Oh, La Masia. The glory of European football. Where young talents are nurtured to be the best in the world. Where some of the best, have found their worth and made it happen. But it doesn’t seem to be the same anymore. It seems as if their downfall is rolling fast, and might turn into a full-fledged avalanche.
Messi, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Thiago, Reina. The list is long, and the quality is unmeasurable. It has so much to do with the quality of attacking football, mixed with the typical Catalan style of play and the special attention given to their tactical awareness is what makes them the best graduates in the world.
However, there has been a dearth of quality players rising from La Masia over the recent past. The last permanent first-team player for the Catalan club was Sergio Busquets, but almost all of them after the Class of 08′ have been sidelined regularly. This might have a lot to do with the quality already present in the club, but that was never the case previously either. With players like Ronaldinho playing when Messi made his baby steps at Barcelona’s first team, he soon fought and created his own place. Even if everyone ain’t Messi, they aren’t trying hard enough.
This is apparent when we look at Barcelona B, which is understood to be the team where Barcelona reserve players play, and their performances in the B team would decide their future for their first team. The club, though finished 22nd of the 22 teams playing in the second tier and have been relegated to the third tier. Even the youth squad have been under-performing, achieving fourth spot. Let’s not forget that just last year, they had won the UEFA Youth League, and now they are 18 points behind local rivals Espanyol.
The problem, as thought so by the club management, is the lack of the player’s attitude towards the game. They believe it’s the lack of ambition and the will to train harder, that pulls them down. But that, obviously, can’t be the only reason why the club hasn’t had success.
The problem lies in the coordination between the first and the reserves team. With the changing managers, the ideology has been changing, ever so minutely. But the repercussions of the changes have been felt at lower levels. Like when Pep Guardiola was the manager, he used to play the youth players more often. This is apparent from the fact that he was responsible for 28 players being given a debut chance under his managing the team.
When he left the club, Tito Villanova hardly used youth players, who were abundant and were at his disposition. Then came Tata Martino, who was believed to be the best possible candidate for the job. But then, even he failed to play the younger generation of players. He even went on to ban players from La Masia from training with the first team, a practice which had been going on for long.
Under Luis Enrique, La Masia was an organized bunch. He ensured the players are disciplined, and the focus of quality of players was not dependent on the requirement of the first team. Montoya, Bartra, Giovvani dos Santos are just some of them. When Eusebio became the new youth manager, the focus changed from all-round development to being result-oriented. This neither helped in improving the quality or getting better results, and they are stuck deep.
The situation has changed from the time of Johan Cryuff when the typical 3-4-3 formation was the driving force, and the practices of the first team were taught at La Masia. This ensured little to zero adjustment time when trying to fit into the new team.
The days are going from bad to worse for the Catalan youth. A manager who doesn’t pay enough attention to the youth squad, and a falling youth system, on the whole, means even the little chance of a quality player would go unnoticed. This has led to the club preferring players from abroad, rather than their own. The “cantera vs. cartera” philosophy is dying out, much to the disappointment of the fans.
It is not that the club lacks talent of any sort. With players like El Haddadi, Adama Traore and Alen Halilovic, one can say the club has a bright future. But that is all in the future, and subjective to whether Barcelona changes it’s stance and reverts back to it’s former glory. It’s a decision which might decide their future, and what they stand for.