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Barcelona’s swoop for De Jong & De Ligt hints at La Masia issues

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The club are being forced to look elsewhere again for their young talent

Ajax v Royal Standard de Liege - UEFA Champions League third round qualifying match Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

The path between Ajax and FCB is a well-trodden and very successful one. Two clubs with the same core values on the pitch, and by and large the players to bring a particular vision of how to play the game to life.

For the Dutch side, though they’ve not quite become a conveyor belt for Barca in terms of the amount of talent that has been offloaded to the Camp Nou, there is a sense that their very best exponents need to move elsewhere to fulfil their early promise.

A shame, but the plain fact is that Eredivisie clubs just can’t compete with their European counterparts.

Justin Kluivert has already moved on to Roma, but has expressed a preference to end up at Barcelona, his ‘dream club.’

Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong appear to be the next two generational talents that will fly the nest, and if rumours are to be believed, Barca could well be their next destination.

At 19 and 21 years of age respectively, the pair have already carved out an international career for themselves, with the former also captaining his club with aplomb.

Those who have watched the Dutch league on a regular basis speak of two players with a maturity beyond their years and a wonderful football brain.

Indeed, it’s easy to comprehend why Barcelona would be interested in the twin talents in the first place - and the feeling is mutual.

Current reserve goalkeeper for the Catalans, Jasper Cillessen, recently noted in an interview that both players would be delighted to continue their footballing education with the Blaugranes.

Other teams, particularly Manchester City, have the money to compete for their signatures, but Barcelona offer something intoxicating for a young player which goes beyond mere remuneration.

With it alleged that De Ligt would be a long term replacement for Gerard Pique and De Jong eventually taking over Sergio Busquets’ mantle, on the face of it at least the club are being pro-active.

Pique and Busi do have some years left yet, but a little competition for places never went amiss.

The one issue that bothers me, however, is that the potential hiring of the pair only succeeds in bringing into sharper focus the lack of first-team standard players coming through at La Masia.

Joan Laporta told me in an interview a few years ago that the academy was one of the pillars of the club and it had to be a priority that the production line kept churning out those players that could, for all intents and purposes, walk straight into the first team.

“We think that the best model is a model that has La Masia, our academy, as a system to make the club sustainable. Not just sportingly, economically as well,” he said.

“I think that it is much better for the club to have La Masia as a pillar of the model of managing the club than to have another system that continues to go to the market.”

Laporta, who was standing for the presidency at the time (2015), has a point, even if Josep Maria Bartomeu was preferred by Cules to take the club forward.

I accept that you can argue that when the club was on the Laporta/Guardiola axis that the stars aligned incredibly well and that Pep just happened to be lucky enough to have all of those academy players at his disposal.

But what’s not in question is that ever since that ‘golden era,’ Barca haven’t brought through anywhere close to enough homegrown talent. Players in their late teens or early twenties who are capable of holding their own at the highest level - consistently.

The current situation has taken roughly 10 years to get to this point, and arguably will take another 10 at least to get back to the model that Johan Cruyff envisaged.

I think every Cule, and I include myself here, would be delighted to see De Jong and De Ligt on the FCB roster... but wouldn’t we be even happier had they come from our own youth development system?