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Thursday January 31 2013
Athletic find calm in Laporte

Positives. There have been few for Athletic Bilbao to cling onto in the last few months, but David Cartlidge finds one in Aymeric Laporte’s new contract.

This past week Aymeric Laporte was awarded a new contract with Athletic, taking him into 2016, and by that time he'll be still only 21-years-old. His emergence on the first team with Athletic Bilbao has been rapid, moving him in front of Jonas Ramalho to become the undisputed young star defender at the club.

Laporte was born in Agen, around 377km from Bilbao, but at just four years old moved with his parents to Bayonne. It was at 12 he became first known in footballing circles, with scouts noting his large frame and dominant presence in the rearguard. Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille and Toulouse all followed his progression closely, but it was Athletic who persuaded the youngster at Lezama he would progress as a footballer. Julen Masach, then second in charge at Athletic's famous footballing school, personally picked out Laporte and phoned him about joining Athletic.

Administrative issues disallowed him from joining fully but Athletic found a way around it. During the week Laporte would train with the Cadete's at Lezama, then head back to Bayonne and his club Aviron on the weekend. It was a test of the teenager’s character, one that Antoine Griezmann also faced in having to cross borders and boundaries when first joining Real Sociedad.

Then, when Laporte finally settled into Athletic as a proper player he was struck by injury. It halted his progress only momentarily, as he made an instant leap to the Juvenil level. Then Athletic Coach, Joaquin Caparros, was taken with him so much he was handed a first-team call at just 16-years-old.

As many do at Athletic he was farmed out to CD Baskonia where he continued to impress before reaching Bilbao Athletic, essentially the 'B' team for Los Leones. From an International perspective, France U-19 handed Laporte the captain’s armband, another clear sign of his reputation. Clubs from England and Italy continued to watch on, before Athletic decided to allow the player more first team duties.

That brings us to this season, and Laporte's position now as a first team player. The main thing to note has been the young Frenchman's composure and confidence, not allowing himself to become flustered or out of synch with the game. Errors have been few, like the red card against Levante when he misjudged a bouncing ball and needed to make an unnecessary challenge. An arm around the shoulder and a word in the ear from Iker Muniain let Laporte know things like this happen, and at 18-years-old he has plenty of time to rectify them.

Time he indeed will have plenty of, especially given the status of Fernando Amorebieta. The Venezuela international is all set to leave the club on a free transfer, and in Laporte there is a ready made - some say better made - replacement. He brings subtlety and elegance to his game while Amorebieta is more active and aggressive. There are similarities, like both having the ability to be assertive moving out of defence with the ball and their physical strength, but it ends there.

The storm is continuing at Athletic and it may still for some time, but Laporte is part of the calm that will arrive after.

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