FC Barcelona looks to establish youth setup with AFC Ajax

Joern Pollex

The loaning of Isaac Cuenca to Ajax makes you wonder why these two philosophy-sharing giants haven't already developed a co-operative youth setup.

Barcelona and Dutch side Ajax have long been linked and it stems from legendary player Johan Cruyff. Cruyff was a star player and manager for both the Blaugrana and de Amsterdammers and the two clubs share a philosophy of establishing an elite youth system to feed the first team. The idea of being self-sustainable and mixing experienced veterans with fresh faces was a system Cruyff set in motion during his time with the Catalan club.

Ajax claims their goal is "to form talented young players into top football players." and if you look at the players they have produced, it appears it is working. Holland greats such as Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Wim Kieft, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert as well as Cruyff himself have all developed from the youth academy.

Cruyff's first management job after hanging up his playing boots was at his beloved Ajax. While in Amsterdam, Cruyff developed the fabled 4-3-3 formation that we see today. Introducing three defenders plus a roaming fourth with a pivot and two controlling midfielders. Followed by two touchline hugging wingers and a central striker. With this style, Cruyff led his young Ajax side to success in the 1987 European Cup Winners' Cup. Which to date remains the club's only success in this competition after the competition was abolished in 1999.

The same free-flowing style was implemented throughout the youth team setup and Ajax continued the conveyer belt which produces players of great quality such as World Cup finalists Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Maarten Stekelenburg.

Arguably Cruyff's greatest achievement during his time at Barcelona, was the establishment of La Masia. Setting aside the European Cup triumph with the "Dream Team" , the creation of La Masia created the opportunity to routinely produce dream teams capable of conquering Europe and the ability for sustained success. The effects are in full flow today with La Masia graduates occupying the majority of the first and second teams.

Jong Ajax and Barcelona B both offer a glimpse what the future of their respective first team holds. Young talent such as Gerard Deulofeu and Jean Marie Dongou represent the future of the Blaugrana while Christian Eriksen and Viktor Fischer are currently breaking onto the Dutch scene, attracting interest from a number of high profile European clubs.

So it seems unusual that two clubs so closely linked have not established a youth partnership until now that benefits both parties. The loaning of FC Barcelona's Isaac Cuenca signals the first move in what will presumably be the start of that partnership and presumably a long partnership between the Dutch and Spanish giants. Sharing youth prospects between clubs is rarely seen at the top of the game. But this system helps to ensure players fulfil their potential.

A similar example in recent years is Luka Modrić's sale to Real Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs agreed on a £33.2 million transfer for the Croatian midfielder, who has yet to find his feet in La Liga. But, more interestingly, the clubs announced a partnership. Full details of this partnership were not disclosed but it is widely believed that the London club now has access to observe Madrid's youth system. It is also rumoured that the partnership means Madrid get first rejection on Gareth Bale, should the Welsh winger decide to leave Tottenham. The chance to view Madrid's youth academy will greatly benefit Spurs as they look to push for progress in the Champions League.

The Barça-Ajax partnership greatly benefits both parties. Players such as Cuenca, who are finding places in the Barcelona first team limited gain valuable playing time in a different culture. An example of this is Cesc Fàbregas, while the midfielder did not leave on loan his time with Arsenal has greatly enhanced his game. He picked up more of an attacking mind-set and his time as club captain developed his leadership skills. When he eventually returned to the Camp Nou the difference showed and combined with his renewed La Masia training, Fàbregas is now one of the team's strongest players.

So far for Ajax, Cuenca has played two games and earned himself an assist in his debut. Cuenca will return to Spain on June 30th and it will be interesting to see if his loan move has been of benefit and if this partnership will be a strong one.


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