What UK football would look like using Athletic Bilbao’s local politics
London would absolutely walk in this league
It’s one of football’s great mysteries how Athletic Club (Bilbao) manage to compete with the big guns of Spanish football every season despite self-imposed recruitment restrictions.
As one of the three founding members of the Spanish Premier League, they have never been relegated. They have also won the league eight times.
Currently eighth in La Liga, it’s safe to say that this policy has provided a level of durability that some of their rivals can only dream of.
What is Athletic’s cantera policy?
Since 1912, the club has only used players born in the Greater Basque Country, which includes Biscay, Gipuzkoa, Álava and Navarre, as well as Labourd, Soule and Basse Navarre, France – d where the way Aymeric Laporte was able to play for them. , France U21 then the national team of Spain.
You’d think that would limit the club’s abilities to succeed – and while that’s arguably the case – they still haven’t fared too badly.
How would that translate to the UK?
It got us thinking: which region in England and Wales (because, you know, Swansea and Cardiff) would be able to put together the best squad using only locally born players? We have therefore established starting eleven.
But before we get into that, let’s review the rules for this hypothetical exercise. Basically, there is none. While we’ve stuck to the country’s main population centers, the geographical differences between Spain and the UK mean that we may have drawn a few arbitrary boundaries, for the sake of each team’s talent pool.
Perhaps the most controversial decision is our call to combine Wales and the ‘West Country’, the definition of which we have pushed to its limits. Hopefully when you see the team you will understand.
South Coast FC
GK: Bradley Collins (Barnsley FC, born in Southampton)
DEF: Joel Ward (Crystal Palace, born in Portsmouth), Adam Webster (Brighton, born in Chichester), Lewis Dunk (Brighton, born in Brighton), Matt Targett (Aston Villa, born in Eastleigh)
MF: James Ward-Prowse (Southampton, born in Portsmouth), Ben White (Arsenal, born in Poole); Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool, born Portsmouth), Mason Mount (Chelsea, born Portsmouth), Solly March (Brighton, born Eastbourne)
CF: Danny Ings (Aston Villa, born in Winchester)
Starting on the south coast, there is a strong presence at Brighton which demonstrates their commitment to bringing in young talent since their rise to the Premier League.
Ben White has been moved into a slightly unfamiliar midfield position after it emerged Adam Lallana was in fact born at St Albans, while Mason Mount takes on the playmaker role in a squad well equipped to play high intensity possession football.
GK: Freddie Woodman (Bournemouth, born in Croydon)
DEF: Reece James (Chelsea, born in Redbridge), Joe Gomez (Liverpool, born in Catford), Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa, born in Newham), Luke Shaw (Manchester United, born in Kingston)
MF: Conor Gallagher (Crystal Palace, born in Epsom), Declan Rice (West Ham, born in Kingston); Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal, born in Croydon), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal, born in Ealing), Jadon Sancho (Manchester United, born in Camberwell)
FC: Harry Kane (Tottenham, born in Walthamstow)
This team, as it should given the dense population in the capital, would probably walk all over the rest of this imaginary league.
The only real weakness to point out is probably Freddie Woodman in goal. The Croydon-born keeper is on loan at Bournemouth and spent 11 years in his youth career at Crystal Palace. Luckily, he has a pretty solid defense in front of him, and that from six would scare most teams.
Although raised in London from an early age, neither Raheem Sterling nor Wilfried Zaha are eligible using our arbitrary rules, having been born in Jamaica and Ivory Coast respectively.
Small caveats: Gallagher was born in Epsom, while Rice and Shaw are from Kingston-upon-Thames, which some people think of as Surrey. But for the sake of this game, if it’s inside the M25, it’s London.
GK: Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal, born in Stoke)
DEF: Marc Albrighton (Leicester, b. Tamworth), Jamal Lascelles (Newcastle, b. Derby), Gary Cahill (Bournemouth, b. Dronfield), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea, b. Milton Keynes)
MF: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund, born in Birmingham), James Maddison (Leicester, born in Coventry), Dele Alli (Everton, born in Milton Keynes)
AT: Jack Grealish (Manchester City, born in Birmingham), Nathan Redmond (Southampton, born in Birmingham), Patrick Bamford (Leeds, born in Grantham)
Another team that requires some minor caveats: Ramsdale is just around the corner, with Stoke-on-Trent seen as the border between the Midlands and the North.
Likewise, Dele Alli and Ben Chilwell are from Milton Keynes, which is also in this lower zone of suburban towns that don’t really fall under the main regions. However, Wikipedia defines Buckinghamshire as part of the ‘South Midlands’, so we go with that.
