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In the collective imagination, La Masia is often considered the best training center in the world. And it is quite justified. In elite infrastructures, with more than qualified trainers, the youngsters of FC Barcelona grow up in an ideal environment to train as players and as humans. In the four corners of the Old Continent and even at Barça, players who launched their careers in the prestigious center of Ciudad Condal shine every weekend. La Masia welcomes around 80 boarders every year, generally young people who are at least 12 years old and come from other Spanish regions or even other countries. Not all the players from Barça’s lower teams live there year-round, contrary to what one might think. The Catalan kids usually spend the day at the centre, but return home in taxis chartered by the club in the afternoon. Be that as it may, once this little technical point has been clarified, all the kids have the same dream: to start with the club’s first team. But places are expensive, very expensive. In total, there are only 194 players who have passed through the Blaugrana training center who have managed to defend the Barcelona colors as a pro. And many of them only have a few appearances here and there. As you will have understood, it is extremely difficult to become the new Messi, the new Pique or the new Xavi.
In a context as publicized as that of FC Barcelona, with an incredible number of media and newspapers which follow the news of the club, the most promising young people are very quickly publicized. It should be noted, moreover, that these are not always those who have had the most buzz who have been successful over time. Far from it. In recent years, a lot of players from the Catalan formation had this label of future star, but many were disappointed. From there to talk about flops? Here too, it is necessary to put things into perspective. Each case is different, of course. Players of the caliber of Gerard Deulofeu, arguably the most talented attacking player to come out of La Masia since Messi for many, have failed to shine at Barcelona but have brilliant careers away from Camp Nou and La Masia. In addition to the Udinese star, we can also mention the names of Alejandro Grimaldo, André Onana, Thiago Alcantara or even Sergi Roberto. Others, a little less publicized at the time, also managed to lead a completely honorable career by playing in good clubs, like Adama Traoré, Christian Tello, Marc Bartra, Munir El Haddadi or Keita Balde.
Who says La Masia says premium?
But for a Gavi, a Pedro, a Dani Olmo, a Sergio Gomez, or a Puyol, there are a lot of failures behind. Bojan, who was also promised a future à la Messi, is a good example of this, with a very unstable career, having certainly evolved in some nice clubs like Ajax or Milan, but never succeeding in imposing himself and stay for the duration. Also in Japan, we find Sergi Samper, who was called upon to take over from Sergio Busquets. And what about Gai Assulin… Some players considered nuggets haven’t even had the opportunity to touch the top level. We think in particular of the Frenchman Théo Chendri, who played with all the young teams of France up to the U19s included, and who never managed to play at a high level. At the age of 25, he is currently without a club after leaving Badajoz, a Spanish D3 club. Similar case for Jean Marie Dongou, considered the future Eto’o at the time and coming from elsewhere from the foundation of the Cameroonian striker. He too is unemployed after terminating his contract with Anagennisi Karditsas in Greek D2. During his career, he multiplied the clubs, mainly in the lower Spanish divisions, not imposing himself anywhere. His compatriot Lionel Enguene, also arrived very young in Barcelona via the Eto’o foundation, who even went through Kuwait or Georgia, and who has been without a club since last summer. Maxi Rolón, who died last May at the age of 27, had been without a club since 2021 and his departure from the Iraqi championship, when a few years earlier he was considered one of the biggest hopes in Argentine football. And the list of players in a similar scenario is long and could fill several articles…
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How to explain that so many players who have floated during their time at La Masia fail to explode at the highest level? There are many factors that can explain this phenomenon, which is ultimately found in many big European clubs. As mentioned above, the overmediatization of Barça is one of the main elements to highlight. Even the youth teams are watched closely by reporters and the media, so kids are regularly featured in local newspapers. In Spain, some U12 tournaments are even broadcast free-to-air on television and attract hundreds of thousands of viewers each time! All this therefore contributes to the over-exposure of players from an early age, and those who manage to shine become known very quickly, creating enormous hopes and expectations around them. All this, with this desire and this anxiety of the entire media and social environment around the club to find the new nugget, the new Messi. Even more in a club like Barça, where the training center is also important. A media phenomenon that is not found in clubs a little less upscale, where young players evolve in a context that is a little more private and discreet. We can imagine that we would never have heard of some of the players mentioned above if they had trained in a mid-table club. Clearly, some kids are therefore overrated – in the first sense of the term – and seen more beautiful than they really are due to playing at Barça and its media machine. The Masia label also contributes to this over-valuation of young people for the general public, since naturally, we will tend to think that a young person from Barça is better than a young person from Levante or Eibar, to name two random examples.
