Patrick Kluivert – From the wonderkid in Ajax to the visionary for FC Barcelona
The reasons for optimism, as usual, comes from La Masia, Patrick Kluivert and the whole academy setup. Being part of arguably the greatest ever European club team, Ajax 1994-95, Patrick Kluivert has undoubtedly the knowledge, experience and know-how when it comes to developing young talent and establishing that talent in the first team.
In that Ajax team, Patrick Kluivert had that role of a youngster, coming off the bench to score the winner in the Champions League final. That year Ajax beat AC Milan three times, the same AC Milan that destroyed Barcelona in Athens in 1994 Champions League final, and went on to three Champions League finals in a row between 1993 and 1995.
When appointed as head of youth development for FC Barcelona on 27 July 2019, Patrick Kluivert was the key to the moves in the academy that followed – Ansu Fati signed a new contract, and Barcelona bought Pedri.
It is easy for me to suggest that this man knows quite a bit about football and that’s not only on paper. The moves he made seemed like we’re part of a more significant project than a win on the field. I am going to share the quote he gave in the interview when presented as the head of youth football. “I grew up at the Ajax academy, which is very similar to La Masía, and I think I can do a lot for the development of young Barça players. It’s essential for the first team to have home-grown young players.”
Barcelona’s Golden Generation
Barcelona, very similar to Ajax, has always been somewhat of a different club. We could build a line-up entirely with players from the academy during the most successful period for the clubs, not only players that were waiting for their chance but already regulars for the first team. The two images are images from Champions League Semi-Finals in 2012 and 2013.
The home-grown talent in all those semi-finals is mind-blowing. In 2009 there are six players from the academy in the starting line up. In 2012 and 2013 there are nine players from the academy in the starting line-up.
The foundation was there. The Golden generation could’ve been used not only for their on-field production but as a bridge for the new talent. That never happened. Heavy investment followed and the success of the treble in 2015 blinded everybody. From the top of the club, right down to the bottom. Everybody was happy. Spending big money was the new way, but in reality, money was never the path to sustained success. Ask the people in Madrid that are still reminiscing about that 3 in a row and hoping against hope their team can be competitive in Europe, again.
La Masia talents or money spent well?
Being the most expensive academy to run costing over 5 million per year and the natural expectations for promising talents coming from the B team increased even more. The departure of Guardiola and the established method of promotion through the academy ranks with three stages of development ending in the potential captaincy of the Barcelona B team deemed not sufficient and cosmic spending followed shortly. That is a graph illustrating the spending habits during his tenure at the club on transfer fees in millions of euros.
We can understand that the club spent, but also tried to integrate players from the B team with likes of Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara, Isaac Cuenca, Jeffren and trying to give them more opportunities to perform with the first team. But enough with the Guardiola regime.
After his departure, the talent was starting to come up. In the next three years, Barcelona promoted Cristian Tello, Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, Rafinha, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Deulofeu. All of them in the team and most got a chance of playing games, even in the Treble years. All of them have combined 231 starts for the club, besides Sergi Roberto who has 210 starts alone.
However, instead of trying to stick with those players and give a chance to them to develop their full potential while you were winning, the era of the big showboating and excessive spending arrived, and the megalomaniac tendencies of essential people in the football club showed up. The graph below shows the total spend on transfers and net spend in millions of euros after the Guardiola era.
Please do not bring the renovation of Nou Camp as an excuse for the debt accumulated by the club. Arsenal was in a similar situation when they moved to the Emirates Stadium in 2006. With the total cost of 430 million, most of the funds generated by the club through sponsors, merchandise etc. were supposed to go for the repayment of the loan. They had to evaluate their priorities in order to stay relevant and still manage to repay the stadium loan. Their net spends in the following ten years of opening are detailed below, all under Arsene Wenger.
Statements about La Masia
Joan Laporta is bragging about his relationships with agents, potential transfer targets, empty words about the academy. He can try to save the club some money and give a chance to La Masia talent, rather than buy them in 4-5 years for millions of euros and brag how good La Masia is and spend money because you were wrong not to give them a chance. For many years now the academy is used against the club instead of benefiting it.
Key players like Pique, Fabregas and Jordi Alba were all let go by the club academy and then transferred back to FC Barcelona. That is not a sign of a well-run football club. These moves show the lack of clear vision, stability and leaders in the club. FC Barcelona has been reactive to outside noise and distractions rather than being proactive and follow their plan. FC Barcelona turned its back on the fans, on its values and beliefs.
Not smart run business usually have this in common. Every time those businesses make a poor decision, they will give it extra time and effort to prove it was not that bad. That was their idea, and it didn’t work out. Their ego is hurt.
FC Barcelona structure and future talents
The structure of the club seems fragmented beyond belief. If you swap “FC Barcelona” for “company” and “players” for “staff” the club looks way more like a poorly run business than anything close to the “more than a club” motto. Pedri and Ansu Fati both come along when the club is leaderless plus every defeat on the field feels like a nail in the coffin. The darkest hour of Barcelona history is still fresh in the memory and the presidential elections just weeks away now.
Worryingly the candidates are trying to throw statements in public and hope the fans will get excited about Haaland, Mbappe and whoever else you want to throw in that mix of players, while the transfer policy for the past 10-12 years puts you in debt and the desire to shine off the field meant neglecting the very one thing that gave you all that glory around Europe.
The future of La Masia talents is bright. Unfortunately, that future may not be in FC Barcelona.