Gràcies Pep, Part 2: Xavi Torres, Muniesa and Botía

Gràcies Pep, Part 2: Xavi Torres, Muniesa and Botía

We are all extremely thankful to Josep Guardiola i Sala, a man that changed and achieved so much at our club. But there is one group of people that might be a little more thankful than anyone else, a group of people whose lives and careers took a new turn when Josep Guardiola decided to let them make their debut for FC Barcelona. During his four years as coach of our beloved club, Pep gave no less than 22 youth team players their chance to make the dream of debuting for Fútbol Club Barcelona a reality. Five of these players also made their B team debuts under Pep.

Twenty-two players in four years is a large number, and it means many changed lives. In this series, I will take a look at all 22 of these players, examine their career trajectories and how Pep and the chance to debut in the first team impacted their footballing careers and their lives.

After covering Busquets and Thiago in the last post, it’s time to continue our examination of the players who debuted under Josep Guardiola. In this post, we’ll look at Xavi Torres, who captained Guardiola’s first squad with Barça B; Marc Muniesa, another captain whose football career looks bright, despite an early obstacle which almost finished his playing days before they even began; and Alberto Botía, who went from playing 15 games in the fourth division at 17 to a regular first team player in first division side Sporting Gijon today, thanks to Pep.

THE THIRD
Xavi Torres
Born:  27 November 1986
Date of debut: May 17, 2009
Opponent: RCD Mallorca (away)
Result: 2-1

Competition: La Liga

Xavi Torres started out his footballing career at the age of 8 playing for Villarreal CF, eventually moving on to Alicante in 2006, at the age of 20, where he made his professional debut in Segunda División B. After 36 games and 4 goals for Alicante, Josep Guardiola was impressed. The Barcelona reserve team coach picked up his phone and called Torres, asking if he would like to join FC Barcelona B and be the leader of the team. Even though this meant going down one level to the Tercera División, Xavi Torres did not hesitate in signing for Barçaʼs reserves.

Torres played one season under Josep Guardiola, a man he later described as his “father in football”. Pep showed a lot of trust in Xavi Torres, who played in 33 games and scored 4 goals during their season together. Even though Xavi Torres only played for Barcelona B for two seasons, and only one of those under Pep, it was a time that meant a lot to the player and his footballing career. Looking back on his time at Barcelona, Torres has stated that he has only good memories and that Guardiola taught him a lot, including things that he still thinks about today, like that the ball runs faster than the player. During his second season at Barcelona B, Xavi Torres worked under Luis Enriqué, who also made a great impact on the midfielder.

When Pep signed Xavi Torres for the reserves, his main objective was to have a stable and experienced player in midfield who could help out the younger and talented players that were coming from the club’s cantera. One of those players was Sergio Busquets, a boy Torres spent a lot of time with during his spell with the Catalan side, and today the two are still good friends. The main goal was never really to have Xavi Torres become a first team player. However, the B team Captain did impress, to the point that Josep Guardiola gave him his first team debut. His debut came after the league had already been won, in an away game at Mallorca. Nevertheless, it was an important game for Xavi Torres. He also took part in one more first division game before the season ended, at the Camp Nou against Osasuna.

While at Barcelona, there was a lot of buzz about Xavi Torres, even though he was still only a third division player. Eventually first division side Málaga came knocking for his signature, which Torres was happy to give. Playing for Barcelonaʼs first team was a more attractive course, but with the best midfield in the world, Xavi Torres must have known that his chance of a permanent spot was slim.

Torres signed a four season deal with Málaga on the 12th of June, 2009. Having already made his first division debut with Barcelona, Torres knew what to expect when he ran onto the pitch for Málaga on August 30th, featuring in a 3-0 win over Atlético Madrid. To mark his debut for the Andalusians, Xavi Torres scored his first goal in the Primera Division. After one season and 11 games for Málaga, Xavi Torres was loaned out to newly promoted side Levante, where he has now spent two seasons, playing in 69 games. As one of the most vital players in the squad, Xavi Torres helped Levante secure a sixth place finish in La Liga last season, qualifying the Valencia-based side for the UEFA Europa League for the first time ever.

