Though am not really sure my literal translation of, ‘The Toast of Spain’ was conveyed rightly after I put it through Google Translate. ‘Perdon’ as they say it, but it this li’l itch that wants this post to literally reek of Spanish-ism. Of course this post will be about football, and I won’t embarrass myself anymore by flaunting my poor grasp of foreign languages.
Toast of Spain and football: no am not talking about Real Madrid CF or FCB. I would like to think that the Madrid club have a wild-card into the semi’s, and Barcelona on the other hand, well, let them moan about the San Siro pitch for now. One of the not-so-fancy Spanish top twenty, but respectable nevertheless, Athletic Bilbao.
Like Madrid and Barca, Bilbao have never been relegated from the Spanish top flight. But for reasons known, they haven’t been as fancied a opposition, as the Big Two. Madrid have been known in recent times for the mighty spending spree’s and Barca for blooding their first team from within their own youth ranks.
Athletic on the other hand have maintained a firm policy of fielding players only from the Basque Country region of Spain. And in this year’s Europa League, their reliance on local boys has been more than evident. Breeding players from a very young age and then inducting them into the first team, is something many a team are known for. My personal favorites, Arsenal have opted for a youth policy, since the day Arsene Wenger arrived in North London. Man United, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Guadalajara…
But the more specific term we are referring to here is ‘cantera’. In Spanish, cantera would literally mean quarry. Mining for talent from within one’s own region. One of the main beneficiaries of this policy has been the Spanish national team. Though in recent times, Barcelona has provided more blood to the La Roja than any other team. In fact more the squad that won the World Cup in 2010, had more than 8 FCB first team players.
The main reason for the success of the ‘cantera’s’ has been the influx of foreign immigrants into the Basque region of Spain. After the disaster at the 2002 World Cup, Germany has maintained a strict policy of blooding home talent. German first choice hit men Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez, are of mixed descents. The former being Polish and the latter being Brazilian. Similarly in the case of Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Jerome Boateng. Jerome’s half brother Kevin Prince though opted to play for Ghana.
The likes of Pichichi and Felix Sesumaga have been the products of the Basque cantera. Two of the most famous Spanish goal keeper’s Andoni Goikoetxea and Zubizaretta are of Basque origins. Most notably of all, Xabi Alonso. The RMFC midfielder is a product of Bilbao’s local rivals Real Sociedad’s cantera.
Coming back to the main point…
Athletic Bilbao’s destruction of Schalke 04 was less than phenomenal. This would be notably for two reasons:
1. Schalke possess one of the deadliest strike pair’s in Europe at the moment: European top scorer, Raul and Europa League’s leading goal scorer: Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
2. Schalke possess a healthy record at home in Europe.
But last night, the North Rhine Westphalia was ripped apart. With 30 minutes to go, Bilbao were trailing by a goal, 2-1. What followed was a sublime double from Fernando Llorente which put the game back into the balance. The goals by Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain wrapped up the business for the visitors.
Though the tie is far from decided, as Schalke have every chance to get back into the game when they visit Spain for the return fixture. On a more personal note, I was rooting for Schalke because of that Spanish lion within their ranks, Raul.
“It was a great game,” Llorente said. “It wasn’t at all easy because they responded very well to our first goal. What Raul did was incredible. You can’t ask anything more of a match.” (Associated Press)
For a club that has been sunken to 11th position in the La Liga, last night was a remarkable win. What was even more remarkable is that they won against Man United over two brilliant fixtures in the round of 16. The fanciest of this year’s Europa League participants, were left dumb founded by Bielsa’s boys.
Bielsa, no praises suffice his genius, has thrown in some splendid tactical play into Bilbao’s ‘cantera’ regime, and has moulded a team, which can be regarded as a serious challenger for second-tier Europe.
While Madrid and Barca may be the heavy weight’s in Europe, Athletic have proven to be the ‘toast of Spain’ this week. The 3-0 drubbing of Nicosia by multi million dollar star’s in white shirts, pales out in comparison to the beautiful football played by Athletic.
To this team, I bow.