Football in the modern era knows no borders. Sanctuaries of tradition such as Lezama, Athletic Club’s much-heralded academy, are opening doors that previously appeared to be locked shut. With those doors open, players have arrived at Athletic with roots far away from the Basque Country.
Youssouf Diarra forces Athletic to question policy
In February 2017, Athletic handed a trial to Youssouf Diarra, a promising 18-year-old Malian. He impressed, and the club are considering offering Diarra a contract amid a cloud of controversy.
Diarra arrived in Lleida, Catalonia from Mali as an 8-year-old, where his father worked on a farm. He excelled during his development in the youth ranks at Lleida. Two years ago, he moved to Pamplona to study Administration, and signed for Ardoi’s youth team. At the start of the 2016/17 season, Juan Oyaga, a FIFA agent who represents Iñaki Williams, helped to facilitate Diarra’s move to Txantrea, a third division club affiliated with Athletic. He scored 15 goals in 33 games.
Athletic would send the player to Basconia, another feeder club, but are managing the move with discretion. Those in charge at Lezama admire the player greatly, particularly for his versatility. Villarreal are also interested in Diarra.
Ibrahima Deng was not allowed to represent The Lions
Diarra’s case has re-opened a wound regarding Athletic’s philosophy of signing Basque-only players, which at times appears lax.
Senegalese forward Ibrahima Deng, who plays for Amorebieta, was also the subject of Athletic’s attention. But the decision-makers at San Mamés were not convinced of his eligibility. Since the age of 17, he has lived with a foster family in the Basque Country, after arriving as a stowaway in Tenerife.
The two players provoke a debate, because they are unlike the ten-or-so players of African origin who are currently developing in the youth ranks at Lezama. Those players, like Iñaki Williams, arrived at a younger age.