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Is La Masia dead?

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Has the conveyor belt started to fall short?

La Masia - The Heart Of FC Barcelona's Youth System Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

25th November 2012

For the first time in their history, Barça fielded an entire starting XI of La Masia graduates against Levante and cemented the status of their academy as the best in the world—Lionel Messi scored a brace, and Andres Iniesta ended the match with a goal and four assists to his name.

Levante UD v FC Barcelona - La Liga
Barcelona started the game against Levante with 10 academy players, but after the injury to Alves ended up with an entire XI of La Masia graduates.

After Dani Alves got subbed off in the 14th minute due to an injury, Martin Montoya came on for the Brazilian to mark the historic moment with a line-up that went as follows:

Victor Valdes; Martin Montoya, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta; Pedro Rodriguez, Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi.

Barcelona had worked hard to get to that point, and although the XI was under the managership of the late Tito Vilanova, it was arguably his predecessor Pep Guardiola who oversaw the primes of some of the greatest names from the fabled youth academy.

Fast-forward 5 years, and there’s plenty of discussion as to whether or not the academy has lost some of its charm—players who were arguably the future of the club have departed while those who are yet to make their mark in the youth teams find it easier to break in to the XI of another team.

With Mboula being the latest name to depart the Mini Estada and rumours of Seung-Woo Lee considering a move to Dortmund surfacing, the state of the academy is becoming a matter of concern that needs some urgent attention.

To break the story down, we need to understand the “how” before addressing the “why”.

The question one must ask themselves before asking why so many players are leaving, is how Barcelona got to the point of fielding XI players from La Masia in a match.

Barcelona v CA Osasuna - La Liga
The legendary captain appeared 682 times for the Catalans at Youth and Senior levels.

The oldest player from that XI was el capitan Carles Puyol who joined the B team in the summer of ‘96 from Juvenil A, immediately followed by Xavi Hernandez in the summer of ‘97. The duo got promoted to the first team quickly with Xavi making the cut an year earlier than Puyol, in 1999. It was in 2002 that Victor Valdes would earn his promotion alongside Andres Iniesta and 4 more players that very few fans will remember. A couple of years later, Lionel Messi would earn his call-up alongside 3 more players.

In 2005 and 2006, not a single player managed to get promoted. It wasn’t until 2007 that the club oversaw a mass exodus of the squad with 24 players departing the B team; an additional 8 got promoted into the squad, including Pedro Rodriguez, Oier Olazabal (who quickly returned to the B team), Giovani Dos Santos and Bojan Krkic.

Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao - Copa del Rey Final
Bojan Krkic reportedly scored ~900 goals in Barça’s youth set-up.

In 2008, Barcelona B had another small clean up letting go of 13 players. Sergio Busquets was the only one to have made the step up to the Camp Nou, and also happens to be the last big name that has stood the test of time in Barça’s demanding line-up.

One simple look at the club’s transfer activity shows how the quality of players in the B team has massively improved over the years; what many fail to realise is that Barcelona has gotten exponentially better as well. If this were the 90’s, a lot of the players Barcelona has let go of in recent years, would be guaranteed starters—it’s not the 90’s however, and this is not the same Barça.

Times have changed, and times have certainly gotten stranger, with each year holding the expectation of a Treble—something that would have been ridiculous a decade ago.

Barcelona Victory Parade
Barcelona celebrated their second treble under the management of Luis Enrique.

It is a little petulant to criticise the way the club functions today when this has always been the way things have operated. It is easy to forget the tens of players who never made it big in the glamour of a starting XI composed of academy players, which explains the general complaint for a more inclusive academy. However, there are always going to be a number of players who don’t make it big; players like Thiago Alcantara and Alex Grimaldo are exceptions and not norms.

It might seem incompetent on behalf of the club to have gotten rid of such talented players on the cheap but in the long run such players will only be names on sheets with people looking at them and wondering how that one got away; I assure you that it will be easy to spot one name amongst a hundred and that is the irony of it all.

(All data from transfermarkt)