad) also competes in the Manchester United Premier Cup annually. In 1998 Athletic, coached by future senior team boss Ernesto Valverde, won the tournament, although none of the players involved - not even Player Of The Tournament Jonan García - were able to become regulars in the senior team. Coincidentally that season was also very successful for other sections within the club: the senior team finished 2nd in the league and qualified for the Champions League while Bilbao Athletic finished 2nd in their Segunda B group and Basconia won their Tercera section, although neither subsidiary was promoted.

In 2006 (featuring Erik Morán in the squad) and 2012 (including Asier Villalibre) Athletic cadets also competed at the Manchester United Premier Cup world finals as the Spanish league representative after winning the national qualifier.

Head coaches[edit]

The coaches are often former Athletic players who themselves graduated from Lezama.[1] The directors of the academy, Rafael Alkorta and Andoni Ayarza,[22][23] are also former players, as was their predecessor José María Amorrortu, and the president he worked under, Josu Urrutia.[24][25]

As of December 2018[26][4]
Squad Age Coach Tier League
Juvenil A 16-18 Andoni Galiano
Joxean Álvarez
1 División de Honor (Gr. II)
Juvenil B 16-17 Ander Breda
Jon Ciaurri
2 Liga Nacional (Gr. IV)
Cadete A 15-16 Jon Solaun
Txema Añibarro
1 Cadete Liga Vasca
Cadete B 14-15 Ander Alaña
Luis Prieto
2 Cadete División de Honor

Current squads[edit]

Juvenil A[edit]

As of December 2018[27]

Note: Flags indicate national team as defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.

No. Position Player
Spain GK Julen Agirrezabala
Spain GK Unai Pérez
Spain DF Julen Barruetabeña
Spain DF Mikel Gorroño
Spain DF Aitor Cuenca
Spain DF Oier López
Spain DF Ander Lorente
Spain MF Diego Fernández
Spain MF Jon Guruzeta
Spain MF Ander Laka
No. Position Player
Spain MF Iñigo Montero
Spain MF Unai Naveira
Spain MF Beñat Prados
Spain MF Kepa Uriarte
Spain FW Marco Diliberto
Spain FW David Hernández
Spain FW Josu Jambrina
Spain FW Alejandro Ibarrondo
Spain FW Josu Juste

Juvenil B[edit]

As of December 2018[28]

Note: Flags indicate national team as defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.

No. Position Player
Spain GK Gorka San Nicolás
Spain GK Ibon Ispizua
Spain DF Aimar Collante
Spain DF Eneko Agegnehu Clemente
Spain DF Beñat de Jesús
Spain DF Iñigo Gomeza
Spain DF Mikel Mendibe
Spain DF Adrián Trespalacios
Spain MF Daniel Granados
Spain MF Mikel López Goti
Spain MF Unai Eguiluz
No. Position Player
Spain MF Erik González
Spain MF Tinbit Manero
France MF Mathys Lunel
Spain MF Iñaki Telletxea
Spain MF Unai Vélez
Spain MF Beñat Gerenabarrena
Spain FW Koldo Ferrer
Spain FW Inigo López
Spain FW Nicolás Serrano
Spain FW Nico Williams

Famous players[edit]

Notable graduates who passed through the youth system on their way to establishing themselves with the Athletic senior side and/or other clubs (since the opening of Lezama in 1971) include:

As of August 2018

players currently at Athletic in bold, 'graduation' year in parentheses

Season to season (Juvenil A)[edit]

Superliga / Liga de Honor sub-19[edit]

Double-winning seasons shown in bold [29]

Season Level Group Position Copa del Rey Juvenil Notes
1986–87 1 4th Runners-up
1987–88 1 3rd Semi-final
1988–89 1 1st Runners-up
1989–90 1 6th Round of 16
1990–91 1 6th Round of 16
1991–92 1 1st Winners
1992–93 1 7th Semi-final
1993–94 1 4th Round of 16
1994–95 1 3rd Quarter-final

División de Honor Juvenil[edit]

Seasons with two or more trophies shown in bold

*Season* Level Group Position Copa del Rey Juv. Copa de Campeones Europe/notes
1995–96 1 2 1st Semi-final 3rd in group of 3 N/A
1996–97 1 2 2nd Round of 16 N/A
1997–98 1 2 2nd Round of 16 N/A
1998–99 1 2 3rd Quarter-final N/A
1999–00 1 2 2nd Semi-final N/A
2000–01 1 2 2nd Quarter-final N/A
2001–02 1 2 3rd Semi-final N/A
2002–03 1 2 1st Round of 16 2nd in group of 3
2003–04 1 2 1st[30] Quarter-final 2nd in group of 3
2004–05 1 2 2nd Quarter-final N/A
2005–06 1 2 2nd Quarter-final N/A
2006–07 1 2 5th N/A N/A
2007–08 1 2 4th N/A N/A
2008–09 1 2 1st Runners-up 2nd in group of 3
2009–10 1 2 1st Winners 2nd in group of 3
2010–11 1 2 1st Quarter-final Quarter-final
2011–12 1 2 3rd Round of 16 N/A N/A
2012–13 1 2 1st Runners-up Quarter-final 4th in Group stage
2013–14 1 II 4th N/A N/A N/A
2014–15 1 II 2nd Round of 16 N/A 3rd in Group stage
2015–16 1 II 1st Quarter-final Quarter-final N/A
2016–17 1 II 3rd N/A N/A N/A
2017–18 1 II 1st Semi-final Quarter-final N/A
2018–19 1 II 7th N/A N/A N/A


