Under a decade ago, Pep Guardiola took the field as he managed what’s considered to be one of football’s greatest squads. Since he took the role of managing Barcelona in the summer of 2008, the Catalans have not only played beautiful football, but they have also won countless trophies in what could be pronounced the golden age of Barcelona and Spanish football. Now, La Blaugrana is struggling and the players aren’t entirely at fault. The incompetence displayed by the board has severely hurt the team, and the suffering doesn’t look like it will end any time soon. Their neglect of La Masia is what I’d like to highlight in this article.
Before I highlight the downfall of La Masia, let’s highlight the success of it. When Pep arrived, La Masia was a priority. Graduates of Barca’s academy were always put first. Some La Masia products over the years include Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets, Puyol, Fabregas, Pique, Thiago Motta, Mikel Arteta, and Thiago Alcantara. These are just some of the well known footballers that came from the Catalan’s youth academy. In fact, Barcelona have even played a game where the starting XI was made up of strictly La Masia products. In having a Spanish manager and deploying a lot of La Masia products, their chemistry and their staying true to their roots made Barcelona’s football not only attractive and successful, but different from the rest. Adopting Cruyff’s philosophy of total football (aka Tiki-Taka football) gave Barcelona unique DNA. In Barcelona’s reign of terror (2009-2015), they have won the Champions League 3 times (2009, 2011, 2015), La Liga every year but 2012 & 2014, and won Copa del Rey 3 times (2009, 2012, 2015). Also, we shouldn’t forget that they’ve won the sextuple in 2009 and were a Spanish SuperCup shy of winning it again in 2015.
In investing in the youth, one’s transfer policy wouldn’t normally consist of spending 40 million euros on someone who has previously put money above club (Paulinho). Now, in saying this, I’m not denouncing spending money for transfers. No club in the world can realistically expect to win trophies without spending money. However, trusting the youth academy’s products eliminates panic buys and other poor decisions from the board. Instead of spending over 100 million on Paulinho, Andre Gomes, Paco Alcácer, Deulofeu, Denis Suarez and Lucas Digne (Deulofeu and Suarez being buy-back options), they could’ve saved money by playing La Masia products like Samper, Denis, Deulofeu (etc.). It’s a real shame to see a man who was once dubbed as the “heir to Busquets’ throne” (Samper) be told that he’s got to find another club because a physical box to box midfielder who doesn’t fit the style of the team has taken his place. Being loaned out/sold with a buyback option as well doesn’t help either. All it does is add to transfer fees that you pay. Within the past couple of years, Munir, Samper, Tello, Montoya, Halilovic, Thiago, Denis, and Bojan have all been loaned out or sold. What makes it worse is that the players being brought in to make up for the departures of La Masia players are not only costly, but incapable of making up for the talent that’s lost.
So, how do the Catalans go about fixing this mess? Clearly it’s not going to happen overnight, nor do I think I have all the answers. However, one step forward into resolving the issues would be having the board go back to managing the club like how it was during their reign of terror. Making La Masia a priority reduces the amount of errors the board could make with poor signings (like Paulinho for 40M to replace Iniesta). On top of that, it builds a sense of togetherness, something that not many clubs can replicate. Just look at Athletic Bilbao for example. So much talent has been produced in the Basque region and their unique transfer policy makes the whole region their academy. Barcelona have been doing the same thing for quite a while now in terms of developing local talent, and the level of talent has only increased over time. However, people will perceive that La Masia is worse because the graduates of more recent years haven’t gotten the same treatment as ex-La Masia players like Xavi, Puyol (etc.)
Barcelona are still a club that you can throw the status “elite” towards. They can still attract some big names if need be, but it’s clear that they’ve regressed since winning the quintuple in 2015. This doesn’t mean that it’s all over for the Catalans and that they can’t see the same success they have had in the past. With that being said, changes do need to be made, and making La Masia a priority is one of them. Will this solve everything wrong with the club? I don’t think so, nor is that expected. It will be a big step forward though, and play a big part in Barcelona’s plan to make themselves the kings of Europe again.