La Masia - Barcelona’s secret weapon
As the saying goes, you never win anything with kids. But for Barcelona, this accusation couldn’t be further from the truth.
The kids of the famous La Masia are rolling from a production line of exceptionally gifted talent that has produced some of the best footballers on the planet.
The Catalan giants have become the envy of every club around the world with the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez (pictured) all at their disposal and all former tenants of La Masia.
La Masia has around 60 residents and there is further accomodation around the Nou Camp stadium itself. Each year thousands of hopefuls as young as six attend trials in order to gain a place on the programme, although scouts are sent around the country and throughout the world to search for foreign prospects.
The academy teaches football as part of a daily schedule that includes a big emphasis on education and with Le Masia just a stone’s throw away from the Nou Camp, the youngsters who reside there are given a daily reminder of what can be achieved through hard work and perseverance.
Relax and have fun
The schedule of the day typically starts with school and is followed by lunch, siesta, training and a couple of hours down time before bed that could be spent in the games room where the kids and teenagers can relax and have fun.
There are tutors on hand to help with school work and a team of doctors, cooks and cleaners to look after the residents.
Living and growing together as a team can only have a positive effect on the youngsters once they set foot on the pitch and it’s no surprise that the current Barcelona team are such a close knit bunch of friends.
If players are playing at a club they have grown to love, with colleagues who they regard as family they become bonded to the club and show the kind of loyalty and gratification that is so often lost on today’s footballers, amidst the fast cars and crazy money.
Cesc Fabregas claimed that his decision to return to Barcelona was because the club is in his DNA and that is a perfect example of the effect Le Masia has on its youngsters.
Winning is not enough
When it comes to the footballing philosophy of La Cantera, winning is not enough in itself. Barcelona has strived to play beautiful attack minded football and this mentality is instilled from eight year olds and all the way through to Carlos Puyol in the first team.
The coaches teach the same tactics to the youngsters as the first team so that the whole club becomes a well-oiled machine that that is drilled and prepared for the eventual step up to follow in the footsteps of Xavi and co.
The benefits of the Barcelona academy have also been a success for the national team with nine Barcelona players featuring in the current Spain squad that has become so dominant on the world stage.
When the core of the team is training together day in day out it’s no surprise that the Spanish national team are in a different class to most other national teams who train together once in a blue moon.
Throughout the years English scouts have looked for strength and height before ability because the latter is the only attribute that can be taught at a later stage. Barcelona on the other hand took on a 13-year-old boy with a growth deficiency, who today is regarded as one of the best footballers to walk the planet.
One dimensional scouting
It’s frightening to think that a one dimensional scouting philosophy could have seen a premier league club turn Messi away because of his size.
The Catalan club believe that small players must work on skill, touch and passing to counter the physical challenges that might come their way and one look at Messi, Xavi and Iniesta again proves everything you need to know.
In England, it appears to be too late to set up an academy in the same mould as Barcelona.
The demand for instant success in the Premier League means that there may never be another golden generation for Man United such as the one that boasted David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers.
Arsene Wenger tried to stick to a policy of recruiting youth and nurturing them into a team but unlike the Barcelona players they did not have Arsenal in their DNA and subsequently had no problems leaving the club when success seemed like a long term plan.
If Samir Nasri and Mathieu Flamini had been born and raised at the Gunners' London Colney base they might have chosen to stay and fight for the club’s success.
The question is often asked of how long the current Barcelona team can remain at the top and the answer is simple.
As long as La Masia keeps its doors open for gifted young footballers, Barcelona will continue to churn out world class players and world class teams.
By Danny Butterwick