National competitions

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Athletic Bilbao's methods provide lessons for Premier League clubs". Sky Sports. 18 May 2017. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  2. ^ Tariq Panja (9 January 2019). "Athletic Bilbao Is Flush With Cash and Facing Relegation". New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  3. ^ "Virtues and consequences of being a club fielding only homegrown talent". Athletic Bilbao. 28 June 2018. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d Alex Clapham (30 October 2018). "How does Athletic Bilbao's academy manage to produce 85% of their team?". Caño Football. Retrieved 24 February 2019 – via The Guardian.
  5. ^ a b Lowe, Sid (15 December 2017). "Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad ready to renew a special Basque derby rivalry". ESPN. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  6. ^ "Big-5 Weekly Post (Training clubs of big-5 league players)" (PDF). CIES Football Observatory. 28 October 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  7. ^ "Barcelona top homegrown talent table, according to CIES research". ESPN. 28 October 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  8. ^ "Revealed! Which clubs produce the most of Europe's top players?". FourFourTwo. 1 November 2016. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  9. ^ "Rankings: Club-trained players". CIES Football Observatory. 1 June 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-07-18. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  10. ^ "El Zaragoza estrecha lazos con 160 clubes de la Comunidad" [Zaragoza closes ties with 160 clubs in the Community] (in Spanish). Heraldo de Aragón. 25 June 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  11. ^ "Danok Bat: La esencia del fútbol base de Bizkaia" [Danok Bat: The essence of grassroots football in Biscay] (in Spanish). La Cantera de Lezama. 23 November 2015. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  12. ^ "Cinco jugadores del Danok en el primer equipo del Athletic" [Five Danok players in the Athletic senior team]. Official Website (in Spanish). Danok Bat CF. 16 September 2016. Archived from the original on 12 February 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  13. ^ "Athletic y Antiguoko: una relación positiva a pesar de la dificultad del territorio" [Athletic and Antiguoko: a positive relationship despite the difficulty of the territory] (in Spanish). La cantera de Lezama. 23 July 2015. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  14. ^ "La Chantrea, el mejor vivero, es del Athletic" [Chantrea, Athletic's best nursery] (in Spanish). El Diario Vasco. 10 February 2011. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  15. ^ "Lezama y Navarra y viceversa" [Lezama and Navarre and vice versa]. Futbol 948 (in Spanish). 24 November 2017. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  16. ^ "El fértil vivero navarro del Athletic" [Athletic's fertile Navarrese nursery]. El Mundo (in Spanish). 8 February 2010. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  17. ^ "El Txantrea renueva como club convenido del Athletic hasta 2021" [Txantrea renews as Athletic collaboration club until 2021] (in Spanish). Mundo Deportivo. 13 April 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  18. ^ "Del Horno cooking at Chelsea". UEFA. 24 June 2005. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  19. ^ "Aymeric Laporte: Manchester City sign French defender for club-record £57m". BBC Sport. 30 January 2018. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  20. ^ "Kepa pays termination clause". Athletic Bilbao. 8 August 2018. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  21. ^ "Kepa arrives at Chelsea". Chelsea F.C. 8 August 2018. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  22. ^ "Alkorta y Ayarza serían director deportivo y secretario técnico del Athletic con Elizegi" [Alkorta and Ayarza would be sports director and technical secretary of Athletic with Elizegi]. El Mundo (in Spanish). 24 December 2018. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  23. ^ ""Llevo preparando esto desde hace mucho tiempo"" ["I've been preparing this for a long time"]. Deia (in Spanish). 30 December 2018. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  24. ^ "Amorrortu, a life in red and white". Athletic Bilbao. 2 January 2019. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  25. ^ "Amorrortu llega a un acuerdo "amistoso" para salir del Athletic" [Amorrortu reaches a "friendly" agreement to leave Athletic]. Mundo Deportivo (in Spanish). 3 January 2019. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  26. ^ "Lezama technical chart". official website. Athletic Bilbao. 8 June 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  27. ^ "Juniors A squad 2018-19". Athletic Bilbao.
  28. ^ "Juniors B squad 2018-19". Athletic Bilbao.
  29. ^ Historical Spanish Juvenile Competition Results
  30. ^ level on points with Real Sociedad, won on head-to-head
  31. ^ "El Athletic se proclama campeón de la Copa del Rey Juveniles" [Athletic are proclaimed Youth Cup champions] (in Spanish). Marca. 26 June 2010. Retrieved 27 August 2017.
  32. ^ "El Sevilla, campeón de la Copa del Rey juvenil" [Sevilla, Youth Cup champions] (in Spanish). Marca. 27 June 2009. Retrieved 27 August 2017.
  33. ^ "El Madrid gana la Copa juvenil veinte años después" [Madrid win the 'Copa Juvenil' after 20 years] (in Spanish). Marca. 29 June 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2017.

External links[edit]