Before getting that call in 2007 from Josep Guardiola, Xavi Torres was only a third division player. Today he is an important member of a first division team. As always, itʼs hard to say what would have happened if Xavi Torres had not worked with Pep Guardiola, as Torres himself admits that Pep has had an enormous impact on his footballing career. At Barça, Torres was made ready for first division football. When he made his debut, he had already been prepared for it by Pep. Moving to Málaga, jumping from the third to the first division, was not as scary of a step for Xavi Torres because he was already familiar with how things would work at the highest level, thanks to Josep Guardiola. Describing his former coach, Xavi Torres said, “Guardiola loved the word ʻpersistenceʼ. Heʼs crazy about football, and I really mean crazy, crazy, crazy.” He will always be thankful to Guardiola, not only for giving him his debut, but also for giving him the opportunity to join a great team like Barça B.

THE FOURTH
Marc Muniesa
Born: 27 March 1992
Date of debut: May 23, 2009
Opponent: Osasuna (home)
Result: 0-1

Competition: La Liga

Born in Lloret de Mar, Marc Muniesa started out playing football for his town’s Penya Barcelonista. In other words, Marc has long been a culé and blaugrana man. At the age of 9, his playing was already impressive enough to garner the interest of FC Barcelona. Albert Benaiges was sent to a game to watch a boy called Marcos Lema, but instead of Marcos, it was the incredible defensive display by a different blond boy named Marc that sparked Benaiges’ interest. Both Muniesa and Lema tried out for Barcelona, but in the end only Muniesa was accepted.

The blaugrana boy was of course enormously happy signing for his dream club at the age of only 9. However, the happiness did not last long as an illness forced him to quit football shortly after the transfer was completed. Marc suffered from a condition where any little bump could cause internal bleeding, a major problem for a footballer. It was a very dark year for the young boy and his family, a year in which they would visit more hospitals than football pitches. Despite this, the club did not give up their hopes for Marc Muniesa, especially not his new coach, Felix Sanchez. Felix cared deeply for people and every month he would call upon the Muniesa family to see how Marc was feeling. Eventually, treatment was provided by the Hospital Josep Trueta and half a year later, little Marc could put on his football boots again.

As Marc slowly returned to football, Felix Sanchez went to Lloret to bring Marc back to Barcelona, though he knew it was too soon for the defender to play in any competitions owing to his condition. Instead, Felix made sure Marc got the training he needed, though the boy had a difficult time. With little strength in his body, he would end each training session exhausted. In the end, all of this helped to make Muniesa stronger, both physical and mentally, helping to form the player he is today. Illness could not stop Marc Muniesa, and he progressed through all of Barça’s youth teams, wearing the captainʼs armband. At 15 years of age, Muniesa led his team to the title of World Champions, beating Brazilian side Sao Paulo at Old Trafford in 2007.

After this triumph, another dark moment arose in the boyʼs footballing career, as he broke his cruciate ligament just after turning 16. The injury kept Marc away from football for another long year. Once again, he fought back and in 2009, at 17 years old, Marc Muniesa made his debut for FC Barcelonaʼs first team. This debut came despite the fact that he hadn’t yet made his B team debut. As first team coach, Josep Guardiola tried to follow not only the club’s B team, but several of the other youth teams as well. Even though Marc Muniesa had spent Guardiola’s first season at the club out injured and was still a Juvenil player during Pepʼs second year, it proved no obstacle to Pep’s calling him for a game at the Camp Nou.

