Sociedad success shows homegrown talent can still prevail
Among the big-name rumours and telephone-number transfers, Pete Hall finds reason to be cheerful in San Sebastian
As we speak, AS Monaco are reportedly preparing an astronomical bid to lure Cristiano Ronaldo to the club. Along with their over-priced summer acquisitions, this can only further alienate those who believe that the traditions of football are slowly dying out.
No doubt Ã¢ÂÂsuper-agentÃ¢ÂÂ Jorge Mendes will have something to do with it as his influence on the modern game grows, with several of his clients having already made the move to EuropeÃ¢ÂÂs famous tax haven. With no emphasis on scouting young talent, or taking a risk on those players that helped them return to the Ligue 1, the Russian-owned principality club's transfer policy appears simply to be getting their man no matter what the price.
However, for those romanticists still out there, who believe football still has morals and that loyalty is still rewarded, look no further than the tranquil Spanish town of San Sebastian Ã¢ÂÂ home to Real Sociedad, and therefore Champions League football next season. Forget what Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao did in the Europa League last season, this is a real fairytale story of success against all odds.
After regaining promotion to La Liga back in 2010, la Real made it their main prerogative to remain in the Primera Division Ã¢ÂÂ and did so, but whilst constantly looking over their shoulder. However, under Philippe MontanierÃ¢ÂÂs stewardship they finished the last campaign in fourth, thus qualifying for EuropeÃ¢ÂÂs elite competition, and all the riches it brings.
To do this with the same players who served them so well in winning promotion and keeping them in the top flight is testament to the underlying philosophy that runs throughout the club. Montanier also must take a huge amount of credit for masterminding such a fete, but due to disagreement over the length of his contract, the Frenchman departed for pastures new.
The Anoeta: preparing to host Europe's finest again
In their lofty position, the clubÃ¢ÂÂs hierarchy would be forgiven for going for a well-established manager who has experienced higher-level European competition before.
However, la RealÃ¢ÂÂs policy of sticking with those who know what it means to represent their proud club was further reinforced last week by the appointment of the relatively unknown Jagoba Arrasate as coach. Arrasate was second assistant to Montanier, and has heavy links with the Zubieta Ã¢ÂÂ the fabled training centre and academy which has produced many of those responsible for their success this season.
After joining as a player at 18, he managed youth teams after hanging up his boots. At only 35 years old, Arrasate certainly lacks experience. But what he lacks in managerial background, he more than makes up for in knowledge of la Real's youth set-up, which is why the club hired him over other more reputable coaches like Laurent Blanc.
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This is a club that promotes from within. Three of la RealÃ¢ÂÂs four top scorers last season (Imanol Agirretxe, Antoine Griezmann and captain Xabi Prieto) were products of the youth academy, and all played for the clubÃ¢ÂÂs B side at the Zubieta Ã¢ÂÂ again highlighting its importance.
And nobody epitomises the spirit of the club more than inspirational captain Prieto. Born and raised in San Sebastian, Prieto was a season-ticket holder from the age of five, and wears his heart on his sleeve whenever he steps out at the Anoeta. The fact that he has improved year on year, having played much of his career fighting to stave off relegation or trying to gain promotion back to the top flight, shows just how hungry he is to succeed.
Earlier this season Prieto netted the first hat-trick of his career, against champions Real Madrid, and celebrated like a true fan. His desire exemplifies the ethos that the Zubieta encourages.
Prieto bags against the then champions
Replicating their success this season will be a tall order, but with Arrasate in charge and Prieto the inspirational leader, la Real will do it their way without spending big. Unless they can pick up another bargain Ã¢ÂÂ as former Arsenal prospect Carlos Vela has turned out to be, with 14 goals this season Ã¢ÂÂ la Real will prefer to plough investment into improving their already state-of-the-art facilities, and producing the next Prieto, Inigo Martinez or Asier Illarramendi.
MendesÃ¢ÂÂ multi-million pound clients, and their not so hard-earned salaries are not welcome in this part of northern Spain: here, the Zubieta and the mentality it exudes means that football goes much deeper than any money could buy.