The escapades of last season surely ranks as one of the greatest years in Bilbao’s recent history as they watched their prodigious squad reach two major finals (Europa League & Copa del Rey) as well as challenge briefly for Champions League qualification. Alas however Los Leones failed in all three pursuits, having the carpet pulled from underneath just as glory beckoned.
Pride remains the predominant keyword associated with Bilbao despite the agonising lengths the club went to in their unsuccessful efforts for victory. Born and bred Basque blooded battlers both on and off of the pitch, the cantera policy ensures that the historic morals of the club remain. Far from xenophobic, the loyalty shown within the San Mames is astonishing as the production line continues to develop exciting players for both Athletic and Spain.
Of those, Iker Muniain is the next youngster causing a stir in Europe. Present in the first team squad since the age of 16, Muniain made the top European clubs really take notice last season as his stellar performances in the Europa League propelled Athletic to the final. Now 19, the hot Pamplona prospect featured in 58 games for the club last year, scoring 9 times from the wing but assisting Fernando Llorente’s goalscoring greatly. He’ll be the main threat for Bilbao this season.
Along with Llorente, Javi Martinez, Markel Susaeta and Ander Herrera, Muniain is the next Bilbao talent to be linked with a big-money move. Each player from the list has been subjected to transfer speculation so often that it’s difficult to believe that they could still remain at Bilbao for the upcoming season.
Sadly however, Bilbao are heavily reliant on the income from transfers as their new stadium drains funds, giving coach Marcelo Bielsa a headache.
Despite this, the club renewed the contract of their Argentine boss after the impressive 2011/12 season. Bielsa conjured up some insane sorcery to not only guide Bilbao so far but he instructed them to play a brand of football so pleasing to watch which could devastate opposing sides, like Manchester United found out in the Europa League.
As for this year, Bilbao would yet again perform miracles to match the standard of last season. The continual struggle to keep their talented youth products may prove too elusive and the lack of depth could again cause untimely fatigue at the crucial stages of the season. Despite that, Bilbao will play their exciting style of football and will be a danger in domestic competition. Write them off at your peril.
La Liga: 10th
Europa League: Runners-up (Lost 3-0 to Atletico Madrid)
Copa del Rey: Runners-up (Lost 3-0 to Barcelona)
Ismael Lopez free from CD Lugo
Aritz Aduriz €2m from Valencia
Igor Gabilondo Free to AEK Larnaca
Pablo Orbaiz free to Rubin Kazan
One to Watch: Iker Muniain