From Kepa to Herrera – How Athletic Bilbao made an incredible €221m through release clauses

The Basque side have consistently smashed transfer records for their stars over recent years, and that is no coincidence

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Athletic are at it again. 

The massive payout the club have received on Chelsea-bound goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is just the latest success story of a team policy that has paid dividends for the Basque club over the last decade. 

Athletic’s Basque-only rule when it comes to player recruitment means that the side work with a built-in handicap compared to their Liga rivals, who trawl the world for top talent and are not afraid to pay top dollar for the privilege. 

That disadvantage ensures that when the Basques do find a star, they hold on to him for all his worth and refuse to sell unless a team is prepared to meet a hefty release clause. 

With Kepa’s departure to Chelsea, Athletic picked up a cool €80 million (£72m/$93m) , which brings their total transfer revenues since the policy was introduced to no less than €221m.

President Jose Urrutia has been in charge since 2011, and the release clause strategy has been a cornerstone of the former Athletic player’s administration. Stars are encouraged to sign new contracts which include multi-million euro buyouts; and unlike with certain other clubs, that figure is imposed with an iron will by the club’s board of directors. 

The first team to suffer against the newly intransigent Athletic were Bayern. In 2012, versatile Spain international Javier Martinez became the Bundesliga’s most expensive player in a €40m deal, with Urrutia refusing to budge on the fee. 

Ander Herrera was then snapped up by Manchester United for €36m, before rivals City went even further to sign the promising Aymeric Laporte. 

Athletic were finally persuaded to release their young defender, in exchange for a pay-off of €65m that broke the transfer record of both clubs back in 2017. Laporte may not yet have made his name at the Etihad Stadium, but he certainly left a handsome profit back in Spain. 

Now the club have once more smashed a transfer record, making Kepa the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, breaking the record set by Liverpool’s acquisition of Alisson just a month prior , as well as their new costliest sale.

Those departures have funded, among other things, Athletic’s sparkling new San Mames home, and helped cement their place as one of Spain’s strongest and, above all, most respected teams.