Manchester United has had an academic on every matchday squad for more than 80 years, and its upcoming Europa League draws it against a club that also prides itself on bringing out local talent

United face Real Sociedad in the first leg of their last 32 game on Thursday – due to coronavirus restrictions at the neutral venue of Turin, they will face a club whose current line-up in the first team includes 16 of their own graduates

Five of them – Jon Bautista, Jon Guridi, Andoni Gorosabel, Martin Merquelanz and Luca Sangalli – were featured when La Real’s 2013 U19 side defeated United 1-0 in the Uefa Youth League while Alvaro Odriozola scored the winning goal scored and is now at Real Madrid

Andreas Pereira is the only player still on United’s books despite the Brazilian midfielder on loan from Lazio

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team has a wealth of talent from Carrington Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Scott McTominay continue a record that began in October 1937

A player who has spent time in the Premier League club’s academy could even face them for the Basque team

Adnan Januzaj, who joined United from Anderlecht at the age of 16, was considered great at Old Trafford after being promoted to senior squad by Sir Alex Ferguson

David Moyes made the teen’s debut as a substitute in the Community Shield win against Wigan Athletic and Januzaj scored two goals in a 2-1 win over Sunderland on his first appearance in the Premier League

The winger received a five-year contract, scored four goals this season and registered six assists in all competitions After the resignation of Ryan Giggs, he received the number 11 jersey

That would be the climax of his rapid rise in England though, and he spoke to BBC Sport about how things went wrong after Louis van Gaal’s arrival

Could he return to pursue his previous employers? The 26-year-old has played more than 100 games since arriving in San Sebastian but has not been a regular starter this season He played twelve times in the league, scored two goals and made an assist

The biggest threat to Sociedad is Spain international Mikel Oyarzabal, a player considered the most exciting product since striker Antoine Griezman, who is now in Barcelona

23-year-old Oyarzabal was born in Eibar, halfway between San Sebastian and Bilbao, and joined the Academy of La Real from his hometown club in 2011 at the age of 14 Four years later he made his first team debut from Moyes

Oyarzabal has been the team’s best attacker this season He scored 10 goals in all competitions and provided six assists

“We have a style of play that our squad prefers and that suits everyone,” explains Oyarzabal

“More importantly, everyone who plays on the team, while still important, is less important when the idea is clear and we know what to do”

The “idea” is a possession-based, offensive style of football that brought Real Sociedad to the top of the league earlier this season, despite having now slipped to sixth place

In addition to producing current stars like Oyarzabal and 19-year-old winger Ander Barrenetxea – the club’s youngest debutant in more than 80 years – La Real has a tradition of using only Basque players in 1989 to fine-tune their side Talent from outside the region

Sporting director Roberto Olabe, another former Sociedad player, has added smart recruiting to the club’s successful academy program This is underscored by the signing of Manchester City’s David Silva for a free transfer this season

Premier League fans will also recognize ex-Arsenal left-back Nacho Monreal, who grew up in nearby Pamplona and played for Osasuna, as will midfielder Mikel Merino before playing at Borussia Dortmund and Newcastle United

The recruitment of La Real is not limited to Spaniards, however Compared to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 21-year-old Swedish striker Alexander Isak scored 16 goals last season as the Basque team secured a spot in the Europa League and the Copa del Rey finals

Few European top clubs have put as much emphasis on integrating young players into their team as La Real, whose unique approach is to only sign academy players under the age of 13

“It’s a very inspired project and we want to get better every day,” said Luki Iriarte, La Real Academy Director, to BBC Sport. “We are getting more information all the time and we can focus on improving the youth system

“Our vision is how we integrate players and how we involve families too We want a good foundation off the pitch so that we can perform well””

Iriarte says the club wants youngsters to have “the chance to be kids first” so that they can work on different sports before they get into football

The club does not believe in getting into academy tournaments too early and believes that their approach allows players to arrive “as open-minded, more flexible individuals”

Both the first team and young players are at home in Real Sociedad’s state-of-the-art Zubieta training base, located 15 minutes outside of San Sebastian in the countryside in Gipuzkoa

Manager Imanol Alguacil is a product of Zubieta who played more than 100 times for the club’s first team, while the reserve team boss, Xabi Alonso, also began his career there

It worked for world champions Alonso and Griezmann, who joined Sociedad after failing to find a French club and scored 52 goals in 201 games before joining Atletico Madrid in 2014 while Spaniard Alonso played for Liverpool before trophy-rich Magic spells with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich

Spain full-back Odriozola and Asier Illarramendi join Real Madrid before returning to San Sebastian How can the club prevent its best prospects from being poached?

“We want every generation to be better than the last,” says Iriarte. “This job doesn’t happen at the last moment. The player can choose

“We are very aware that we have to take care of our players from day one so that they can see that we are committed to the youth system and that our philosophy is based on it

“We know we can’t always keep every player who gets through it is a task we have to do every day so that the players feel like they can achieve their goals here at Real Sociedad”

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Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/55847701