On the pitch, I’m well aware of the defenseless nature, just the vibes of this midfield trio, which leaves Jude Bellingham with a massive amount of ground to cover. But there’s no denying that the front five would be a nice watch on the counterattack.
North West England
GK: Dean Henderson (Manchester United, born in Whitehaven)
DEF: Kieran Trippier (Newcastle, born in Bury), Michael Keane (Everton, born in Stockport), James Tarkowski (Burnley, born in Manchester), Aaron Cresswell (West Ham, born in Liverpool)
MF: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, born in Liverpool), Scott McTominay (Manchester United, born in Lancaster), Curtis Jones (Liverpool, born in Liverpool)
AT: Phil Foden (Manchester City, born in Stockport), Harvey Barnes (Leicester, born in Burnley), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United, born in Wythenshawe)
I know, I know, I know. Trent is in midfield. Stop screaming.
I’m normally the first to dismiss suggestions to move him there, but looking at the talent pool on this side, it made the most sense.
With the personnel available, this XI looks like a threat at the break, with Alexander-Arnold’s precise passing unleashing a dynamic quartet of forwards into space.
This approach would also likely suit James Tarkowski and Michael Keane in defense, who both excelled in low blocks but struggled in wider systems.
It’s an exciting XI but would likely lack the defensive solidity and organization that we’ve only seen in the South Coast and London teams so far.
North East England
GK: Jordan Pickford (Everton, born in Washington)
DEF: Chris Basham (Sheffield United, born in Hebburn), Lewis Gibson (Sheffield Wednesday, born in Durham), Dan Burn (Newcastle, born in Blyth)
MF: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool, born Sunderland), Sean Longstaff (Newcastle, born Newcastle), Jack Colback (Nottingham Forest, born Killingworth), Paul Dummet (Newcastle, born Newcastle)
Forwards: Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund, born in Sunderland), Adam Armstrong (Southampton, born in Newcastle), Andy Carroll (West Brom, born in Gateshead)
I really like the North East of England and the people who live there, but there’s no denying that as a region they don’t produce a lot of good footballers.
In fact, there were so few full-backs to choose from for this squad, that we had to place Jordan Henderson at right-back.
In midfield, I was disappointed to learn that Matty Longstaff was not born in the North East like his brother Sean, but in Rotherham. This opened up space for Jack Colback to come in and pump it long to Andy Carroll every time he got the ball back.
With the long ball ability of Dan Burn and Jordan Pickford at the back, this tactic could work well too. Assuming Carroll stays fit, which he obviously won’t, but just imagine this is a parallel universe where he’s never been injured.
United States international Gio Reyna qualifies through his father, Claudio, who played for Sunderland when Gio was born, providing this side with a glimmer of flair surrounded by some rather agricultural players.
GK: Alex Smithies (Cardiff, born in Huddersfield)
DEF: Kyle Walker (Manchester City, born in Sheffield), John Stones (Manchester City, born in Barnsley), Harry Maguire (Manchester United, born in Sheffield), Ben Godfrey (Everton, born in York)
MF: Kalvin Phillips (Leeds, b. Leeds), Fabian Delph (Everton, b. Bradford), Dan James (Leeds, b. Hull), James Milner (Liverpool, b. Leeds)
AT: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton, born in Sheffield), Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund, born in Leeds)
Absolutely no messing around on this team. A physical back four, industry in midfield and two big men up top with an eye for goal. This is the Waitrose Route One balloon.
Oh yes, Erling Haaland. Famous Norwegian international but born in Yorkshire during his father’s time at Leeds United, which qualifies him for this team. Imagine how many goals he would score running on Dominic Calvert-Lewin films.
Wales and West Country FC
GK: Jack Butland (Crystal Palace, born in Bristol)
DEF: Neco Williams (Liverpool, born in Wrexham), Eric Dier (Tottenham, born in Cheltenham), Joe Rodon (Tottenham, born in Swansea, Ben Davies (Tottenham, born in Neath)
MF: Ethan Ampadu (Venezia, born in Exeter), Joe Allen (Stoke, born in Carmarthen), Aaron Ramsey (Rangers, born in Caerphilly)
Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid, born in Cardiff), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham, born in Leominster), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa, born in Torquay)
I would like to start this section with an apology for mixing two rival regions into one team. But while I enjoy controversy, I wanted to give them a fighting chance. Given that half of the Welsh national team were born in other parts of Britain, that seemed like the best way to go about it.
It is hoped Tottenham’s chemistry at the back will serve them well, behind a midfield trio who play together at international level. And look at those top three.