His debut came during the last home game of the 2008-09 season against Osasuna, with the Catalan defender’s entrance  at 17 making him the second youngest player to ever feature for FC Barcelona (after Bojan Krkic). His appearance, however, only lasted a few minutes as Muniesa was sent off by the referee for a questionable challenge. The sending off created a stir around the Barça camp. The entire bench jumped up, screaming at the referee as Marc, in tears, was hugged by his coach as he left the pitch. All around the stadium the spectators whistled and waved white papers and handkerchiefs at the referee. Days later, Josep Guardiola again showed the enormous trust he had in the blaugrana boy by calling up the 17 year old to the squad for the Champions League final in Rome on the 27th of May, 2009. In the end, Marc didn’t feature in the game, but Pep’s decision to put Muniesa on the bench was enough to signal that this is a player to watch for the future.

The next season, 2009-10, Marc was promoted to the B team by coach Luis Enriqué, and he ended his first season playing professionally in the third division with 21 games and 1 goal, helping the squad to win promotion to the Spanish second division. Even though Marc had some experience with the first team, he has spent the majority of the last two seasons with the reserves as one of their most important players. For the 2012-2013 season, the blond defender will leave a significant hole behind him in the B team, as he has been promoted to Tito Vilanova’s first team. The decision to promote the young defender, however, was already made before Josep Guardiola left the club in June 2012.

Ever since his debut in 2009, it has been rumored that Muniesa was Guardiolaʼs favorite among the defenders in the youth teams, although one could ask why neither Muniesa or any of the other defenders saw more playing time when defensive injuries swept through the first team. What’s not in question is that Pep always did what he thought was best for the youngsters and the trust he put in Marc Muniesa helped the defender immensely, especially in 2009 after recovering from a long term injury. Next season, Marc will start his first season playing at the highest level confident with the knowledge that Pep believed in him, and now Tito will do the same.

THE FIFTH
Alberto Botía
Born: 27 January 1989
Date of debut: May 30, 2009
Opponent: Deportivo La Coruña (away)
Result: 1-1

Competition: La Liga

Alberto Botía started out playing football at the age of 8 for CD Beniel. He moved to Real Murcia at the age of 11, where he stayed for 3 years, before joining Barcelona in 2003 at 13. At the youth teams of Barça, Botía felt he was given the best possible treatment and education, and he felt more confident of his future seeing how the club was so keen to give opportunities to young players. After three years with the youth teams, he was promoted to the club’s B team in 2006, in that way making his professional debut. During his second season with Barça B, Josep Guardiola took over the coaching job. Pep showed his trust in Botía by featuring the 18 year old in 17 games during the season.

As first team coach the following season, Pep did not forget about the young B team defender. When a defensive crisis occurred before the Champions League final in 2009, Alberto Botía was called up to join the squad going to Rome. In the end Botía did not get any playing time during the final, but his Barça debut would come only three days later, in the last game of the season away to Deportivo La Coruña. Botía came on in the second half for Gerard Piqué, in a game that ended with a 1-1 draw. The player explained the experience by saying, “I spent a month with the first team and learned a lot. Itʼs a memory that I will never forget.

During the 2009-10 season, however, Botía was loaned from the B team to first division side Sporting Gijón. He played in a total of 27 games that season, being recognized as Spainʼs third best U-21 central defender. He impressed so much that the Asturian club decided to offer him a four-year deal. Botía accepted, although with the hope of one day returning to the Catalan giants. He has remained at Sporting Gijon since then, as one of the squad’s most vital players, playing over 20 games a season. Botía’s performances at Gijon have been impressive enough to earn him attention on the national level. In Denmark in 2011, he won the U21 European Championship with Spain. Following this, on August 25th, 2011, Botía was named in Vincent del Bosque squad for games against Chile and Liechtenstein. Although he did not end up playing, it was a step in the right direction for Botía.

Just as for many other players, Alberto Botía’s football career was impacted by his work with Josep Guardiola. It’s impossible to say what would have happened had Pep not been his coach, or if he hadn’t been given the chance to debut for the first team. The fact is that before Pep, Alberto Botía was a 17 year old playing in the fourth division, featuring in  15 games a season. Today he is a regular first division player on the verge of making his debut for Spain’s national team. Not bad.

Stay tuned for part 3 where we’ll cover the stories of  Abraham González, Andreu Fontàs and Gai Assulin.