LaLiga: Real Sociedad – philosophy, academy, crucial men in history-Sports News , Firstpost

Real Sociedad, also known as La Real, are two time LaLiga champions and one of the founding members of the top division in 1929.

At a glance

The Real Sociedad de Fútbol [Royal Society of football] was formed in the coastal Basque city of San Sebastian 1909, with the official seal of Spain’s King Alfonso XIII, a regular visitor to the city, and important early backer of the sport. Its biggest historic rivals are club Athletic of Bilbao – from 100 kilometres along the coast.

Golden Era

A Real Sociedad team featuring mostly locally developed players won the club’s only two LaLiga titles in 1980/81 and 81/82 and reached the European Cup semi-finals in 1982/83. Welshman John Toshack took over as coach in time to win the club’s first modern Copa del Rey trophy in 1987.

Reale Arena

The Reale Arena is one of LaLiga’s most modern and spectacular stadiums – especially since a redevelopment completed in autumn 2019 which removed an athletics track around the pitch and added a new illuminated exterior txuri-urdin [blue and white] skin. The design recalls San Sebastian’s famous Kursaal Auditorium, home each year to international film and jazz festivals.

Youth focus

La Real’s current squad includes 12 graduates of the club’s Zubieta academy – including senior Spain internationals Asier Illarramendi, Martin Zubimendi and Mikel Oyarzabal. Current first team coach Imanol Alguacil began his playing career with the club, and later coached in its youth system. Former Real Madrid, Liverpool and Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso, who also started his career at La Real, returned in the summer of 2019 to coach the Real Sociedad B side and in his second season he got to promote to second division.

Story behind the club badge

Real Sociedad’s blue and white colours pay homage to the cities official flag: a blue canton on a white field which also gave credence to their nickname ‘Txuri Urdin’ meaning blue and white. Like Real Madrid, the crown, which adorns a football, was added after King Alfonso XIII gave the club his patronage thus making Sociedad ‘Real’. This badge has hardly undergone any modifications since the club’s founding in 1909, and it maintains all the same elements as its first design. In 2018, a poll in the Canadian publication The Score determined that the Real Sociedad badge was among the 10 most beautiful in football.

Zubieta, The sports complex that powers the club

With 12 members of Real Sociedad’s current first-team squad having come through the club’s academy, it’s clear that those in charge at the Basque club take the development of players very seriously. That’s why La Real invest so much into the facilities at Zubieta, the home of their prestigious football school and the state- of-the-art training areas used by Imanol Alguacil’s first team squad.

Opened in 1980, Zubieta has evolved a lot since then and the facilities are constantly improving.

Currently, the complex — located less than 10 kilometres or a short 15- minute drive from the centre of San Sebastian
— boasts six 11-a-side pitches, four of which are natural grass pitches. There are also plans in the works for a seventh to be added. It’s here that Real Sociedad’s women’s team play their matches and also Sanse, the club’s reserve side managed by Xabi Alonso, before promoting to second division.

Given the wild weather of the Basque Country, these pitches boast world-class drainage systems, meaning that adverse weather conditions will only very rarely see practice cancelled. Inside, Zubieta boasts a gym and film room that have recently been expanded. There’s also a dining area where it’s common for the players to share a meal together after training rather than return home to eat alone. As the club itself says of the training complex: “Zubieta is the heart and soul of Real Sociedad. The spirit that reigns within the complex is what drives the club on.”

While the first team play their matches at the recently redeveloped and now state- of-the-art Reale Arena, they train at Zubieta and come into close contact with the youth players making their way through the various age categories. This kind of connection with the star players of LaLiga, or with former stars such as reserve team coach Alonso, is important for those taking their first steps in football. They can see first-hand exactly what it takes to be a professional footballer.

Luki Iriarte, director of the Zubieta academy

Luki Iriarte has been in charge of the Zubieta academy since 2015, overseeing all areas of the academy and in particular the development of young players from the lowest age group (Under-13) up to Berio, the Real Sociedad C team.

Iriarte said upon taking the role in 2015 that the club seeks to find a balance between “development and competition. This sport is about winning. Our biggest achievement is the number of homegrown players we’ve developed in the first team, that’s what we’ve got to keep working to achieve”, he told Caño Football in 2019.

