Basque Country modern era XI in light of Ivan Campo’s birthday
Sam Barnard, Assistant Sports Editor | February 21, 2016
It’s been almost eight years since Bolton Wanderers cult hero and former Spain international Ivan Campo left the Reebok Stadium (now Macron Stadium) after his five-season spell, having made the shock move from Real Madrid.
And, in light of the San Sebastian-born star celebrating his 42nd birthday today, Coral have come up with a starting XI, plus subs, of players in the modern era that could’ve represented the Basque Country.
The region (which is in northern Spain and Southwest France) is renowned for being fiercely patriotic, and even has it’s own football team that organise matches approximately once a year against FIFA-recognised countries, clubs and other territories such as Catalonia.
Basque natives are so passionate about their land, that the team Atletico Bilbao has a strict ‘cantera’ policy, where only people with heritage from the area are allowed to represent them. Incredibly, they have never been relegated from the Spanish top flight since the Primera Division’s inception in 1929.
So, read on to find out who made our team of players that were around after the European Cup was rebranded as the Champions League in 1992, and see if there there is a place for Campo…
Goalkeeper: Andoni Zubizarreta
Former Atletico Bilbao stopper Zubizarreta started his career in the late 1970s, but was a near ever-present for Barcelona and then Valencia throughout the 90s too. He won much silverware with Bilbao and Barca, and the prestigious Zamora Trophy with the latter.
With 126 international Spain caps, Zubizarreta sits fourth on the all-time list, but is someway off fellow keeper Iker Casillas, who is now on 165.
Right back: Cesar Azpilicueta
Equally adept on the right or left of defence, Chelsea’s Azpilicueta has established himself as one of the best full backs in the world.
A multiple title winner with the Blues, the 26-year-old will surely add many more to his 12 Spain caps, while he has represented the Basque Country on eight occasions.
Centre back: Aymeric Laporte
The first of a few Frenchmen in this team, Laporte was actually born just outside of the Basque region, but came through the ranks of clubs within the area – Bayonne and Bilbao – thus he was allowed to represent the latter.
Laporte is now one of the most highly-rated young centre backs in the world, having played over 100 times for the Lions aged just 21, and is in line to earn his first France caps ahead of Euro 2016.
Centre back: Aitor Karanka
Current Middlesbrough boss Karanka came through Bilbao’s youth system and went on to play for them across two spells, either side of spending five years with Real Madrid.
He earned just one Spain cap, but turned out for the Basque Country six times. His Boro team are also 13/10 joint-favourites to win the Championship this season.
Left back: Bixente Lizarazu
Lizarazu may have been one of the best full backs of his generation and represented France 97 times, but he stuck to his roots and played for Bilbao for a season in 1996/97 before going on to become a key part of Bayern Munich’s success for a number of years.
The now 46-year-old also won everything possible with his nation of birth (in the French-Basque area Saint-Jean-de-Luz), claiming the 1998 World Cup, 2000 European Championship and two Confederations Cups.
Defence midfield: Xabi Alonso
Another Bayern star makes this team, this time former Liverpool icon Alonso, who was born in Tolosa and went on to play for nearby Real Sociedad along with older brother Mikel.
A Spain centurion (114 caps), Alonso is also a World Cup and European Championship (twice) winner, while has also represented the Basque Country five times.
Defence midfield: Didier Deschamps
Current France head coach Deschamps was the driving force behind Les Bleus’ golden era, captaining them to both World Cup and Euro glory.
Bayonne-born Deschamps also gained 103 caps for his nation and spent most of his career with Marseille and Juventus, with whom he won many trophies. He also claimed the FA Cup whilst at Chelsea in his later years.
Centre midfield: Gaizka Mendieta
To cap off a wonder-midfield, former Valencia, Lazio, Barcelona and Middlesbrough star Mendieta makes the team, though never represented the city of his birth Bilbao.
He played for Spain on 40 occasions, but his part in helping Boro to a League Cup triumph in 2003/04 has forever installed him as a club hero, despite not getting as much game time as he’d hoped.
Right forward: Joseba Etxeberria
Gaining 53 caps and scoring 12 goals for Spain while sticking to hometown team Athletic Bilbao for the majority of his career is an incredible feat, given that he was never tempted to join Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Etxeberria made over 500 appearances for the Lions, but retired from the game at the relatively early age of 33, but played for them for free in his final season in 2009/10.
Striker: Fernando Llorente
Big Basque frontman Llorente leads the attack for our team, and he too enjoyed many years with Bilbao before going onto play for Juventus and now Sevilla.
Born in Pamplona, the 30-year-old has played in five matches for the Basque Country, while he has 23 caps for Spain.
Left forward: Antoine Griezmann
Like Laporte, Griezmann wasn’t actually born in the Basque Country, but was brought up in the area after spending four years in Real Sociedad’s academy.
The French forward is now a star for his country and current club Atletico Madrid, the latter of whom in particular he is a prolific scorer for, while he is also one of the most sought-after attackers around.
Others that didn’t make the starting line-up
Mikel San Jose
Jose Mari Bakero