by Edwin White
We are all aware of the copious amounts of talent that is consistently falling off the La Masia conveyor belt at Barcelona; producing, without question, the best footballers in the world. There has been little criticism of the academy, their approach to youngsters and their success. Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, you could go on forever with an endless list of talent that the club has nurtured throughout the last 10-15 years, but what does the future hold for the academy? Let us not forget that there have been certain players that have fallen through the net, so to speak. The likes of Cesc Fabregas and Pepe Reina are just two examples that have gone on to shine at other clubs. So how will Barcelona stop this from happening with future talents?
With Barcelona taking Europe by storm with their attractive Tiki-Taka football, people have questioned how long they can keep their high level of performance up after the current generation has retired. The spine of the team are gradually getting older, Xavi, who is now 33, will not be eloquently stroking the ball in the middle of the Camp Nou pitch for much longer. Puyol, 34, won’t be barking orders week in week out and Valdes has already confirmed that he won’t be signing a new contract beyond 2014. Johann Cruyff’s vision of replicating the Ajax youth set-up has been surpassed when in 2010, all three Ballon D’Or finalists were products of La Masia. The success is unquestionable but what does the future hold?
It is difficult to analyse whether or not Barcelona will be able to continually churn up star after star but there is certainly promise within the current youth set up. The past two seasons have seen Pep Guardiola and Tito Villanova giving first team opportunities to prospective replacements. There are a few players that need a mention in this piece that I believe could make an impact in the future for Barcelona.
This year especially has seen the rise of Thiago Alcantara who has all the attributes and potential to become a success in the first team. The 21 year old is becoming more and more of a household name at the Camp Nou which has seen him starting to be picked for the Spanish national side, having previously played through all age groups. With more attacking flair than Xavi, he has been compared to Iniesta. He has yet to impose himself as a first team regular but the signs are good for the son of former world cup winner Mazinho.
One recent player to depart Barcelona, Isaac Cuenca, has been loaned out to Ajax seeing him gain first team experience at another top European club. He will gain valuable experience at a team that plays the same brand of football Cruyff implemented all those years ago. Although not being a prolific striker, Cuenca, 21, has shown glimpses of predatory instincts whilst slotting in out wide with consummate ease. With interest from Arsenal in the earlier window Cuenca could be forgiven for attempting to seek pastures new, however his and many other graduates loyalty to Barcelona is something to be admired and he instead decided on a loan move to better his football experience to try and eventually make the break through.
A midfielder who has also found his chances limited is Sergi Roberto. The leggy playmaker has made a number of appearances on the bench for the first team but is unable to get into the starting XI. There is no question the midfielder is immensely talented but the difficulty lies within the selection choices of Tito Villanova. It is incredibly difficult to start selecting a 20 year old kid with no experience ahead of a World Cup winner and Ballon D’Or finalist. The problem that will arise from leaving the likes of Sergi Roberto and Thiago Alcantara on the bench for so long is that they may seek to find regular football elsewhere. Like Isaac Cuenca and Pedro, Sergi Roberto and Thiago have continued to wait for their chances however we could see them begin to grow impatient like their predecessors Bojan and Jeffren. Both players had first team experience but could not establish themselves as first team regulars so decided to play their football elsewhere in Europe.
Whilst the old guard at Barcelona are still playing to the exceptional standard that is needed to maintain their superiority in Europe, it will be increasingly more difficult and frustrating for the youngsters to even get a game. The only consolation the academy products will have is that with Xavi and Iniesta getting older, their ability to see out complete seasons will decrease. I have no doubt that the younger generation at Barcelona are more than capable of replacing the prestigious shoes of the current Barcelona XI however their patience will be tested to the limits with Villanova insisting, and rightly so, on the experience at his disposal.
The increasing stature of Barcelona B has seen the academy products have the ability to gain first team experience like that of a loan but within the confines of their own club. The current Barcelona B team sit 6th in the Segunda Division in Spain, giving valuable playing time to not just one or two youngsters, but a whole squad. Gerard Deulofeu is one player who has benefitted from playing at a higher standard than youth team developments games. He has amassed a total of 13 goals so far this season and has seen the 18 year old be touted as one of Barcelona’s brightest stars for the future. He, like many other of the graduates, is able to play both out wide, or in a central role up front giving yet another example of the ability of the youngsters to alternate positions. Adaptability is vital in modern day football and a skill that is inherent in the young guns at Barcelona. The first team appearances for the likes of Isaac Cuenca and Thiago Alcantara have been sporadic yet their experience with the B team has allowed them to not only be played but also be comfortable in undertaking a number of different roles on the pitch.
The future looks bright for Barcelona and there a number of players that could be discussed when talking about the future however the question of whether or not the players are good enough is pointless, the real question should be will these players stay at Barcelona to achieve successful careers. With Alba, Pique and Fabregas being players that have returned to the club after spending their youth career at La Masia, it is clear that the club is infectious. They have all gained first team experience elsewhere before coming back to play in front of Los Cules once again. With buy back clauses often being put into contracts in Spain, it may just be that we see the likes of Cuenca, Sergi Roberto and Thiago all leave Barcelona in favour of first team action, returning after gaining more experience and developing their talents elsewhere, becoming the world beaters that Fabregas, Pique and Alba currently are for the Barcelona first team.