Playing Athletic Club (sometimes wrongly called Athletic Bilbao) is like playing FM on hard mode. This comes from their history, and their long-standing policy of only fielding Basque players. But consider that Athletic Club are in La Liga alongside such giants as Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid, and that they’ve never been relegated, since their 1929 participation in founding the league. Athletic Club are second only to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, winning it 23 times, and fourth with eight La Liga championships.
The Basque region covers parts of northern Spain and southwestern France, with a population of 3,000,000 people, about 60% estimated to be Basque. Drawing from a pool of just 1.8M people is a fair challenge – not many European countries can claim fewer players. And there are other teams, such as Real Sociedad and Osasuna, fishing in the same pool.
That’s a lot of history to live up to, and you have to do it with almost no transfers. Oh, you’ll have a transfer budget, but you can only buy players who are of Basque origin, with a single exception. You can purchase Spanish players of 16 and under. This will be crucial to your Athletic Club save!
Obviously, your youth development setup has to be first rate. Ensure that at all times, your training and youth facilities are top of the line, and that your youth recruitment and coaching are exceptional. You will want every stick of those facilities as you play. Your youth intake becomes one of the most important days of the year. Hire a good head of youth development, and get the best under-19 coaches you can find, along with Athletic Club B coaches.
Hot tip: ignore the C side. You’ll want quality players to fill up your B and U-19 squads before you put any in the C team. Honestly, I only put players there who are being transfer listed. Save the money on coaches.
The next step is to try players out. You don’t have the luxury of ignoring a player because one coach has him rated 1.5 stars. If they have 3-star potential or better – or sometimes less – give them game time somewhere, and see if they perform. You have to learn to take the star ratings as just an opinion, and be confident in your own ability to spot talent. If a player performs for you, ignore his star rating, and get him into your side.
In my eighth season playing Athletic Club, I’ve got a player named Albisu, a young winger. He’s consistently rated at 1.5 stars, only recently rising to 2 stars, and yet he’s keeping my 31-year-old club icon Inaki Williams out of the side, leading the team in goals and assists. It doesn’t make any sense, but there it is. So trust your own judgement.
When your players start turning 17, start looking to loan them out. At 17, if you do, it’s fine, if you don’t, they’ll still develop. When they start turning 18, they need to be playing, Regular Starter or better, in a competitive division. They will develop much faster with Good facilities and coaching than they will in your state-of-the-art trainplex with the best coaches money can buy, if they’re getting competitive games. As long as the loaning club has decent facilities, it’s better to get the regular starts in competitive matches than it is to train every day with your first team, never getting into a game.
At the beginning of each season, re-evaluate all your players, from under-19 up, for where they’d best be served playing this year. Get yourself a good loan manager, and stick anyone under 23 who needs a loan on his development list. If you have a feeling a kid could make your team better, give him a solid try in the friendlies. If he performs, keep trying him out. Watch how your B team and under-19 teams perform, and make sure you get training reports on all three teams weekly.
Praise your players for good performances in training – I do so for 9.00 or better, but you can set whatever standard you want – but no more often than once a month per player! This is important. Some players can very easily get huffy if you try to praise them too often. Check the Conversation History under Interactions on the player screen. If I praised training this week, I can praise game performance next week, but wait on training for a while.
Scouting can be as important as you want it to be. After the first couple of seasons, I stopped controlling scouting because the returns on my invested time were too small. You can find most of the decent Basque players with a simple player search. There aren’t very many of them, and they don’t change much over time.
Scouting for youth, however, is crucial. I found the best player in my squad this way: trawling through other Spanish sides’ youth intakes on youth intake day! This means you can sometimes slip in and offer a contract or start trying to turn a prospect’s head before the home team can get a contract on the table. You can shortlist them and buy them before they turn 17 if they start to develop well. It’s dirty tricks, but you’re playing on hard mode.
Hot tip: try to get into the Europa League. UCL gets very difficult after the knockout round. But a good draw in the UEL can go a long way. The board will moan about not getting further, but they’ll also love the money from the UEL.
If you’re looking for a serious challenge, a one-club save playing Athletic Club could be just what you need. Trying to win La Liga, let alone Europe, with a small pool of players? Delicious.
Here are some other articles you may enjoy:
- Young Devils – Samba United and The Magic Box
- Red Star Alliance: Big Sam’s Greatest Hits (Tactics ala Allardyce)
- Yeovil Town – FM20 – Challenge
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