Athletic Bring the Good Times Back to Bilbao

With a new stadium and back into European domestic football's premier competition, there are plenty of reasons for smiles from Athletico Bilbao supporters...

Last Updated: 30/08/14 at 09:08 Post Comment

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For Champions League commentators, the good news come in threes. Firstly, the city of Bilbao is back on the agenda after a 16-year absence after Athletic negotiated a testing qualifier against Napoli in the New San Mamés, a stadium that is technically still called the San Mamés.

It's a perfectly legitimate move considering the new ground lies on the site of the old one bar a 80 metre shift or so, due to some nifty planning and engineering. Athletic are squatting in an immensely fantastic stadium in a part of the world that is a treat to visit for media and fans alike. Initially, those are going to be of an Eastern European or Portuguese nature with BATE, Shakhtar and Porto ending up in the La Liga side's very comforting group drawn on Thursday.

An extra bonus is that it will allow the aforementioned commentators to wax lyrical about the romance of the institution and how Athletic are going completely against the grain in terms of how to nurture and develop a football club. The Basque side's reliance on either home-grown or locally affiliated players means that it is highly restricted in its dealings in the transfer market and thus very profitable, as no money can be frittered away. The coffers are boosted even further when considering the names who have departed over the past two summers - Javi Martínez and Ander Herrera have brought in over €50m.

If you take into account much coveted talent such as Ander Iturraspe, Oscar de Marcos, Ibai Gómez, Markel Susaeta and Iker Muniain, Athletic could be one of the richest clubs in Europe in terms of debt free credit in the bank.

The third big reason for a big bout of hand-clapping is that the names of the players are a heck of a lot easier to pronounce than they have been in the past. Ariz Aduriz, Mikel Rico and Aymeric Laporte are not overly hard to pronounce. It could be an awful lot worse than this all time XI which would have the commentators still working their way through the team-sheet during the halftime break: Etxeberría; Aurtenetxe, Zubiarurre, Larrazábal, Zuguzaga; Solabarrieta, Urrutia, Iturriaga, Goikoestxea; Bidaurrazága, Bengoetxea.

The victory over Napoli brought a huge sigh of relief to a squad - the pressure of finishing fourth and having to clinch the deal to get into the group stages is quite the burden on the players. Coach Ernesto Valverde revealed that there was quite the party going on the dressing room after Tuesday's clash.

Athletic's victory topped off a mixed week in the Basque Country. It was certainly a terrible one for Real Sociedad, a team that was ejected quite unequivocally out of the Europa League qualifiers by Russian outfit Krasnodar. That followed an opening weekend defeat to near neighbours, but very minnow indeed, Eibar.

The one player who should have been able to revel in that victory, Javi Laras, was unable to do so having suffered a migraine that forced him to leave the 1-0 victory early and go home after scoring the winning goal. Sadly, it is a condition that has always been a blight on the player's health. Eibar are off to the capital city to face Atlético Madrid this weekend, whilst Real Madrid are taking on Real Sociedad, a team that might well be in a bit of a funk after two unfortunate results.

Athletic though will be grinning from ear to ear in front of their own fans once again, and will feel considerably lighter than the pressure-ridden outfit that lost 1-0 to Málaga last weekend. Those supporters can expect good times to rival even those of Wednesday night, as Athletic ride back into the Big League once again.

Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter

I imagine Real Sociedad will be feeling quite chirpy this morning as well.
- karameljordo

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