Athletic Bilbao only signing players with Basque heritage is one of the most unique quirks in top-level football. Therefore, when they signed an academy prospect from Liverpool, some eyebrows were raised. Elijah Gift, the 17-year-old attacker has signed for Athletic Bilbao in a deal worth £1 million.
Academy players from England moving to Spain is not usual. Moving to a club with the strict signing policy of Athletic Bilbao is rarer still.
So, who is Elijah Gift, and why have Athletic Bilbao deemed him good enough to grace their jersey? Here are all the details –
Who is Elijah Gift?
Elijah Gift is a 17-year-old attacker who mainly plays on the right wing. He was born in Corella, a municipality located in Navarre, northern Spain.
It lies 91.5 km away from Pamplona, which comes under Basque country. Therefore, Gift became eligible to sign for Bilbao under their stringent rules.
He holds dual citizenship- Cuba and Spain- but came through the academy of Huddersfield Town before moving to Liverpool as an U12 player.
The 2022/23 season was his first in proper, recorded age-group football as he played with the Liverpool 18s and impressed greatly.
Bilbao are always on the lookout for any player who could be potentially eligible to play for them and as soon as Gift started showing promise with the U18s, they were on his case, eventually sealing his signing.
For a 16-year-old playing his first full season as a scholar, Elijah Gift proved he had all the raw tools.
In 18 appearances, he scored four goals and notched three assists as the opponents had trouble coping with his dribbling skills. The stats seem more impressive when one considers that he started eight games and played a total of just 959 minutes. Therefore, he got a goal contribution every 137 minutes, a very good figure for an attacker.
He also made his UEFA Youth League debut and FA Youth Cup debut where he played a combined three games for 161 minutes. He didn’t register a goal or assist in either but his playing style always makes him a threat.
As a left-footed right-winger, his biggest strength is simple. He likes to cut inside onto his left foot and unleash shots at goal. However, his game has the potential to be so much more.
His skills with the ball at his feet allow his teammates to get in space as he sucks in defenders due to his dribbling style. He likes to use his pace to run off the shoulder of the last defender. He was caught offside nine times last year.
However, it is his defensive stats that jump off the page. Modern football requires its wide men to track back and support their fullback, no matter how lethal they might be in attack.
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Elijah Gift understands this assignment perfectly. Last season, he won 12 tackles and made 34 recoveries in his extremely limited time on the pitch.
He has all the ingredients to become a hardworking winger who’s also a goal threat when he receives the ball.
Elijah Gift potential
Passing a verdict on the potential of a player who has just one season of U18s football is a difficult task. However, in Bilbao, he is going to a club most conducive to youth development.
He will be able to learn from Inaki Williams and should get scattered first-team opportunities right away.
At his best, he can be a player like Manchester United’s Antony, albeit with slightly less reliance on his left foot only. Once he adds the skillset of sometimes going to the byline to mix up his attacking routine, he should be a nightmare to deal with for the opposition due to his dribbling skills.
Spanish league will be ideal for his development in that regard. La Liga is more slow-paced and technical in nature than the more physical Premier League. His on-ball qualities will shine through in games as he gets to grips with senior football and its complex tactical structures.
Don’t be surprised if Elijah Gift is linked to Premier League giants in the next five years after he’s tearing it up for Athletic Bilbao in Spain.