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Explaining the Transfer Policy of Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao
Bilbao's team (L to R) Inigo Lekue, Mikel Balenziaga, Ander Iturraspe, Raul Garcia, Aritz Aduriz, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel San Jose, Iago Herrerin, Xabier Etxeita, Oscar De Marcos, Markel Susaeta during a miinute of silence before the UEFA Europa League Football round of 32 second leg match between Athletic Bilbao and Olympique de Marseille at San Mames on February 25, 2016 in Bilbao, Spain.

In recent news, Premier clubs Everton and Manchester City have been linked to burgeoning Athletic Bilbao talents Aymeric Laporte and Inaki Williams. While the Spanish club stated they were willing to negotiate a fee below the release clauses in the respective players’ contracts, history has shown otherwise. To understand this, one must look into Bilbao’s transfer policy.

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Buying/Integrating Players

Throughout the world of football, Athletic Bilbao has been a team known with an unchanged transfer policy in their 117-year history. Bilbao only sign players born in the Basque Country, players with Basque ancestry, or integrate Basque players from their youth system. This policy has drawn ire because it’s seen as exclusionary. Bilbao have been willing to spend the money if a good Basque player catches their eye (Artiz Aduriz, Raul Garcia, and Benat Etxebarria are the most recent transfers).

In terms of youth, Bilbao have created world-class talents from their Lezama system such as Ander Herrera, Javi Martinez, Iker Muniain, and Ander Iturraspe to name a few.

With a talent pool so small, Bilbao have done well domestically, winning the league title 8 times, winning the Copa Del Rey 24 times, and winning the Super Copa 2 times. They are one of three teams (Barcelona and Real Madrid being the other two) to have never been relegated from the first division as well.

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Selling Players

Since the talent pool is so small, Bilbao are reluctant to sell their star players because simply put, they have no reason to sell. If they sell, the money they receive in transfer fees goes right into the club for other expenditures. As a result, they were able to finance their new stadium (the New San Mames).

To try to ward off suitors, first team players are given new contracts with high release clauses to help retain their services. The club is willing to let players’ contracts run down than sell because they want the best Basque product on the field at all times.

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Here are the release clauses for both Williams and Laporte

Williams: 50 Million Euro

Laporte: 50 Million Euro

To acquire their services, both Everton and Manchester City are going to have to pay the full price to acquire their services. President Josu Urrutia hard-balled Manchester United to pay the 28.8 Million Pound release clause for Ander Herrera. He also forced Bayern Munich to pay the 30 million Pound release clause for Center-Back Javi Martinez.

Bilbao were also reluctant to let striker Fernando Llorente leave the club when Juventus inquired for his services. He left on a free transfer to the Italian champions a year later.

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Both Everton and City face a decision. Are both clubs willing to pay the release clauses for both players? It appears in the news that City are willing to pay Bilbao the 40 million Pound release clause for Laporte, albeit begrudgingly. Pep sees the French center-back as the successor to captain Vincent Kompany.

Teams have to take big monetary risks to get players Bilbao are unwilling to sell. Bilbao set the rules of negotiation.

When you deal with Athletic Bilbao, you get the horns.

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