Athletic Club heads into the Basque Derby fresh from celebrating their 125th anniversary

Athletic Club, one of the most historic LALIGA EA SPORTS clubs, celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2023. Created back in 1898 in Bilbao, the Basques are one of the three founding members of LALIGA that have never been relegated from Spanish football’s top flight, along with Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Moreover, they are the team with the second-most Copa del Rey titles (23), only behind the Catalan club. Click this link to start gaming and stand a chance of winning big with a meridianbet.

Athletic Club’s unique philosophy and famous Lezama academy

Since 1912, the Athletic Club has adhered to a sporting philosophy that dictates that only players developed in their youth academy or raised with Basque heritage are eligible to play for the team. This includes players from Basque regions Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Alava, Navarre Labourd, Soule, and Lower Navarre. Their philosophy is something unique in European football, especially taking into consideration teams that feature in the top flight.

In the early 1970s, the Athletic Club opened its famous academy, Lezama, which has produced numerous players over the years to feed the first team. The vast majority of the players currently featuring in Athletic Club’s first-team squad had previously plied their trade at Lezama and climbed up the ranks to reach the seniors. According to the CIES Football Observatory, Athletic Club is number one in Europe’s top five leagues for the percentage of domestic league minutes played by club-trained footballers.

The Athletic Club legends

The Basque side has developed several stars, including prolific scorers such as Rafael Moreno Aranzadi, known as ‘Pichichi’, or Pedro Telmo Zarraonandía Montoya, known as ‘Zarra’. The former lends his name to the trophy awarded to LALIGA EA SPORTS’ top scorer every season, while the latter’s name is associated with the prize received by the league’s top-scoring Spaniard each year. It makes sense to name these awards after these two forwards, as Pichichi played for Athletic Club between 1913 and 1921 and scored 83 goals in 89 games, while Zarra is still the team’s record goal scorer of all time with 335 goals in 354 matches across all competitions.

Other legends include Agustín Gaínza Vicandi, nicknamed ‘Piru’, who spent his entire career at Athletic Club, from 1940 to 1959, and became the player with the most professional titles in the history of the club (10). The player with the most appearances for Athletic Club is José Ángel Iribar Kortajarena, whose statue was unveiled as part of the celebrations for the 125th anniversary. The former goalkeeper featured in as many as 614 games across all competitions for the Basques.

Recent club legends Aritz Aduriz and Joseba Etxeberria also hold a special place in the hearts of the Athletic Club fans. The former hung up his boots in 2020 and the latter has become a coach, currently in charge of LALIGA HYPERMOTION side SD Eibar.

Celebrating the 125th anniversary

Athletic Club held celebrations for their 125th anniversary throughout 2023, culminating with a special event on Saturday, December 16th, before, during, and after the match against Atlético de Madrid. The events included the unveiling of Iribar’s statue and a game between the Athletic Club Legends and FC Porto Vintage, as well as the Made in Euskal Herria music festival. Fans had the opportunity to hail several club legends who stepped out onto the San Mamés pitch and received an ovation from the stands.

An extraordinary 2023/24 campaign

Remaining true to their identity, Athletic Club boasts as many as 16 academy products in their first team this term. Having produced some outstanding performances in the first half of the season, the Basque side sits fourth in the table as things stand. No team has scored more goals on home soil than Athletic Club (25), who are enjoying their best points start to a season in decades.

Despite missing out on European qualification last season, Ernesto Valverde’s side has bounced back this campaign and they currently sit in the top four. Iñaki Williams and Gorka Guruzeta have formed a solid attacking duo and have scored a combined 16 goals (eight each) in 19 games. Meanwhile, no goalkeeper has kept more clean sheets than Spain international Unai Simón (nine). Having received a boost in morale following their great start to the season, Athletic Club will push for Champions League qualification, something they haven’t achieved since 2013/14. That season, they managed to finish fourth in LALIGA EA SPORTS, with their coach being none other than their current boss, Ernesto Valverde.

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