Image: The New La Masia academy opened in 2011. Credit: World Football Weekly. https://worldfootballweekly.com/2014/10/06/lamasia/
Barcelona’s La Masia academy has been an important part of the club’s history. The academy, or farmhouse, as it is sometimes referred to, serves as a living quarters for the best young soccer players, who hope to one day play for the main team.
A new La Masia academy was opened in 2011, but the idea began in 1979. The old Masia was hosted in an old farmstead built in 1702, located next to the Camp Nou. During Enric Llaudet’s presidency of the club in the 1960s, the building underwent remodeling and expansion with the intention to house the club’s headquarters. However, the building ended up being too small with the growth of the club and creation of several new departments, so headquarters were moved. In the early stages of Josep Lluis Nunez’ presidency, he decided to use the building as a residence for the youth players outside the city. It officially opened on October 20, 1979 and served this purpose for 32 years.
On October 20, 2011, the new Masia was opened. According to the Barcelona website, the new building covers nearly 6,000 square meters, or about 64,500 square feet. Three of its five floors are currently used by the academy, with the other two reserved for future plans. The total cost including equipment and labor totaled about 11 million euros, or closer to 12 million dollars. It can host 83 youth athletes, an improvement over the 60 that the old Masia could house. Rooms are available in singles, doubles, or quads, and are housed on the first and second floors. Residents have beds, cupboards, bathrooms, and desks. The ground floor also features a kitchen, self-service dining room, offices, classrooms, and a leisure room. The facade can hold advertisements on the outer wall.
La Masia holds a large cultural significance for Barcelona. Pep Guardiola, now the manager for Manchester City, was perhaps the first major talent developed at the academy. When he became the coach for Barcelona, he built his team around graduates of La Masia, including Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro, and Leo Messi. The main philosophy was that he was a coach who was brought up in the Catalan traditions and youth system and who coached the Barcelona B team before the main team. The players he used on his team were developed in mainly the same way. This led to a common ideology and style between them all. This system proved to be a success as Barcelona won 14 out of a possible 19 trophies during Guardiola’s reign. When Tito Vilanova stepped into the job in 2012, he continued the trend. Barcelona even set a record, at one point having 11 academy players all appearing together on the pitch on November 25, 2012. They played for over an hour as Barcelona captured a 4-0 win over Levante. This was certainly a high point for La Masia and Barcelona. A team that prided itself on talent developed right at home was dominating as a result of this system. Things would change not too far into the future, however.
After Barcelona was banned from transfers in 2015 for irregularities in the signing of young players, supporters raised a banner at Camp Nou that read, “Don’t touch La Masia!” New manager Luis Enrique has generally stayed away from using players from La Masia, with the exception of Rafinha, whom he had worked with previously, and Sergi Roberto who was already on the team when he arrived. Last summer, he let the highly rated Sergi Samper leave on loan. Munir El Haddadi also left. Both players had come through La Masia, but Enrique instead signed Andre Gomes and Paco Alcacer. This move went against the typical strategy for Barcelona.
Another main difference has been the size of the players. Former coaches Laureano Ruiz and Johan Cruyff emphasized very skilled and technical players while not worrying much about size. This included players such as Guardiola, Xavi, and Iniesta. A former coach at La Masia, who wished to remain anonymous, said “They always wanted us to have the best players, not the strongest ones.” Now, Enrique seems to care about size and muscle just as much as technique with the midfield, especially in the absence of Iniesta and Busquets. Whereas the former La Masia coach and Cruyff “taught players to compete, to respect fair play, and finally to win,” emphasizing how they played, Luis Enrique emphasizes results. Therefore, players brought up with the former mindset, such as Iniesta, Busquets, Pique, and Messi, now have different ideas than the current hopefuls at La Masia. They now look for strong players. The former coach even went as far to say, “Barca B play to win and they do so with footballers who aren’t at the age of players in development and that is cheating.” Only 12 of the 21 players on the B team are eligible for an under-21 national team. Two are above 25.
Under Enrique, while the midfield has become more direct, it has also struggled. Enrique favors the idea of scoring a goal with just two passes if possible. The anonymous former coach, while he somewhat agrees, was more critical, believing it’s a tactic that causes turnovers 90 percent of the time. With the decline of the midfield, largely since Xavi’s departure, the team relies heavily on Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar. Messi, a player who benefited from the talented midfield composed of La Masia talents, is now carrying the team and trying to cover holes in Barcelona’s play. Luis Enrique has admitted how lucky Barcelona is to have Messi, hoping they can depend on him “for many more years.” That would sure be nice, but that brings up a big issue. There is no Messi at La Masia, nor another Xavi. The unnamed former coach expressed disappointment at how La Masia shames smaller players nowadays. Barcelona seems to be forgetting what made them unique. This uniqueness also made them great.
So what is the future of La Masia? Well, Pique, Iniesta, and Messi will all be over 30 by the start of next season. Sporting director Robert Fernandez believes up to five players at La Masia can reach the main team within two to three seasons. The Juvenil A side, for players under 19, will be playing the UEFA Youth League semifinals today. Barcelona won the first Youth League in 2014. However, only 5 of those players are still on the team. These players are now in their early 20s and playing for B teams.
Nobody can say for sure what the future of La Masia is, but with the goal of putting emphasis on development over winning, Barcelona hopes to create the next superstars. On Monday, they will try and become the second team to win the Youth League twice since its inauguration after Chelsea won in both 2015 and 2016. The win could come against Madrid in a type of “Mini-Clasico,” but any success in the tournament should help ease the minds of Barcelona fans.