La Liga: Inside Spain's top clubs

We take a look at FC Barcelona's famed La Masia's academy and also Athletic Bilbao's philosophy.

San Mames stadium, the home of Athletic Bilbao.   -  Special Arrangement

La Masia’s enviable 'extended facility'

There is something, other than the facilities and coaching standards, that Indian parents will envy Spain’s. La Masia, Barcelona’s youth football academy, has a fleet of cars just to pick up and drop kids (around 200) who live in the radius of 50km, on a daily basis. Apart from football coaching, the students also receive academic education for two hours before the training. The training starts only at 6 p.m.  

Living hell!

Coexisting with a ‘monster’ like Barcelona is a living hell. Founded in 1900, RCD Espanyol should have done better to at least keep Real Madrid at bay in terms of creating fan base. Barcelona has 80% Catalans supporting it, while Real manages a ‘whopping’ 10-15 per cent. It is not the same for Barca at Madrid!

Focus on local flavour

Despite changing times, Athletic Bilbao’s philosophy — “con cantera y afición, no hace falta importación” translates as “with homegrown talent and local support, you don’t need for imports” — allows the team management to focus its time and money on local scouting and bringing players through the ranks as opposed to organising and running a global network.

No presidential candidate has run a campaign promising a break from this tradition, and neither is there a dissent from the locals!

Pichichi award

That is not the only tradition Bilbao follows meticulously. When an away team visits the beautiful San Mames Stadium for the first time, it offers flowers to the Trofeo Pichichi statue installed near the pitch. Pichichi award, instituted by Marca newspaper, is given to the top scorer in La Liga every season.  

Fans are the bosses!

Neither the legend nor a popular player from the Basque region has a stand named after him in San Mames since the management believes the club belongs to the fans. There is also a restriction on selling jerseys carrying the players names!

Tradition is paramount

It is some effort by the team management to convince Avenir Telecom, one of the team’s main sponsors, to accept the red-and-white stripes used inside the stadium. Its main competitor, Vodafone uses red in its logo. But, Avenir knows tradition has always been hugely important to the club.

Garcia’s Indian connection

One of the key players in Athletic Bilbao, Raul Garcia has an Indian connection. His brother-in-law is married to a girl from Kolkata. The wedding was held in the summer, and he couldn’t attend it as pre-season training was on. He saw the videos and was impressed with the tradition that India follows!

(S. Sudarsan was in Barcelona and Bilbao at the invitation of Sony Six)

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