Easy to shine among young people?
Is this early exposure negative for a player’s development? Opinions are rather divided on this subject. Some feel it’s added pressure on the shoulders of teenagers who clearly don’t need it. Some may also take the melon as they say. On the other hand, others believe that the best players know how to resist this media frenzy even when they are young. Especially at Barça, where the young shoots are particularly brooded, in a bubble, and have trainers and psychologists who follow them on a daily basis. But beyond the mental aspect, it is above all on the footballing level that there are many arguments to explain the number of fiascos resulting from the Barcelona team. First of all, you should know that until the U19s, in addition to certain tournaments such as the recently created Youth League, the Barcelonans play championships against teams from their region. Catalonia in this case. And the level is very heterogeneous. If the young people of Barça have a life of practically professional players, training in quality infrastructures, with trainers who concoct high-level individual and collective training sessions for them, they regularly face amateur clubs with very little means, where young people have a “normal” life, going to school and training only two or three times a week. It is therefore not surprising to see many Barça players walking on the pitch, where the difference in status between the clubs is felt. Especially on a physical level. Once they reach the highest level, where the level is homogenized and where the opponents are also professional, they logically have more difficulty.
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FC Barcelona offers dream conditions, and for players who can’t find a place in the first team, which is nothing to be ashamed of, moving to another club is very difficult to negotiate. Once they have left Barça, where they are pampered, many find themselves on their own, in clubs where the infrastructure, the staff and the various services of doctors, physiotherapists, etc. have nothing to do with what they experienced during their training. For many who dreamed of winning and playing at Camp Nou, it is also a terrible blow to their ego. “If you leave because you weren’t kept, the moral blow is enormous. And it affects us all, the players as well as the family. But you have to think it’s one step back to take two steps forward”entrusted to Report Ruben Gomez, former resident of La Masia and brother of Sergio, Manchester City player. “When you see that you’ve been good for so many years, many think they’re going to play in the first team, but the reality is different, it’s complicated. When you leave the Barça bubble, either you are mentally strong and you keep a cool head, or the slap can be terrible., confided to the media Aleix Pique, the agent of Marc Cucurella. If the two players in question have negotiated their departure from Barça well and are playing with English leaders, the majority have a lot of trouble recovering from it…
An outdated model?
Contrary to what happens elsewhere, La Masia is not intended to be a financial lever for Barça. The objective is to bring out operational players for the first team, and not necessarily to sell players from the academy to bail out the coffers. From their first steps at the academy, young people are trained following a very specific model, in order to facilitate their progress within the youth teams and possibly adapt very quickly to the game of the first team. The cliché of the player from La Masia is that of a very technical player, small in size and rather comfortable in a game that favors possession of the ball. Almost the opposite of fashionable football today, more based on a very direct game, and where players are asked to have great athletic qualities. This may also be one of the keys to why many players struggle away from Barca. Of course, really talented players will manage to adapt, like Thiago Alcantara, but for those who don’t have as many facilities, it’s necessarily more difficult. And it was already the case before, where many players struggled when they arrived in a team with a game plan very different from the one they knew during their formation.
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Finally, the Masia label is heavy. If it is not particularly difficult to wear when you are still at Barça because of the work of Barcelona trainers with young people as explained above, it is quite different once you arrive at another club. Expectations around players coming from Barça are enormous, and add extra weight to the full bag of players, who already generally have trouble coping with their departure and adapting elsewhere. Many are also considered ‘flops’ for simply leaving Barça, even if they bounce back to top division clubs, and that’s also difficult to deal with in terms of self-esteem. . Just like going from a victorious team that crushes everything up to the U19s to a team that wins little is complicated to live with. They say that winning is a drug, and we can say it, the youngsters trained at La Masia logically become addicted to it. When they join mid or bottom teams in the pro world, the return to earth is hard. More than a question of level of players trained at La Masia, it is a question of context which causes certain failures noticed. But nothing that calls into question the quality of Barcelona training, which remains exceptional.