FC Barcelona is one of the most successful football clubs of all time and arguably currently the best team in the world. Although they bring in some of their best players like Neymar or Ronaldhino from other professional teams, the club credits its success to its prolific youth development academy, affectionately called “La Masia” (The Farmhouse). Barcelona scouts select the best young talent from around the world, some as early as 6 years of age. Although they have academies and scouts around the world, the focus of the program is on Catalonia and Spain as a whole. Out of the many scouts employed by the club, most operate in Spain with a special emphasis on recruiting in Catalonia.
Most major professional football clubs in Europe have youth development programs, however, none is as successful as Barcelona’s. Alumni of the program are playing, or have played, at some of the top clubs in the world. The true strength of the program, however, is its direct impact on Barcelona’s first team. Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabrigas, and Xavi Hernandez have made major contributions to the team and its recent success. In fact in 2012, 16 out of the 24 first team members were products of La Masia. In one game that season, every single Barcelona player on the field was trained in the academy.
Many other top clubs around the world have extensive youth academy programs, but none have been as successful at producing consistently talented and loyal footballers. Although there are many factors at play, one of the main reasons for this is how La Masia is treated within the club as a whole. Rather than basing the structure of the academy on the first adult team, Barcelona flips the equation. The structure and philosophies instilled in the academy come to define the first team. This system has created a club with a strong and unified philosophy and structure unmatched by any other club in Europe and around the world.
Barcelona FC proudly proclaims in its slogan that it is more than a club. It is an institution in the region. More than just being wildly successful as a football team, it has been a symbol of Catalonian pride for decades. In the same way, for the players that are produced by La Masia, Barcelona is more than just a club. Iniesta was recruited into the academy when he was only twelve years old. He left his home town and his parents to live in the dormitory in Barcelona. From that age, he was raised on Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka style of football. This story is not unique to Iniesta. This is how the system is organized, and it breeds some of the best footballers in the world. One of the other main effects is that it produces loyal footballers. Of the top professional footballers that La Masia has produced, a large number have played on Barcelona’s first team. Two of Barcelona’s best players, Iniesta and Messi have never played for another professional team. These players are raised by Barcelona coaches according to the Barcelona system with their fellow Barcelona teammates. By taking the recruits away from their families and placing them in dormitories, the academy and the football club as a whole becomes like a home to them, and the coaches and their teammates become their family.
“Eleven La Masia graduates feature for Barça,” FC Barcelona. Last modified November 25, 2012, accessed February 28, 2016, http://www.fcbarcelona.com/football/first-team/detail/article/eleven-la-masia-graduates-on-the-pitch.
“Iniesta graduates from cameo role to take centre stage at Barcelona,” The Guardian. Last modified May 23, 2009, accessed February 29, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/football/2009/may/24/andres-iniesta-champions-league-barcelona-manchester-united.
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