El Mundo Deportivo writer Martí Pernarnau presented a detailed analysis of how in just the past three years, the FC Barcelona youth system has evolved into one that very few can rival in its ability to create talented players capable of slotting into a team that is one of the best in the world. What follows is a translation of the first part of his article. The original can be found here.
20 years ago, Barça had faith in its cantera. The proposal was Cruyff’s, but, curiously, the decision was taken by Núñez, a president that has always been distinguished by his signings of the best world players. Oriol Tort was the soul of the project that two decades later developed some exceptional results. When Louis van Gaal expressed his desire that one day Barça will win the Champions League with eleven home grown players, laughter ran through the Barcelona environment, but that dream is much closer today. In fact, in the Champions League victory in Rome, eight players from La Masía played and two were on the bench. More than half of the spots on the first team today are in the hands of canteranos, so the impossible challenge of Van Gaal is already within reach, especially now that Guardiola has made the decision that the next signings will be from Barça B, at the same time as Wenger just announced that he is running out of patience with the youth…
To Hell and not by chance
May, 2007: Barça B descends into the hell of the Third Division, dragging the ‘C’ team into practical disappearance. It is not by chance, but the result of an erroneous step from all points of view. Barça B is a team without soul, nor future, without concrete and measurable objectives, almost a compromised team for a directive staff that has put all of its interest into the successes of the first team. Pure shortsightedness. The youth system predestined to nurture the club’s figures is now doomed in an infernal division, that of the forgotten. The competitive and developmental conditions are impoverished and the distance from the first team enlarged.
But besides what the relegation meant as a step for the second team, the loss of category underlined the deficiencies in the structure of Barça’s own formative system. The youth team did not sustain itself as a team, but in addition, there had not been sufficient human resources to help avoid the relegation. At a macro-structural level, Barça Atlétic had acquired all of the characteristics of the modest teams, not very competitve and without ambition: an insubstantial, dull, and terminal team whose only tangible objective is to avoid relegation at the end of agonizing seasons.
The youth team lacked a plan. At a micro-structural level, it is a team where the good players barely last. Parameters of measurement that configure the essential route of player formation don’t exist after they reach the end of the juvenile age. Save only those that stand out powerfully, the rest languish in ‘B’ with the hope for an opportunity that never comes. Yes, Rijkaard brought up Messi, Bojan, and Gio Dos Santos, and the ‘Barcelonistas’ seem satisfied with the fruits of the cantera, but in reality, there does not exist a fluid continuity: the youth team is not the official provider for the first team, but only a small shelf to hold the great figures before they make the jump. In addition, external signings proliferate without any real projection, they simply arrive to help save the youth team from relegation and in turn slow down the formative process of the youngest ones, when they cannot afford it. The system and the level of development of the youth club remains portrayed by the relegation to the Third Division: it is antiquated, archaic, confusing, and inadequate system for the reality of the 21st century.
Catharsis and The Plan
One has to do a catharsis, and the directive staff of Laporta understood this. Guardiola arrives and a plan arrives: first, recover the B team; then the Juvenil; only afterwards (less than a month later) the formative teams all the way down to the Benjamín. I’ll explain in detail the plan that Guardiola and his people designed in 2007. As a concept, it is organized into three core themes:
- Logistical setting
- Profile generator
- Technical flowchart
The basic premise of the new plan is that talent is not enough to be competitive. One has to be professional and modernized. La Ciutat Esportiva is key because it allows the players to be encloistered in a professional setting, surrounded by technological resources that will allow them to follow the trainings and trajectories, correcting them and forming them, bringing them closer to the elite levels. A laboratory of I+D to instill the football style in players that are learning what it is to be a professional.
The managers are known: first Guardiola, later Luis Enrique. And finally, then the new changes to the flowchart and coaches to continue taking the ideas born in 2007 to the depth of the organization. Managers chosen because they know how to combine the maximum professional rigor with a close and caring treatment in as a competitive key. Managers that turn into leaders. Leaders that make a concrete contribution in the sportive field.
- Sporting culture
Barça ‘B‘ will not just be a simple transition rung, but will begin to be considered and managed like one more team: young but with the same interest in competing as any other. But not to compete without objectives, but to achieve the maximum: to be champion in their division. And with the highest internal competitiveness: he who sleeps loses his spot because there is always another, including from the juvenil level, who wants to take that spot. In addition, they will achieve this respecting the formative parameters put on them: the youth that learn the trade daily, that are corrected as a group or individually, that are learning strategies, tactics, and behavior both on the field and off.
To be continued. . . .