Barcelona announced on Tuesday an agreement for the extension of youngster's Sergi Samper contract. The midfielder inks a new deal until 2019, gets a €50 million release clause, and more importantly a promotion to the first team. There are no plans to loan him out or keep him at Barça B. Samper is a first teamer now. Period.
If you consider Samper a "first team signing", there are now four new players on the first team. All of them, ALL OF THEM, are 22 years old or younger. Samuel Umtiti (22), Lucas Digne (22), Denis Suárez (22) and Samper (21) are among the best new prospects in their respective positions, and they're all part of Barça's first team. And it's not like Barça's squad is huge. These kids are part of a 24- or 25-man squad, meaning they will be used. Frequently.
For the longest time, even among the incredibly successful run of titles during Pep Guardiola's era or the current Luis Enrique reign, there has been solid criticism of Barça's transfer policy. New signings were always older players, either at their prime or very close to the end of that. There was very little belief in youth, and the board seemed to be very uninterested in any player below the age of 25, unless that player was Neymar.
Now, all four signings are betting on the youth. Two of those players came through or at least played in the academy, which proves La Masia can still provide great young talent. But it's clear that the youth system won't give us Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets and Messi again anytime soon, so there was a need to look elsewhere, which is why the club went after two great French prospects.
The Summer of Youth can either be a good trend of business or just something the club was obligated to do since the budget is smaller than in previous seasons. In fact, it is kind of incredible that Robert Fernández and his staff added three great prospects for "only" €45 million. You could spend that money on three 28-year-olds with not a lot of future in front of them, or you could buy smart and young. Robert opted for the latter, and it looks like a great idea.
Obviously, betting on youth quality is a big gamble. It's always safe to go with quality and experience, and that's how the current squad was formed. But the current squad isn't getting any younger, and all the experienced players on the market are too expensive. Youth was the way to go in 2016, and that's the decision that was made.
We have to wait and see how Enrique handles his young guns and how their development goes. Patience is an obligation from everybody: fans, the board, the older teammates and the coach himself. These are kids playing for the best team in the world, and that's a world of pressure. Some might take longer than others, but all of them have potential to become special Blaugrana players in the future. Maybe the immediate future.
Signing four players under 22 years of age is a huge gamble, but it's one you need to make at some point. Even the mighty Catalan giants will need renovation, and the first steps have been taken. The Summer of Youth is finally here, and hopefully the summer of 2016 helps Barça continue to dominate until 2026.