Several clubs recently sent officials to Athletic Club Bilbao to learn how the Basque side’s academy progresses, as part of a general conference on academy football.
Those sending representatives were Southampton, Inter Milan and Red Bull Salzburg.
Mundo Deportivo reports those who attended were left very impressed after listening to talks from Athletic officials and also learning the club’s methodology and processes.
Bringing young talent through is essential to the continuation of Athletic and their focus on recruitment and training. Only Basque players, or those with very strong links to the area, are allowed to play for the club, giving it a unique standing.
After the meeting, and with those attending bursting with praise for the experiences they’d shared, Southampton academy manager Ellis Wilmot spoke to the Bilbao club’s media channels.
“It’s an amazing story, in many ways we are trying to replicate what you are doing here in Bilbao, it’s an incredible story. You have all your players from one area, and 20-25 of those from your academy. It’s amazing, and that’s not common across the world.
“That’s why we’re here to learn about Athletic Bilbao’s coaching philosophy. At Southampton we have an aspiration to have 50% of our first team made up of academy graduates, so you are proof that this can work and play in one of the top divisions in Europe. We’re making good progress but this is a real life story that it can really work if you have strong principles to believe in, and develop, youth development. We’re really interested to learn.”
Bilbao is a good place to learn about having to make the most of local players, but there’s also the dynamic that those players feel a huge connection to the club because of the recruitment policy, and, at least to some degree, a pressure to develop there.
They’re completely against selling those players they want to retain, and won’t do so unless the buyout clause is met.