The rise of Basque football
Football in the Basque Country has always been a very strong tradition in the region. History will show that titles and cups have been won, primarily by Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad.
But recently there appears to be a substantial resurgence of talent in the region and this could result in four teams from the Basque Country competing in La Liga next season. This disregards the possibility that Osasuna could also get promoted, as it is debatable that the team based in Pamplona can truly be considered Basque.
With Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Eibar all comfortably retaining their places in La Liga, there will still definitely be at least three Basque teams in the top flight in August.
However, there is a very good chance that Alaves will be joining them, as with 3 games remaining in the Segunda, the team from Vitoria-Gasteiz currently hold top position. With the top two teams gaining automatic promotion Alaves are four points clear of Gimnastic in third place. Their remaining fixtures include a trip to rock bottom Bilbao B, a home game against Numancia and finally away to Gimnastic.
Their promotion will be confirmed if they can achieve one win and avoid a defeat in the final game against Gimnastic. It will have been 10 years since Alaves last featured in Spain’s top division, and should they achieve promotion it will raise the number of Basque teams in the 2016/7 Primera Division to four.
Pamplona based Osasuna also find themselves in a strong position with the season drawing to a close. Osasuna were firmly established for 14 consecutive seasons in the top flight before their 2013-14 relegation. Whether they are actually Basque is a controversial point which I will leave to people more qualified than me. However they do have numerous Basque born players.
Osasuna have some difficult matches left that include games against two other sides vying to finish in the play off positions. They are currently in 4th place with 61 points and their remaining fixtures are away at Gimnastic, home to Huesca and their final match will be a difficult trip to Real Oviedo.
Supporting the theory of a Basque resurgence there are numerous notable players playing top level football outside of the primary clubs based in the Basque Region. They include Mikel Arteta (Arsenal), Xabi Alonso and Javi Martinez (both Bayern Munich), Fernando Llorente (Sevilla) and Ander Herrera (Man Utd).
Current Basque born Spanish squad members Aritz Aduriz and Mikel San Jose both (Bilbao) and Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad) feature in Del Bosque’s initial Euro 16 selection and Pamplona born César Azpilicueta is also included.
Other notable Basques involved in top level football include Txiki Begiristain who is Sporting Director at Manchester City, Unai Emery – Head Coach at Sevilla, Pako Ayesteran – Head Coach Valencia, Jose Luis Mendilibar – Head Coach at Eibar, Ernesto Valvede – Head Coach at Athletic Bilbao, Aitor Karanka – Head Coach at Middlesborough, Asier Garitano – Head Coach at Leganes, Julen Lopetgui former Head Coach at Porto and Inigo Idiakez – youth team coach at Leicester City. This is in no way an exhaustive list.
It will soon be apparent how many Basque teams will feature in next season’s La Liga, one thing is for certain: there is currently a substantial depth of football talent being produced within the Basque Country and Basque born Coaches seem increasingly influential.
By Paul Murray.