Someone has rightly said, “Nurture the young ones in right direction and they can change the world for you.”
Spanish giants FC Barcelona have enjoyed unparallel success in recent years owing to their prestigious La Masia- FC Barcelona’s Youth Academy. With the appointment of Pep Guardiola, the Catalan club saw the rise of the La Masia which is claimed to be one of the greatest youth academies, surpassing the fabled Ajax Academy. Pep Guardiola, a La Masia graduate himself, followed in the footsteps of Johan Cruyff and promoted young players from the youth academy to the first team including some of the most prolific players like Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Busquets, and Messi himself.
The club had been on the rise ever since, winning the treble twice in the span of just 4 years. With Xavi and Iniesta pulling the strings in the midfield and Messi destroying the opposition in the front, Barcelona was almost undefeatable. On 25 November 2012, Barca made history when the whole eleven players were La Masia graduates wherein Barca thrashed Levante 4-0. In 2010, la Masia became the first youth academy to have all the finalists from their base in Ballon D’Ór namely Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta.
Pep followed Cryuff’s ideology which included an emphasis on technique and smart exploitation of spaces. Their dominance in the midfield was the secret to their success.
“The players who have passed through La Masia have something different than the rest, it’s a plus that only comes from having competed in a Barcelona shirt from the time you were a child”: Pep Guardiola.
Former technical director, Pep Segura, attributes the club success to its “philosophy of play”: “It is about creating one philosophy, one mentality, from the bottom of the club to the top.”
But with the departure of Pep Guardiola, the sun started to set for the Academy players. Many good La Masia players were either sold or loaned out. This list includes Thiago Alcantara, a promising youth player often considered the heir of Xavi, who was let go for peanuts to Bayern Munich. Many other youth players have been deemed as ‘Not so good for the first team´without giving them a chance.
With the arrival of Luis Enrique, the records started deteriorating. Unlike Cryuff’s ideology, Lucho didn’t give much chance to the Academy players. Rather he set out to the search of expensive and hyped players and got full support of the board in this context.
Lucho although won the club a treble but his later 2 seasons, especially the last one was seen as just Messi’s magic which kept the team aloft as they suffered much due to an inexperienced midfield and regular rotation of players.
Under Lucho, Barca’s midfield became more direct and once Luis Enrique said: “Rivals press us high up the pitch and if we can score goals with just two passes why should we reject that possibility?”
Some of the valuable gems Barca gave away under Lucho era were: Montoya, Samper, Munir, Sandro, Issac Cuenca and Cristiano Tello.
This is just another strand to the wider identity crisis Barca are faced in Luis Enrique’s era. They had lost their distinctive style of play under Lucho, with the aura that used to exist around the Camp Nou no longer a factor.
Barcelona sold Munir and got Paco Alcacer and Andre Gomes who have often been criticized for their inexperienced play and this regular experimenting has cost Barca their titles especially in 2016.
Barca let go Deulofeu, who once was hailed as one of the best La Masia product after Messi and now Barcelona has to work and spend a lot to get them back.
Barcelona board are equally responsible for this degradation as they sell these players at low prices and get new players who would need time to adapt to Barca’s style of play.
But with Lucho signed off and Valverde in command, Barcelona fans again expect a new era where the Academy players get their piece of a chance to prove their mettle. Valverde made it clear that he again wants to establish Cruyff’s philosophy and give Academy players fair share of chance to show case themselves.
With Valverde having played the B teams players, we have seen few great promising players who could jump up in the first team with players like Alena having shown great games in the US International Champions Cup.
This had indeed rejuvenated the fans as they expect a great participation of the youth in the team and hope to see the old Barcelona.
So with some signings and right promotions of La Masia players, Barcelona can once again achieve what they truly were, and be as strong, and Hey! As long as Barca have Leo Messi you can never count them off.