Basquing in Talent: What if England’s Regions used Bilbao’s Transfer Policy?

The Basque Country of Northern Spain is home to a culture of fierce independence supported by a partisan adherence to an ancient and idiosyncratic culture, something which has very much ran into the culture and identity of the regions football.

In 1912, Bilbao-based Athletic Club implemented their now famous “Basque-Only” transfer policy after claims that ineligible players had been fielded for the team in their 1911 Copa del Rey triumph. This self-imposed restriction, though an unwritten rule, limits the club to only signing players born or raised in the Basque Country.

This is a transfer policy which stands tall in the face of globalisation in modern football, preserving Basque identity and culture without forcing notions of Basque superiority. The policy also dictates that players are eligible if they have Basque parentage or if they spent a substantial amount of time in the regions youth academies, though exactly how long is still disputed.

Athletic Club have had a separatist transfer policy for well over a century.

Today we explore this anti-globalist policy by applying it to a context better suited for our English readers; what if English football clubs could only sign local players?

Rather than going on a team-by-team or city-by-city basis, we take a regional approach on the matter so as to best match the conditions imposed of the Basque club. This also saves on making 92 starting XIs for you to trawl through, as the nine regions of the UK are much more manageable than England’s 51 cities or the English Football League’s 92 clubs.

Before we begin, it is worthy of note that players are often eligible for more than one region (David Beckham was born in London but came through at Manchester United) however, we have tried to avoid putting a player in more than once.

So, without further ado, here are the strongest 18-man squads assembled under a Bilbao-like policy from the nine regions of England.

Location: North East
Manager: Sir Bobby Robson

Players foreign to England are able to represent the region they spent time in a local club’s youth system.

Not the strongest of starts for this experiment, but the second smallest region by area and smallest by population does have a fair few stars in its lineup. Pretty average across the board, but by no means weak with starman Jordan Henderson taking the armband for a team comprised mostly of hardmen.

Starting XI: Jordan Pickford, Paul Dummett, Steven Taylor (Academy), Dael Fry, James Tavernier (A), Sean Longstaff, Jordan Henderson, Josh Maja (A), Kazenga LuaLua (A), Andy Carroll, Sammy Ameobi.

Bench: Tim Krul (A), Matty Longstaff, Conor Hourihane (A), George Honeyman, Adam Armstrong, Adam Reach, Cameron Jerome

Special Mentions: Lee Cattermole, Jack & Bobby Charlton, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer


Location: North West
Manager: Bob Paisley

A team full of international regulars and England hopefuls, this team strikes an excellent balance between youth and experience.

A dramatic rise in quality here as football and cultural powerhouses Manchester and Liverpool join the fray. I’d argue that this team could challenge for the current Premier League title with the variation and abundance of talent available.

Marcus Rashford wears the armband as he has proven what an incredible leader he is on and off the pitch. The region also boasts a tremendous amount of players now deemed to be legends, just imagine if we had assembled an all time XI…

Starting XI: Kasper Schmeichel (A), Kieran Trippier, Conor Coady, Chris Smalling, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Paul Pogba (A), Scott McTominay, Phil Foden, Dwight McNeil, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling (A)

Bench: Sam Johnstone, Ben Mee, Phil Jones, Nick Powell, Tom Davies, Ross Barkley, Kelechi Iheanacho (A)

Special Mentions: Lee Dixon, Wayne Rooney, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gary & Phil Neville, Nicky Butt


Location: Yorkshire & The Humber
Manager: Neil Warnock

Solid across the board with youth and experience blended together, this team truly would be the pride of Yorkshire.

Going from strength to strength here as we leave the North West for God’s Own Country, and what a team it has! Erling Haaland was famously born in Leeds and qualifies on this basis, despite representing Norway at international level.

This is an absolutely solid team with quality and experience in every position, this team absolutely does not shy away from a strong challenge and has the greatest shithouse strike partnership imaginable; these lads would be a joy to watch. Despite the error in the graphic, James Milner is the obvious choice for captain here.

