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How Athletic Club’s toughest challenge will come at the end of the season
- Updated: 28 March, 2012
Despite achieving relative success in recent weeks as impressive performances against Manchester United knocked the reigning English Premier League champions out of the Uefa Europa League, Basque giants Athletic Club are set to face their toughest challenge after the season actually concludes in May.
The high-profile performances in Europe and some impressive domestic displays – including their march to the final of the Copa del Rey, have led to huge demand for a number of their most talented players and Athletic are bracing themselves for a flood of big-money offers when they transfer window open again during the summer.
A host of clubs including the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Manchester United are all interested in adding some of Athletic’s starlets to their ranks and they are sure to come calling sooner rather than later. However, Athletic are a club that traditionally does not feel the need to sell it’s prized assets – partly due to the fact that huge financial input is of limited use to them as a football team. They don’t make mega sighnings in the transfer windows because their Basque-only policy limits immensely on the players they do buy. The club is also financially secure and makes an annual profit by selling-out many home games at San Mames and producing a popular line in replica merchandise.
Still, money does talk and selling could become a possibility – much to the dismay of the clubs brutally loyal fans. One of the biggest names on the transfer radar is Fernando Llorente, who’s been garnering interest particullary from Manchester United and Liverpool. Athletic’s target man and leading goalscorer is a huge component to the team’s success and finding a player of his calibre to replace him is highly unlikely. Iker Muniain is also a footballer with immense talent despite his young age. Liverpool and Manchester United are again reportedly very interested in his services.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been very keen on Pamplona-born Muniain, and that was even before his dazzling display against United in there Europa League clash. One would wonder what Ferguson thinks of him now. Javier Martinez is one of the brightest young holding midfielders in Europe at this moment in time and some world-class performances have brought reported interest from both Barcelona and Manchester City. Elsewhere in the team, hard-working Oscar De Marcos is a very versatile young talent and can play in numerous positions on the pitch. He has caught the eye of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and many believe he would adapt well to the physical English game with his energy and intensity. He also has an eye for goal, which is also a prized commodity.
To break up this young core of players would be a tragic for Athletic as the future seems bright, with many predicting a ‘golden generation’ at San Mames. Marcelo Bielsa has got the side playing some sumptuous football and they were among the most impressive performers in la liga until their surprising recent slump in form which has seen los leones win just one of five league games. That fact that Fernando Llorente started just two of these games tells its own tale. Athletic are not the same team without him and lack that reference point up front. They have also looked physically tired after their Copa and Europa League exertions with Bielsa himself even taking a bit of criticism for his relentless non-rotation policy.
Champions League qualification now looks highly unlikely and they have slipped down to 11th in the league table following their recent disappointments, however this could still prove a significant season for the club and they have shown they can compete with the best (witness performances against Barcelona and Manchester United). Their ability to hold onto the club’s best players may well now dictate where they go from here. With few high-quality Basque players available elsewhere (the likes of Xabi Alonso and Mikel Arteta excluded) there is little room for Athletic to manoeuvre in the transfer market. Valecnia’s Aritz Aduriz is one player that has been linked with the club but there a few others who fit the mould.
It is fundamental for the future of Athletic Club that they keep the current squad together and build on the strong foundation that has been put in place this season. Overcome this hurdle and who knows where los Leones can go with Marcelo Bielsa at the helm?Follow @icentrocampista