Xabi Alonso, Sanse’s coach and leader

Xabi Alonso is a former Real Sociedad player and now manager of their ‘B’ team. Image: LaLiga

Few players in the modern era displayed the effortless style and understanding of the game quite like Xabi Alonso. Having won almost all there is to win as a player, Alonso is now trying his hand in management. And he does so with notable success, after securing promotion to second division in 2021, in what was only his second season at Sanse. There had not been a reserve team in the second tier since 2018, when FC Barcelona ‘B’ and Sevilla Atlético were relegated. The Txuri-Urdin reserve team are playing their third season in the second division, almost 60 years after leaving in 1962. Statistics that only serve to highlight the spectacular milestone that the coach from Tolosa has achieved at the helm of Real Sociedad ‘B’.

Mikel Oyarzabal, the biggest symbol of Zubieta

LaLiga Real Sociedad  philosophy academy crucial men in history

Mikel Oyarzabal in a file photo. Image: Twitter/LaLiga

Sometimes you have to stop and remember that Real Sociedad winger Mikel Oyarzabal is still just 24 years old. A history-maker at Real Sociedad, a goal scorer at senior level for Spain… he’s achieved so much in such a short period of time, and today he’s the best exponent of the Zubieta academy’s potential.

Oyarzabal made his LaLiga debut for La Real in October 2015 having turned the head of then-coach David Moyes with a swift rise through the youth ranks at Zubieta after joining from his hometown club Eibar in 2011. He quickly established himself as a key member of the senior squad under Eusebio Sacristan, who replaced Moyes as coach just weeks after his debut. A first LaLiga goal arrived in a whopping 5-0 victory at Espanyol in early February, and he immediately scored twice more in a 3-0 against Granada the following weekend.

Oyarzabal, who has drawn praise for his remarkable physical and mental strength, has been almost ever-present in the txuri-urdin starting XI ever since. He has played 250 official games with La Real despite his age. The youngster achieved a rare feat for an outfielder in starting all 38 of his side’s LaLiga matches in 2016/17.

His impressive performances in LaLiga have seen Oyarzabal take the next step at international level, too. A regular in the youth set-up over recent years, he has made 25 appearances for the U-21 side since 2017, chipping in with eight goals. In addition, he has established himself in the senior Spanish team after three years had passed since his debut in 2010 without ever being called up. He played in all of Spain’s matches at EURO 2020, even scoring a goal in the Last-16 round. And he also played all the 180 minutes during the Final Four of the Nations League 2021, playing a part in all Spain’s three goals against France and Italy, respectively (one goal and two assists). To this day, his presence with La Roja is indisputable.

Roberto Olabe, architect behind Real Sociedad’s success

Real Sociedad hired Roberto Olabe as their director of football in March of 2018, although that wasn’t the first time he’d taken on the role. Having retired as a player while at the club, he took on a coaching position within La Real’s youth set-up, before taking over the first team at the end of the 2001/02 season, steering them clear of relegation.

Olabe then became the sporting director at the Reale Arena, a post he held until 2005, before departing and assuming other roles with Almería, Real Valladolid, LaLiga and the Aspire Academy in Qatar. A return to the Real Sociedad boardroom then followed in 201ó as he became their director of football, only for Olabe to once again step down eight months later.

Then, in March of 2018 and following a stint at Ecuadorian side Independiente del Valle, he returned to the Basque club and currently oversees football activities at the institution. Under Olabe’s watch Real Sociedad have brought in a number of exciting young talents in the last couple of years, including Mikel Merino, Alexander Isak, Portu and even Martin Odegaard – who returned to Real Madrid on summer 2020 after a stellar campaign in San Sebastian. The icing on the cake was the transfer of the World Cup champion David Silva this summer.

And the results have been impressive: in 2019/20 they qualified brilliantly for the Europa League after 35 weeks in European positions, with brilliant football; and last season they won the 2020 Copa del Rey — the final of which was postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A goal from captain Mikel Oyarzabal was enough to win a Basque Derby final which ended La Real’s long, long wait for a title: 34 years.

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