Starting XI: Aaron Ramsdale (A), Danny Rose, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker, James Milner, Kalvin Phillips, Daniel James, Jamie Vardy, Erling Haaland, Mason Greenwood

Bench: Bailey Peacock-Farrell (A), Ben Godfrey, Charlie Taylor, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Aaron Lennon, Fabian Delph, Lewis Cook

Special Mentions: Gordon Banks, David Seaman, Dean Windass, Kevin Keegan, Nick Barmby, Paul Robinson, Gary Speed


Location: West Midlands
Manager:  Sam Allardyce

Jack Butland’s time spent in the academy at Birmingham qualifies him for the role of number one ahead of former England goalkeeper Joe Hart.

The Midlands has a reputation for being both industrialised and beautiful, and I like to think the team which represents my home region would play some industrious and beautiful football, especially with that disgusting double pivot between Bellingham and Maddison in midfield.

This team isn’t the strongest we’ve seen so far, but it is by no means the weakest; the weakness of this team really boils down to it’s defence. Sturridge was also the best striker available here. Luckily, though, the experienced striker will be receiving plenty of service from his peers. Our special mentions also include the winner of the inaugural Ballon d’Or award in Sir Stanley Matthews, but the stand out player really is Omar Bogle.

Starting XI: Jack Butland (A), Rico Henry, Danny Batth, Connor Goldson, Nathan Ferguson, James Maddison, Morgan Gibbs-White, Jude Bellingham, Jack Grealish, Daniel Sturridge, Nathan Redmond

Bench: Joe Hart, Tom Edwards, Rekeem Harper, Jarrod Bowen, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andre Gray, Callum Wilson

Special Mentions: Sir Stanley Matthews, Micah Richards, Ashley Williams, Lee Sharpe, Omar Bogle, Gareth Barry, Lee Hendrie, Robbie Keane, Stan Collymore, Carl Ikeme, Andy Griffin, Andy Wilkinson, Bryan Robson, John Eustace


Location: East Midlands
Manager: Sean Dyche

This side boasts a few Premier League winners, though Wes Morgan and Andy King don’t really have a shot at getting into the starting XI.

A noticeable difference between the East and West of the Midlands here as this team is much stronger defensively, despite having a weaker goalkeeper, and pretty poor in the midfield and wings, not to disrespect “oooooooh Harvey Baaaarnes”.

Although there is something about the work rate of that Hendrick-Hughes midfield, the linkup play between the two could be scintillating. With Toney and Bamford up top this team is destined to flop at some point in a season, though the pair have been spectacular for their respective clubs this year. Captain Cahill was the easiest choice I have had to make so far.

Starting XI: Karl Darlow, Ben Chilwell (A), Gary Cahill, Jamaal Lascelles, Max Lowe, Jeff Hendrick (A), Will Hughes (A), Harvey Barnes (A), Patrick Bamford, Ivan Toney, Max Gradel (A)

Bench: Lee Camp, David McGoldrick, Andy King (A), Wes Morgan, Tom Cairney, Sam Clucas, Che Adams

Special Mentions: Chris Kirkland, Russell Hoult, Ian Bennett, Simon Francis, Jermaine Pennant, Liam Lawrence, Emile Heskey (God), Jermaine Jenas

Location: South West
Manager: Ian Holloway

Perhaps the weakest side yet, sadly most of the South West’s football clubs are in the national leagues or below.

The South West of England is absolutely massive, but it doesn’t really scream football talent. This team has a very strong defence but that’s it really, just a bit of a dead team. The 3-4-3 formation is due to a distinct lack in fullbacks of any discernible quality from the region, meaning that the whole team will have to pitch in defensively.

With a midfield of Matt Grimes and Eric Dier, one can only imagine the disasterclasses in midfield while that front three really isn’t that convincing. All of this while Ian Holloway sits at the helm of the team, absolute toilet. Jack Butland would qualify for this team, but his services were used elsewhere. Ben White takes the armband just because he’s hard.

Starting XI: Mark Travers (A), Ben White, Tyrone Mings, Lloyd Kelly, Scott Sinclair, Matt Grimes, Eric Dier, Ollie Watkins, Kieffer Moore, Bobby Decordova-Reid, Ashley Barnes

Bench: Christian Walton, Sean Morrison, Jack Stephens, Dan Gosling, Sam Vokes (A), Sam Surridge, Tyler Roberts

Special Mentions: Matthew Etherington, Lewis Haldane, Cole Skuse

Location: South East

Manager: Eddie Howe

Asmir Begovic came through at Portsmouth, relieving Alex McCarthy of his duties in goal.

