El Centrocampista

THE CATALAN CONVEYOR BELT – How FC Barcelona keep producing superstars


FC Barcelona are the ultimate exponents of the beautiful game. All conquering innovators playing a brand of football that pulses through the veins of the famous club like a lifeblood.

Take a leisurely weekend stroll around the dusty pitches surrounding the Camp Nou and you will understand the reason why the football club are so successful in producing a conveyor belt of supremely talented and composed footballers.

The mantra of ‘tiki-taka’ – short, sharp passing combined with effortless interchange of position, is woven into the fabric of each side that wears the famous blaugrana and for many at the club, especially those who have been there from an early age, it is all they know.

At the centre of this ethos is La Masia, the 300-year-old former farmhouse that sits in the shadows of the famous stadium and  has been the beating heart of the Barça youth system since opening its doors in 1979.

For 32 years youngsters lived, ate and slept together as they were taught how to play the game with a passion seldom seem elsewhere. When La Masia closed its doors for the last time earlier this year, the evidence of success was plainly evident.

Youngsters schooled at the complex now sit in the top echelons of the world game.  Xavi, Puyol and Iniesta were all residents there, as was the greatest of them all, Lionel Messi.

The man who has  arguably had the biggest impact on the way football is taught and played at Barça is Johann Cruyff, a name now synonymous with the  football club.

It is said the Dutch maestro suggested the club should introduce a system similar to that at his former side Ajax Amsterdam, who enjoy a common philosophy of the game from an early age.

Like so many things involvingthe great man, he was proven right.

Cruyff returned to manage the club 10 years later and created the famous el dream team which included current manager and former La Masia resident, Pep Guardiola in its ranks.

The team became the greatest in club history and swept all before them, including Sampdoria in the European Cup Final of 1992.

They set the benchmark which all who follow dream of emulating and few have come close until the current crop of players began their domination of Spain and beyond.

The next generation of La Masia graduates are also now ready to make their mark on the first team and players such as Thiago Alcantara, Marc Muniesa and Andreu Fontas all have big futures in the game.

The bad news for opponents who thought the closure of La Masia meant an end to the production line of star players is the development and scouting system at Barça has grown stronger.

The New Masia is up and running at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, a state of the art complex built in 2006, where youngsters are given the very best coaching and fitness training available.

With new UEFA financial constraints on the horizon, youth development has never been so important to future success of football clubs and as we speak, the next Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta are waiting in the wings of the famous Catalan cathedral of football.

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