La Masia has been a pioneer in developing young talents and the above were the three words that made up the mantra of Futbol Club Barcelona. The golden era of this club was under Pep Guardiola, winning the La Liga thrice, the Copa Del Rey twice, the Supercopa de España thrice, the FIFA Club World Cup twice, the UEFA Super Cup twice and most importantly, the Champions League twice.
He also achieved the incredible feat of winning six trophies in a season with a club, which hasn’t been achieved before. The players that contributed the most to the entire trophy haul over his tenure were Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets. These four players had 1 thing in common:
They were developed in La Masia.
La Masia is FC Barcelona’s youth development academy, who develop a stream of talents achieving great things all over the world. La Masia was one of the greatest academies in the footballing world, developing great talents as we saw above. Other players from the academy were Cesc Fabregas, Pep Guardiola, Carles Puyol, Thiago Alcantara, Gerard Pique, Guillermo Amor and so on.
In the year 2010, La Masia was the first and only youth academy to have all three contenders for the Ballon D’Or to be from the same academy. In 2012, Tito Villanova became the First manager ever to set a team full of La Masia products: Valdés, Montoya, Piqué, Puyol, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro and Fabregas.
Now, the sad state of the academy is that there is very little youth playing in the team. Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig were two of the only Barca B graduates to play consistent minutes for the last season.
We will look at how La Masia has declined in status and why.
The ‘Winning’ Mentality
Since the increased commercialisation and increased fanbase of the club from all around the world, there has been an increase in expectation for the club for every season. Major parts of the fanbase believe that Barcelona should be winning the treble every season.
After the successes of the Guardiola era, anything less than two trophies a season is seen as a failure. So, there is very little room for actual player development at this scale. This is mainly due to managers not trusting younger players to turn up in the games of major importance in all competitions.
The solution to this is simply shifting the expectations of achievements and allowing the development of youth to prosper as a long-term solution instead of immediate, short-term results. Like Johan Cruyff famously said:
“We must be patient and we must focus on developing good players and good people.” – Johan Cruyff”
Cruyff’s main legacy of playing football was more of ‘how’ the football was played than ‘how much’ was won. That ideology has been diminished to simply winning over youth development and maintaining the identity that Barcelona and La Masia stand for.
The failure of ‘La Masia 360.’
This is one of the more under-recognized facets of the failures of La Masia in recent years. The idea sowed by Bartomeu in the year 2016 was actually an excellent one. In this plan, Barcelona set to advance the studies of the academy students, increasing the budget to increase the number of coaches and give them better contracts, and most importantly, give them psychological help.
This project was entrusted with Albert Soler, who was the Secretary of State for Sport in Spain. This is where the first problem started. At the time, Pep Segura was the director of the Under 19s and Barcelona B and wasn’t happy with the appointment of Soler.
The implementation of the program was the problem with La Masia 360. The club spent around €900,000 on a very comprehensive psychological service packaged by Eduvic, a leading cooperative with experience in the field.
However, the players simply are giving answers that the experts expect instead of actually going through with the program, mainly due to the excessive load of training and school-work on them. Some facilities have been problematic as well. Academy players have lost rooms like their entertainment room to offices and the gyms and swimming tracks did not work.
The food for the academy has been sub-par to the nutritional standards as well, with all the levels of the club from the main team to the U9s getting their food from Sodexo, a company that provides food even to prisons in the United States. While the first team have no complaints, it’s the teenagers that aim to play in the elite competitions that eat subpar food nutritionally.
Fixing the problems of La Masia, while time taking, is not a difficult one.
- Firstly, Barcelona should look to hire better services for food as we indicated above. Sodexo simply is not cutting it as a quality food provider. One of the most important parts of player development is nutrition, and succeeding in that regard should be an important goal.
- The ‘Barca DNA’ is important to instil in coaches themselves. In a team like FC Barcelona that is built on the ideologies of ‘Juego De Posicion’, it is important to nail the coaches down to courses teaching this ideology and other important training methods, especially to integrate data into learning.
The problems of FC Barcelona’s La Masia run deeper than the people know. The situation there seems political and aggressive towards breaking down whatever Laporta achieved with the club a few years ago. Unless the deep-seated problems that plague the academy are resolved, FC Barcelona’s youth academy is in huge trouble