La Masia de Can Planes, or La Masia for short; translation: ‘The Farmhouse’. Once an old Catalan farmhouse, this iconic location no longer produces milk and eggs, but has been producing some of the finest footballing talents the world has seen in recent decades.
This is F.C Barcelona’s academy, one of the staple names in football history, and yet, over the previous years, seems to have declined.
Most will have heard of names such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas, but the one thing tying them together apart from their almost supernatural abilities at times is their origin – students of a fabled Spanish system.
At the time of construction, no one could’ve predicted that in 2010, all three finalists of the Ballon D’or award would be graduates of La Masia (Messi, Iniesta & Xavi), none more so than the original proposer of the complex, Jaume Amrat.
Jordi Alba, Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets have all built their own identities and styles having risen through the La Masia system, but it was a mixture of two philosophies that really kickstarted a dominant era for the footballing academy.
The first, is ‘Total Football’ – a Dutch concept stemmed through Johan Cruyff’s coaching, who played 148 times for Barcelona himself. This system requires players to work in fluid formations, interchange positionally and adopt the highest technical abilities.
As a pre-requisite, more agile and visionary players are key to this. This is especially useful for the second philosophy adopted by the academy – simply ‘Tiki-Taka’. This one-touch method of passing forces the opponent to chase, provide unpredictability and faster transitions in play.
It was this, coupled with the presence of strong, local Catalan players and imported youth talent, where Barcelona would have periods of dominance both domestically, continentally, and for the players, individually, for years.
However, although the system and academy favoured players of this nature, it wasn’t only players with these skill sets that La Masia produced; sparks and leaders. It was Pep Guardiola, a product himself, who said that “the player who has passed through La Masia has something different to the rest” (Guardiola, 2009).
If this is true, then why haven’t Barcelona given its young stars more of an opportunity to step into the limelight, especially when recent years seem to have ended on sour notes (both on and off the field)? (and yes, the pun was intended).
These issues were highlighted further when the academy was revamped in 16/17 with a ‘360 strategy’ to help professionalise the system and advance its methods.
While this is in place, President Josep Bartomeu’s overseeing of this has not been of any quality. While there have been some excellent additions in the system, internal issues and power struggles have thrown direction into disarray, where residency, allocation issues, nutrition and academic methods are all chaotic.
A year forward – Barcelona complete the 2018 summer signing of 21 y/o Brazilian Malcom from Bordeaux for a fee of €40m – there certainly were eyebrows raised at this logic.
He eventually leaves a year later for what they paid originally but with captain and figurehead Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, young Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng and with Sergi Roberto also being able to play out wide, where was the room for another wide player?
Would it not have served a better choice to promote from within? The desperation for a Champions League title clearly weighed heavily, especially after Messi’s declaration for European success to the Camp Nou faithful before the 2018/19 season.
It was even more pertinent as the opportunity to prize European success from the hands of Spanish rivals Real Madrid loomed, a team who, at the time, had won it for the third successive time (and third in four years) with a 3-1 victory over Liverpool (I say heavy heartedly).
Perhaps the senior figures at the club have decided upon a different route to success, one that does not involve a fabled ‘La Masia XI’. Over the years we have seen players break into the squad where names like Marc Bartra, Christian Tello, Munir, Martin Montoya and Rafinha all come to mind.
Unfortunately, it is the latter four players that were persistently sent out on loan rather than staying to earn a long term place in the team. Perhaps for players in this newer era, attempting to break into a team of world class stars across the pitch is no mean feat.
It is only Pedro (over 200 appearances) and Bojan (over 100 appearances) of more recent times, and with Sergi Roberto of late that there exists any real longevity to be a part of the match day squads.
Carlos Alena seemed to have a grip on a place but has seemingly lost out; he was keen, but his supposed move to Real Betis was blocked by manager Valverde this season – another difficult situation perhaps.
These are all talented players, but recent purchases of Clement Lenglet, Arthur, Nelson Semedo and Antoine Griezamnn all but end most of those players’ hopes of ever returning comfortably.
There are bright, young players who have also found their way out of the club too, note Adama Traore, Wilfred Kaptoum, Sergi Samper, Jordi Masip, Issac Cuenca…arghhh!
Now I recognise there are many lists of players here, hence the outburst, but this really does feel like a lost generation of talents to me, or is that perhaps moving a step too far?
These were touted as some of Europe’s most promising stars. Did they lack ability? Were the injuries not solvable?
The majority of the next crop of world stars may not be under Barcelona’s watchful eye. Highly-rated midfielder Xavi Simons, at the age of just 16, was pulled by PSG after failing to agree a contract with Barcelona – Barca will receive around €130,000 for development rights.
Talented young forward Sergio Gomez moved to Borussia Dortmund, a team well known for their exploits in using youth to move to success. He will hopefully progress well at the BVB once returning from his Huesca loan.
Alongside this, apart from talent Jorge Cuenca, Barca have little for homegrown centrebacks, with Eric Garcia, a ball-playing defender and a home-grown leader, signing to Manchester City in 2017. There is no surprise Guardiola’s expansive City moved to acquire the Pique-like player.
Now if you reached this far in the article and think it’s all doom and gloom, it isn’t. Barca do many bright youngsters such as Busquets, goalkeeper Iñaki Peña, Riqui Puig and Abel Ruiz.
However, if this article has left you with nothing but pessimism towards F.C Barcelona then here’s another glimmer of hope for all you budding young La Masia hopefuls – ‘El Sadar’ on the scoreboard or ‘Ansu Fati’ on the shirt.
Born in 2002, the Guinea-Bissau native levelled the score against Osasuna for 1-1 on the last day of August 2019. He was assisted by La Masia compatriot Carles Pérez, who, in his 3 appearances this season, has 2 assists and a goal to his name.
The game did end 2-2, but aside from the less than impressive start to their title defense, this was what Barcelona needed – young academy stars awarded chances, and better yet, delivering. Hopefully change is on the horizon.
Guardiola, Josep, 2009, UEFA. (Accessed on: 11th September) [Found at]: https://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/news/newsid=786617.html