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Why Athletic Bilbao are the hardest club in the world to buy players from

The Spanish club's notorious Basque-only transfer policy means top clubs are often forced to pay above and beyond to sign their players

Silly season is about to get sillier.

If you’ve been reading the back pages today, then you’ll already know that Chelsea are looking to sign Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

A great signing, you say?

Perhaps, but wait until you hear how much they’re paying for him.

Kepa, who?

EPA
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Kepa, who?

According to sources, the Blues will be forced to pay an eye-watering £71million for the young Spaniard, which would surpass the world record fee for a goalkeeper that Liverpool paid for Alisson back in July.

It seems Bilbao have tapped into Chelsea’s desperation to sign a new goalkeeper, with the transfer window set to close on Thursday and Thibaut Courtois’ currently AWOL.

But the deal also continues a running theme of the Spanish club’s continuing ability of driving a hard bargain when the elite clubs come calling for their players.


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With the club’s famous Basque-only transfer policy, there’s little reason for them to sell their star players for anything less than their release clause, simply because the transfer money they stand to receive cannot be spent beyond the region’s borders.

That means that big clubs desperate to sign one of their players – such as Chelsea are at the moment – will always be strong-armed into paying more than their expected value.

The Spanish goalkeeper – like many of his teammates – has a huge release clause

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The Spanish goalkeeper – like many of his teammates – has a huge release clause

It’s been going on for years, even before the days of transfer fees being overly excessive (thank you very much, Neymar).

In 2012, Bayern Munich were forced to pay over £30million for Spain international Javi Martinez, far exceeding what any club in Germany had spent before.

At the time, the deal was extremely complicated thanks to Bilbao’s continuing stubbornness, with Bayern’s chairman Karl-Heinz Rummennigge later accusing them of “refusing to cooperate from the very first day”.

Bayern had to work hard to get their man

PA:Empics Sport
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Bayern had to work hard to get their man

It was even worse for Man United a couple of years later.

Bilbao made the signing of Ander Herrera a gruelling, year-long affair for United, who first approached them for the midfielder in the summer of 2013, back when David Moyes was their manager.

But having stood by their £30.5m release clause, the deal fell through (and they signed Marouane Fellaini instead), only to be revisited by Louis van Gaal a year later.

Eventually, Herrera was forced to pay up his own compensation fee for breaking his contract and once again Bilbao’s political stance was heavily criticised, with Old Trafford officials claiming they made the transfer purposely difficult to appease their own supporters.

United spent over a year trying to sign Herrera

PA:Empics Sport
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United spent over a year trying to sign Herrera

Then of course, there was Man City’s capture of Aymeric Laporte back in January, which saw the eventual Premier League champions fork out a mighty £57.2m to activate his release clause – making him the second-most expensive defender ever.

All that for a centre-back who can’t even get a cap for his country.

But not everyone is willing to pay up Bilbao’s ridiculous transfer fees.

Football Manager favourite Iker Muniain – who was once dubbed ‘the Spanish Messi’ – was destined for great things when he burst onto the scene back in 2012.

It seemed only a matter of time before Man City or Liverpool signed the winger, but both were put off by his reported £36m release clause.

These days, you don’t really hear much about him and he’s certainly not a transfer target for any of the big clubs, at least at the moment.

And with his proneness to injury, we can’t see anyone paying up for him anytime soon.

Muniain will likely never leave Bilbao

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Muniain will likely never leave Bilbao

The same goes for Inaki Williams, who was heavily mentioned in the back pages last summer with Liverpool apparently tempted to splash the cash for him.

But having announced his desire to stay with the club, the young striker put pen-to-paper last year on a new contract that runs out in 2025, with a release clause rising to a whopping €108m.

So, thinking of buying a player from Bilbao?

You better hope they’re worth the money.


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