Cantera, literally meaning "quarry" in Spanish, is a term used in Spain to refer to youth academies organized by sports clubs. It is also used to refer to the geographical area that clubs recruit players from. The term is widely used in football but is also applied to other sports such as basketball. This article is about the football "canteras". The best canteras belong to Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Valencia CF, RCD Espanyol, Sporting de Gijón and UD Las Palmas. Fact|date=August 2008

The Basque Canteras

Athletic Bilbao

Since 1912 Athletic Bilbao have employed a cantera policy. One of the main beneficiaries of the policy has been the national team. Athletic has provided numerous players for it, second only to Real Madrid.

During the early 1920s the Basque Country was a breeding ground of great Spanish players. The influx of immigrants from all over Spain resulted in the region producing dozens of quality players. In 1920 Spain made their international debut and entered a team in the Olympic Games. Of the 21 players in the squad, 14 were Basques. Among them were Pichichi, José María Belauste, Txomin Acedo and Félix Sesúmaga.

Throughout their history Athletic Bilbao have continued to produce many notable Spanish players. Among them were Zarra, the all-time top goalscorer in La Liga, José Ángel Iribar, who made a record 466 La Liga appearances and was a member of the Spain team when they won the European Championship in 1964 and Andoni Zubizarreta the most capped Spanish international to date. Other notable graduates of the Athletic cantera include Bata, Agustín Gaínza, Panizo, Goikoetxea I, Julio Salinas, Julen Guerrero and Rafael Alkorta.

Real Sociedad

Athletic were not the only club to have a cantera policy. Fellow Basque club, Real Sociedad operated a similar policy until 1989. Neither were Athletic the only Basque club that provided players for the 1920 squad. Real Sociedad, Real Unión and Arenas Club de Getxo also provided players. In 1928 these three clubs and Athletic Bilbao became founding members of La Liga, demonstrating further the strength in depth of the Basque canteras at the time. The saying "Con cantera y afición, no hace falta importación", translated as "With home-grown teams and supporters, there is no need for imports" made sense during these early days.

The ability of the Basque Country to produce great players was made clear during the early 1980s when Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao won four La Liga titles in a row between 1981 and 1984. The Real team included, among others, Roberto López Ufarte, José Mari Bakero, Luis Arconada and Jesús María Zamora.

FC Barcelona B and Real Madrid Castilla

Although FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are well known for regularly recruiting foreign players, both have a very respectable record for producing local players. Along with Athletic Bilbao, both clubs have notable reserve teams, predominantly made up of local players. Numerous senior players have graduated through the ranks of FC Barcelona B. These have included Francisco José Carrasco, Ramón María Calderé, Guillermo Amor, Albert Ferrer, Josep Guardiola, Sergi, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Carles Puyol, Víctor Valdés, Andrés Iniesta, Bojan Krkic, Lionel Messi and Giovani dos Santos, though it should be noted many of these were recruited from overseas before signing professional terms, so are not 'home-grown' in the traditional sense, if in the technical sense.

In 1966 Real Madrid won the European Cup with a team of eleven Spanish players and a Spanish coach. It was the first time a home-born team had won the competition. Many great home grown players have since passed through the ranks of Real Madrid Castilla, among them Emilio Butragueño, Manolo Sanchís, Martín Vazquéz, Míchel and Miguel Pardeza. More recent graduates have included Raúl, Guti and Iker Casillas. The club has also produced some notable managers including Vicente Del Bosque and Rafael Benítez.

As well as producing players from their own regions both clubs have also recruited young players from throughout Spain and internationally. Recent examples include Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o.

The Dream Team

Ever since the early days of football in Spain one issue for "cantera" clubs is the poaching or recruiting of their players by other clubs. After the cantera has trained a player, another club will step in with a tempting offer and take them away. The potential of the Basque Country as a recruiting ground for players was recognised by the likes of FC Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, and Real Madrid early on. FC Barcelona, in particular, has a long history of signing players from the region going back to Félix Sesúmaga. Others have included Jesús Garay, Jesus María Pereda, José Ramón Alexanko, Javier Urruticoechea and in more recent times, Santiago Ezquerro. During the 1980s and 1990s FC Barcelona cherry picked the best Basque players, among them Bakero, Txiki Beguiristain, Zubizarreta, Julio Salinas and Goikoetxea II, allowing Johan Cruyff to build the legendary "Dream Team" around them.

The successful Atlético Madrid teams of the 1960s also included a notable Basque presence in the form of Miguel Jones and José Eulogio Gárate, both recruited from SD Indautxu, and Javier Irureta, signed from Real Unión. Real Madrid has also regularly looked north for players such as Rafael Alkorta, Mikel Lasa, Aitor Karanka and Iván Campo.

Athletic Bilbao, however, have also been regularly accused of poaching. The Athletic policy of recruiting only Basque-players has seen them frequently recruit from the canteras of other Basque clubs. The legendary Athletic Bilbao player of the 1930s, Gorostiza, was actually signed from Arenas Club de Getxo. In 1995 Athletic signed Joseba Etxeberria from Real Sociedad, causing considerable bad feeling between the two clubs.

Cantera Vs Imports

During the 1990s the poaching of players took on a new dimension. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in particular have regularly produced quality players unable to establish themselves with their home club. Some critics have argued that this is has partly arisen because these clubs continue to use "imports" at the expense of "cantera" players. As a result many graduates of the canteras seek their fortune elsewhere and are willing to be poached. Initially "cantera" players only moved to other Spanish clubs. However in more recent times, English Premiership clubs have begun to recognize the potential of the Spanish canteras. In 2003 Arsenal persuaded Cesc Fàbregas to leave FC Barcelona B. Another emerging FC Barcelona B player, Gerard Piqué, subsequently signed for Manchester United, though has since moved back to FC Barcelona. Since then Rafael Benítez, himself a product of the cantera, has recruited Luis García, Pepe Reina, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres for Liverpool and Mikel Arteta has established himself at Everton. García, Reina and Arteta all began their career at FC Barcelona B, Alonso started out at Real Sociedad and Torres grew up in the Atletico Madrid system. However, Rafeal Benitez has signed players that had already established themselves in Spain and had helped improve the fortunes of their respective clubs. Whilst Pique and Fabregas were "poached" from a very young age and had not even been proven in their home country.

External links

*es icon [ Voluntad de tradición] , an article on the Athletic Bilbao "cantera policy"
* [ The lost boys of Barcelona] , by Ronald Atkin

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