The future for FA Barcelona’s youth academy

This post has been prompted by a couple of talking points in the media. The first relates to the Spanish under 21 team’s victory in the recent European Championship. The remarkable fact is that this very talented squad contained not a single player from Barcelona. Almost unheard of in the past.

 

The second point is a bit more long standing and is about the lack of young players from the B team getting promoted to the first team squad. The youth academy, the famous La Masía, was once the pride and joy of Barça, with an apparently never ending production line of some of the best players in the world. Think of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets etc. What, if anything, has gone wrong?

 

As a starting point I have looked at the figures for B team players moving to the first team squad. The period I have chosen for this analysis is from the 2003/04 season to last season, 2018/19. A period of 16 seasons. I chose to start in 2003/04 as this was the beginning of the new Joan Laporta reign in charge of the club and the first season with Frank Rijkaard as coach. during this  period a total of 21 players from the B team were promoted to the first team squad.

 

The following key points emerged:
  1. Only a tiny number of B team players make it to the first team. The average worked out at just over one player per season.
  2. An even smaller number of B team players go on to become first team regulars. I define this as someone who plays around 65% of matches for more than two seasons. Over the 16 year cycle only five of the B team players promoted to the first team became regular players for more than two seasons.
  3. Apart from Thiago Motta and Thiago Alcántara, no other potential first team regulars have left the club. This refers to players who went directly from the B team to the first team.
  4. None of the other former B team players has gone on to play for a team of similar standing to FC Barcelona.
  5. There has been a very noticeable drop in the number of B team players who have gone on to become first team regulars. Since the arrival of Pedro and Busquets in 2008, only one other B team player has become a first team regular. This is Sergi Roberto who was promoted to the first team back in 2013, and became a regular in the 2015/16 season.
The last point is probably the most relevant as to why there are serious questions about the youth academy (La Masía) and B team at Barcelona. One success in 10 years is poor reward. So what may have caused this lack of success?
  1. In 2014 FIFA imposed a two period transfer ban on Barcelona, preventing them from signing new players. This was in response to the club being found guilty of breaching FIFA’s rules on the transfer of players aged under 18. As a result of this decision Barcelona lost a significant number of talented juvenile players. Some of whom may have gone on to reach the first team squad.
  1. The FIFA ban may also have had an adverse effect on the club’s scouting system. Certainly for a spell afterwards Barcelona did not manage to sign any of the up and coming talent in Spain or elsewhere. Which perhaps explains why not a single Barça player made the recent under 21 squad.
Looking Ahead
Last season one player from the B team did get promoted to the first team – Carles Aleñá. He missed the first half of the season through injury, but has played well when required, and will continue with the first team for this season. Will he make it to a third?

 

Will anyone get promoted for the coming season? The most likely is Riqui Puig, who is regarded as probably the most gifted youngest to emerge for many a year. He has already played a few times for the first team, and his class is there to see. An attacking, creative midfielder, he faces stiff competition to secure a place. As does Aleñá, who is also an attacking creative midfielder.

 

Another name that has been mentioned is centre forward Abel Ruiz. He may be the natural successor to Luis Suárez, if the club decide not to buy in a replacement. May have to wait a year yet.

 

Abel Ruiz is one of no less than six Barça players who are in the Spanish under 19 squad for the upcoming European Championship. A further two players in the squad are former Barcelona players who recently left the club to sign for Manchester City and Dortmund respectively.  This may be a clear sign that La Masía has begun to recapture its former glory.

 

The one major cloud on the horizon is the risk of losing players when still juveniles. The last two seasons has seen five teenagers leave the club to try and improve their chances of first team football elsewhere. In part this is a reflection of how difficult it is to break into the Barça first team squad, let alone become a regular first team player. Only time will tell if those who have left succeed.
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