After beating Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Europa League last week, Athletic Bilbao have been getting quite a bit of attention in the British newspapers.
Of course, regular viewers of Sgorio, are well aware of Athletic’s ability, but after beating the English champions and scoring three times at the so called Theatre of Dreams, many more football fans have realised that Los Leones are quite some team!
Unfortunately for Athletic, their victory didn’t get quite so much attention in the Spanish press on friday morning.
The two daily sports newspapers, Marca and AS, decided to lead with Barcelona’s argument with the Primera’s referees.
Real Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho, was quoted on AS’ front page: “El Barça ya critica al árbitro, al final somos todos iguales” – “Barça are critical of referees, but we’re all equal in the end.”
But, as George Orwell once wrote, some are more equal than others!
Despite being one of only three clubs never to have been relegated from the top flight … there are no prizes for guessing the other two … Athletic have long since got used to living in the shadows of the Blancos and Blaugrana.
The press’ obsession with the Real and Barça soap operas can be laughable at times and whilst the front pages are all about Mourinho or Messi the other clubs have to settle for the odd inside page.
Athletic were formed by a group of English dockyard workers at the end of the 19th century and that is why the club still uses the Anglicised spelling of Athletic and not the Spanish, Atlético.
And the English connection continues as many a Spanish journalist has described Athletic’s style of play as being very English … and that isn’t usually meant in a complimentary way.
But despite the constant insults and lack of recognition, Athletic are having a season to be proud of, one which has captured the imagination of their supporters for the first time since they finished as runners-up to Barcelona in 1998.
Los Leones are within reach of the European places in La Liga, in the final of the Copa del Rey where they will face Barcelona and, of course, they have an excellent chance of reaching the last eight of the Euyropa League whilst, all the time, their young starts are being coveted by the big clubs.
According to Marca, Mourinho wants to see Javi Martinez in the white shirt of Real Madrid next season.
This shouldn’t really be surprising as the young midfielder has been outstanding for Athletic and is fast becoming a regular in the Spanish national side, but in years gone by Athletic players just didn’t move to the Bernabéu.
Real Madrid wouldn’t bother trying to entice players from San Mamés as they took it for granted that no Basque player would want to wear the white shirt which used to be such a potent symbol of Franco’s fascist regime.
Of course, having Xabi Alonso at Real Madrid has changed this attitude somewhat, even though Xabi arrived at the Bernabéu from the Txuri-urdin of Real Sociedad via Liverpool.
In this respect, perhaps Athletic would prefer not to be attracting too much attention, after all they don’t want to be losing too many of their stars!