La Masia is the name of FC Barcelona’s famed football training facilities located near the Camp Nou stadium. Barcelona’s youth academy is home to more than 300 young players, and since 2002 has been lauded as one of the best in the world, having been a significant factor in FC Barcelona’s European success, as well as contributing to the Spanish national team’s triumphs at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
In the 14th minute of Barcelona’s match against Levante on 25 November 2012, Martin Montoya replaced Dani Alves to complete one of the greatest moments in Barcelona’s history. For the first time ever, the entire first team was made up of players who had gone through the ranks of the club’s academy.
Four years later, there are 16 ‘home-grown’ players in the first team, but La Masia has now exported players all around the world.
Let’s take a look the Top 11 La Masia alumni playing away from home.
The Blaugrana established themselves as a dominant club in world football due to their famous tiki-taka. It is a style of play characterized by short passes and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession. The style is primarily associated with the era of manager Pep Guardiola. Its development and influence however goes back to Johan Cruyff’s tenure as manager in the early 1990s all the way to the present.
Tiki-taka will be the basis for our team as well, for which we have chosen the 4-3-3 formation that Luis Enrique inherited from his predecessors.
We needed a goalkeeper who is prepared to be an active part of possession dominance, who can deliver steady passes but who is reliable when it comes to counter-attacks. Victor Valdes is our first choice. He spent most of his professional career with FC Barcelona, and is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the club’s history, having appeared in 535 official games for the club and winning 21 major titles. Valdes decided not renew his contract after 12 years in the first team and later signed for Manchester United. After a disappointing spell at United, the 34-year-old goalkeeper moved to Belgian side Standard Liege on loan until the end of the season.
Maybe it’s related to Barcelona’s offensive style of play, but in recent years only a few quality defenders graduated through La Masia. Marc Bartra, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba are still at the club, so we needed to go with Martin Montoya (Inter), Alberto Botia (Olympiacos), Andreu Fontas (Celta) and Marc Muniesa (Stoke City).
Having so little to choose from in the back means that our defenders don’t have the attacking flair you would expect from a Barcelona-grown team.
Only Montoya possesses the ability to produce constant bursts forward. The Spanish fullback spent four years at the Camp Nou as an understudy to Dani Alves, before he was loaned to Internazionale last summer.
Further up the pitch, Xavi, Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas form the famous triangle in midfield. As you can see, every player is immensely gifted technically, as this is a prerequisite for possession-style play. The thought behind the selection was the level of their passing ability and creativity.
When he was 11 years old, Xavi came through Barcelona’s youth academy La Masia. More than 24 years and 750 matches later he is known as one of the best midfielders ever. His greatest ability is to find open space for his teammates and his world class ball control allows him to dictate the flow of play. Throughout his whole career Xavi has had more than 80% of successful passes and rarely lost possession.
“That’s what I do – look for space. All day. I’m always looking. I get the ball, I give the ball, I get the ball, I give the ball.”
The legend from Terrassa is now member of Al Sadd and one of the ambassadors for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. However, he was much more at Barcelona – a professor and role model for Cesc and Thiago, the two playmakers who weren’t able to find their luck at the Camp Nou.
On the wings, Chelsea’s Pedro Rodriguez and Bojan Krkic from Stoke City are capable of changing the rhythm of the game in any moment. They are both players who possess an amazing amount of pace but they can also assist with lovely balls that cut through opponents’ defenses. Their main target will be central striker Mauro Icardi, another member of Inter’s Nerazzurri. It is little known that the Argentinian spent three years at La Masia, so he knows the system and he can certainly bring stamina to the front line.
When it comes to defending, the whole team is focused on regaining possession. The first line of defense are the three forwards. They start pressing the back line so that they don’t have too much time and space to build up their attack. The players in all three lines of formation (defense, midfield and attack) stay compact and prevent empty spaces from being created. For instance, if Pedro rushes out to the opponent’s right-back, Icardi and Krkic take on the centerbacks, so that the right-back’s only realistic option is to switch sides or pass back to the goalkeeper, and you never want your fullback to make many of those passes.
That’s not all, we have seven substitutes for our La Masia export team – Pepe Reina, Mikel Arteta, Thiago Motta, Giovani Dos Santos, Cristian Tello, Gerard Deulofeu and Antonio Sanabria.
Is there somebody missing from our Top 11 La Masia ‘away’ team? Share your thoughts in the comments below.