This team serves as a reminder of just how good Southampton’s academy is. A front three of Walcott, Ings, and Bale would have sent defences wild a few years ago, but a combined age of 91 shows that this attack is slowing down. I think it is fair to argue that this is the best midfield we have seen so far too; the passing and shooting range of the midfield is actually bringing a smile to my face despite this team being entirely hypothetical.

The team’s weakest area is at RB, but it is more than likely that Captain Dunk will run a tight ship at the back of the team. Kevin Russell, Tim Sherwood, and Gary Monk were contenders for role of Gaffer, but Eddie Howe has seen the most success of the bunch in recent years. The bench is absolutely stacked too.

Starting XI: Asmir Begovic (A), Luke Shaw (A), Lewis Dunk, Steve Cook, George Baldock, Mason Mount, James Ward-Prowse, Dele Alli, Theo Walcott (A), Danny Ings, Gareth Bale (A)

Bench: Alex McCarthy, Calum Chambers, Matthew Targett, Matt Ritchie, Dominic Solanke, Eberechi Eze (A), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Special Mentions: Matt Le Tissier, Alan Shearer (A), Wayne Bridge, Dennis Wise, Kevin Phillips, Gylfi Sigurðsson (A)

Location: East of England

Manager: Gareth Southgate

Not a bad team by any means, but certainly one marred by injuries and inconsistencies.

Assembling this team really annoyed me; there are players all over this pitch who are, or have been, excellent, but never for more than a season. A very inconsistent team under the divisive England boss Gareth Southgate with little-to-no firepower up top, this team’s star player is Nick Pope in goal.

Ashley Young is captain because that is exactly what Southgate would do with this team. It is also worthy of note that Curtis Davies is still playing professional football aged 35 at Derby. My head has fallen clean off.

Starting XI: Nick Pope, James Justin, James Tomkins, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Ashley Young, Jack Wilshere, Harry Winks, Adam Lallana, Todd Cantwell, Britt Assombalonga (A), Sheyi Ojo

Bench: Angus Gunn, Jamal Lewis, Curtis Davies (A), Max Aarons (A), Glen Kamara (A), Jordan Rhodes (A), Adebayo Akinfenwa (A)

Special Mentions: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Chris Hughton, Matthew Upson, Gareth Southgate, Danny Shittu, Rob Green, Craig Bellamy, Dave Kitson, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, Paul Robinson, Darren Ward, Chris Eagles, David James, Tim Sherwood, John Ruddy

Location: Greater London

Manager: Harry Redknapp

Well here it is folks, the final team on our list, and what a team it is. An excellent goalkeeper, defensive power, fast fullbacks, a strong but creative midfield, fast and tricky wingers, and a total powerhouse upfront, what doesn’t this team have?

Though it comes as no real shock that Greater London has such an awesome team, I’d say that the capital region has only just clinched the title of “strongest team” from the likes of the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. The amount of quality, and the sheer quantity of it, is staggering and, for me, places this team above all others.

Bolstered by the academies of the Arsenal and Chelsea, this team only suffers slightly in goal, but that is being very picky. This team is excellent, and while the likes of Stuart Pearce, Lee Bowyer, Alan Pardew, Frank Lampard, Roy Hodgson, and Scott Parker could have managed this team, but I can think of no man better suited to the job than Harry Redknapp.

Mark Noble captains the team because he is exactly what the squad needs, it’s also what ‘Arry would want me to do, and who am I to deny the wheeler-dealer maestro?

Starting XI: Wojciech Szczęsny (A), Bukayo Saka, Joe Gomez, Fikayo Tomori (A), Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Declan Rice, Emile Smith Rowe, Mark Noble, Serge Gnabry (A), Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho

Bench: Freddie Woodman, Andreas Christensen (A), Reece James, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Grady Diangana, Wilfried Zaha (A)

Special Mentions: Frank Lampard, Scott Parker, Andy Cole, Ray Parlour, Martin Keown, Niall Quinn, Sol Campbell, Peter Crouch, Jamie Redknapp, Harry Redknapp, Ledley King, John Terry, Graeme Le Saux, Robert Huth, Carlton Cole, Ray Wilkins, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Ince, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Moore, Jermain Defoe

Which team do you think was best here? Did we miss anyone from the teams? Let us know in the comments and replies.

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