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From Jones to Jonás

Jonás Ramalho is the first black player at Athletic, a club with a strict recruitment policy

Miguel Jones couldn't play for Athletic Bilbao because he was black. Furthermore, he was born in Santa Isabel (today called Malabo, in Equatorial Guinea). Despite arriving in the Basque Country at five years of age, being a model student at the Lekaroz college and later the Deusto University and having played for local sides Barakaldo and Indautxu, alongside the great José Eulogio Garaté, Jones could never play for Athletic as he was born outside Basque frontiers.

Jones, who like Garaté went on to triumph at Atlético Madrid, was shorn of his dream of playing for Athletic due to its strict recruitment policy. Jones returned to the Basque Country after his playing days and became a director at lower league side Indautxu. He has always felt Basque, or more accurately bilbaíno, and has always accepted - although not been in agreement with - the policy that prevented him from turning out at San Mamés.

If he had been born five years earlier in Bilbao he probably would still have been prevented from playing for Athletic as he was black. It was sociology, not philosophy.

On November 19 in Sevilla's Sánchez Pizjuán, Jonás Ramalho debuted for the Athletic first team at 18 years of age, breaking one of those significant enigmas that cause members and supporters of the club to occasionally look inward. "What will happen when a black player debuts for Athletic?" asked those who are suspicious of the Bilbao philosophy, without evaluating the historical and political difficulties that have conditioned it.

"The only thing I know is that I have achieved my dream," said Ramalho, who is already used to the attention he receives as the first black player to play for Athletic in La Liga.

He exemplifies at Athletic the sociology of Basque society. He is a pioneer and the weight of a historically traditional club is on his shoulders. Former coach Joaquín Caparrós had named Ramalho among the substitutes for a Europa League match against Werder Bremen and a domestic tie against Zaragoza last season, but he never took the field.

His first experience of playing at San Mamés was during a friendly against Paraguay. But last month he realized the dream that became a nightmare for Jones.

Ramalho has always been a pearl of Athletic's Lezama academy. A powerful defender with playing quality and flexibility, Athletic had been using him on the right side of defense "to test him in more difficult circumstances. As a central defender he would not evolve. On the flank he will have more difficulty and a chance to display other abilities," explain the club's coaching staff. In fact, the club debuted two players in one: a full back in the Athletic youth team and a central defender for the Spain under-19 side at the 2011 European Championships. In the five minutes Marcelo Bielsa gave him in Seville, Ramalho operated in midfield.

A friend of Iker Muniain, his "brother," Ramalho admits he has had plenty of backing in his burgeoning career. Last season he suffered a spinal injury attributed to his growth, which halted his path to the first team. Now he is back on track, and the story continues.

A 14-year-old Jonás Ramalho in his non-competitive debut for Athletic in 2008.
A 14-year-old Jonás Ramalho in his non-competitive debut for Athletic in 2008.MIGUEL TOÑA (EFE)
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