In the past several years, Barcelona have experienced another successful period of football, extending a dynasty that has been taking shape since the years of Frank Rijkaard. While one would be hard pressed to deny Barcelona’s successes, one portion of their current footballing philosophy has dropped off in recent years, something that made them so successful in the first place… their ability to raise players from their famous academy, La Masia and produce first-team stars with class, ability, and the Barcelona system ingrained in their veins.
In one match during Tito Vilanova’s time in charge of the first team, Barcelona fielded a “La Masia Starting XI”, eleven players on the pitch all who had been raised in the renowned academy. Now, with the departure of Andres Iniesta, the current starting XI features only three players, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique (you can also make the argument for Sergi Roberto, but he is not clear-cut first choice). Over the past several years, one of the dividing topics among fans and pundits alike, was whether or not Barcelona had lost their ability to produce world class players from La Masia and/or their ability to integrate them into the first time.
It was a truly painful moment when Thiago Alcantara was almost forced to leave due to his lack of playing time and has shown his world class abilities since then at Bayern Munich. In addition, several young Barcelona players have been given opportunities to play with the first team sparingly, and have made no concrete steps forward.
But now, it seems Barcelona have uncovered another great talent, a player who has already drawn praise from a legend himself, Xavi, as well as AC Milan gaffer and former player Gattuso. This player is Riqui Puig and he is an 18-year-old center midfielder for the club. At such a young age, he has drawn comparisons for having the touch of Iniesta, but also the poise of Xavi in the midfield. Gattuso called him spectacular.
As we know, Barcelona have had an extremely busy (and successful) transfer season, bringing in two great midfielders in Arthur and Arturo Vidal, but a case has to be made for Puig to be given some sort of chances this year. It is clear that Valverde has a midfield packed with talent again, with the likes of Rakitic, Busquets, even Roberto in addition to his new signings, but by giving an opportunity to Puig, Valverde would be influencing a much bigger picture.
Over the past several years, many Barcelona B stars and La Masia products have been leaving the club due to lack of playing time and no clear way into the first team. By giving Puig the opportunity to play in some games this year, Valverde instills the confidence into the young man while also providing evidence to the fact that La Masia products do have the opportunity to make it into the first team, they just need to prove themselves.
In a time where transfer fees are astronomical and teams are throwing hundreds of millions of dollars for players who have not truly shown their worth, developing players from a team’s academy is something that makes sense not just financially, but also philosophically.
The board will be able to save money for players that are actually worth their fee, youngsters are given the confidence of their gaffer, and in addition, they coming into the first team already have been ingrained with the Barcelona philosophy.
Last year, we saw Valverde not trust another beaming youngster (Carles Alena) as much as many of us would have liked, so here’s hoping he begins to invest in the La Masia youth that all dream of the same thing… Playing in the Nou Camp, with the legends they have been following all their lives. Visca Barca.