Admittedly it has not turned out to be their finest season – despite their initial dominance domestically and in Europe, Barcelona will end this campaign without winning a highly recogniseable trophy. And will also lose their most successful manager in Pep Guardiola. They may of course still win the Copa Del Ray, but after winning both La Liga and the Champions League last season, this will act as little consolation.
But in a generation of world football where increasing amounts are being spent on the best talent, how is it that the team titled The Best Club Side Ever can spend so little on transfers. The answer: because the majority of first team players have been developed at the clubs world famous La Masia academy.
Johan Cruyff wouldn’t want to call the centre perfect, after all there is always room for improvement in football – but you would have to look hard to find fault in the youth system at Barcelona. Just as you would have to with the first team.
The house that built Barcelona and so many of its currents stars sits just next to the Nou-Camp in Catalonia. Immediately and physically bridging the gap between the academy and first team – something that so many English clubs have failed to do.
In 1979 Cruyff proposed the idea of creating a copy of the Ajax academy at Barcelona– based on the desire to not only create footballers but to create educated gentlemen. Each player would benefit from the worlds best training, but after and only after they had done their school work. The proposal was accepted and so begun the production line that is still to this day producing regular first team talent. Although the facilities have changed substantially – last year Barcelona opened up their new complex, ‘La Masia-Centre De Formació Oriol Tort’. Academy director Folguera commented on the move: ‘It is necessary. The new facilities are more modern. These are new times.’
To put its success in context with an English club – the current Barcelona squad has 12 first team players who have graduated from La Masia Academy. Manchester United has just five graduates from their own youth system currently playing regular first team football (Scholes, Giggs, Cleverly, Welbeck, Evans), Chelsea and Manchester City have just one each from theirs (John Terry/Micah Richards).
So why is it that no English club is regularly developing players of first team standard? The answer – patience.
Circumstances like La Masia cannot happen over night. It was almost a decade before the first academy graduate made his senior debut (Guillermo Amor, 1988), and even at that point production was slow. It has really been in the last ten years that the clubs faith in young players has finally been noticed. And it does not come without its costs; on average the club will spend £8 million a year on running La Masia. However, although this may seem expensive, when you consider that a Fernando Torres would cost you £50 million in the current market, the returns do not seem that bad. Can you really put a price on players like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi? It is a long term investment that is without doubt paying off – it is one of few academy’s in the world that can be referred to as profitable.
Away from football, the clubs attention to education is wonderfully surprising. The set up is
not merely about finding the best talent and dumping the boys that are not good enough – but what is refreshing is the academy’s focus on ensuring all players receive a good education from the best schools in south-east Catalonia. Their success rates are frighteningly high but what is even more exceptional is the number of unsuccessful players that either go on to play professional football elsewhere or go on to further education and thriving careers. Not only does the youth development system produce quality international players, it aims to eradicate the chances of players coming out with nothing.
As the team motto hangs above the entrance of the new academy facilities – it is an unneeded reminder that this really is more than just a club. It is an organisation that all others should appreciate, study and hope to one day replicate.
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