The Louis Van Gaal dream fulfilled

The Louis Van Gaal dream fulfilled

Eleven is obviously the ‘number of the week’ for Barça. It is not because FC Barcelona are currently 11 points ahead of Real Madrid, it’s because of something a culé should be even more proud over – last Sunday in Valencia, FC Barcelona featured 11 homegrown players for the first time as they won 4-0 over Levante.

Johan Cruyff and Josep Guardiola might be the coach names we mostly symbolize with La Masia. While a coach like Louis Van Gaal can easily lead one’s thoughts to a Dutch influenced Barça that failed to impress. But the fact is that Louis Van Gaal has more to do with the success of La Masia than many may believe. The Dutch coached the club on two occasions between 1997-2000 and during the 2002-03 season. Van Gaal didn’t coach in the same way as we have been used to as of late with Rijkaard, Guardiola and Vilanova. No, Van Gaal was tough and he would almost intentionally make his players afraid of him. But during his time as coach at Barça, he would also show his trust in the youth players, starting what now is an obvious thing at FC Barcelona in promoting players from the B-team to the first team. Even though it wasn’t as close to as many B-team players we see play with the first team today, it was the start of a strategic trend that coaches afterwards would follow.

Van Gaal saw early a future captain in Puyol

What’s interesting to keep in mind is that when Louis Van Gaal took the risk of putting youth players onto the first team, FC Barcelona was in a horrible position. Barça was losing an embarrassing amount of league matches and had been knocked out of Champions League competition. It wasn’t much better for the B-team who were near the bottom of their division. Despite the chaos, Van Gaal kept on insisting to take the younger players up and play them in the first team. Something that today make it possible for him to feel a part of the present day success. Van Gaal only won two league titles and one Copa del Rey during his four seasons at the club, but he did set one of the standards for what would come to be the best team in the history of FCB when he gave Xavi, Puyol, Valdés and Iniesta their first team debuts. (He also gave Motta, Gabri and Pepe Reina, among others, their debut).

During his time at Barça, Louis Van Gaal once uttered his dream of one day see Barça play a game with eleven players from La Masia. It was a nice thought, but most people just laughed at the idea as it was seen to be impossible in modern football. But 10 years later this weekend against Levante, Van Gaal’s dream became reality.

Van Gaal not only took an interest in the B-team players but all youth players at the club. Here is with a young Jordi Alba

Tito Vilanova, a La Masia man himself, put out a starting 11 consisting of 10 players from La Masia with only Dani Alvés coming from the outside. Just that would have been unthinkable during Van Gaal’s days at the club, but has become something rather normal during the last season with Guardiola. However, when Alvés hit an injury, Tito was forced to a substitution and took the best man for the position, Martin Montoya. As the youngster entered the pitch, history was written and for the first time in history FC Barcelona featured 11 ‘homegrown’ players. Of these players, four got their debut under Louis Van Gaal (Victor Valdés, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hérnandez, Andrés Iniesta), four under Josep Guardiola (Gerard Piqué, Martin Montoya, Cesc Fábregas, Sergio Busquets), two under Frank Rijkaard (Lionel Messi, Pedro Rodriguez), and Jordi Alba got his this season under Tito Vilanova.

During the 64 historical minutes as Barça played 11 homegrown players against Levante, four goals were scored and the Blaugrana would later win the game 4-0. Iniesta who joined the club at the age of only 12 had a huge show as he first assisted Lionel Messi who came to Barça at the age of 13, for two goals. The third, Andrés made sure to hit in himself before assisting Cesc Fàbregas who first joined the club at 10, for the fourth goal of the night. Victor Valdés who made his first appearances at La Masia at 10 years of age made sure to save a penalty to keep his sheet clean to cap off this historical evening in Valencia.

The fact that Barça featured 11 players who all got parts of their football education at the club was incredible but what was even more fascinating was that Tito didn’t play 11 homegrown players because they were all homegrown but because they were his best option to play. If Barça wanted to play a starting eleven with only La Masia players because the sake of it being only La Masia players they could have done it a long time ago. The first team have, for quite a while now, had homegrown players in the first team for every position. But both Guardiola and Tito are professional and regardless of the opponent decide to play the 11 they think is the best for the team. Last Sunday, that 11 happened to contain players that grew up at the club. What many believe being the best club team in the world, maybe the best in history, the team’s best 11 last Sunday contained 11 players from its own youth academy. Of them, eight not only grew up in the club, but are Catalan-born in or near the city of Barcelona. That is the most incredible thing with this whole scenario. To add to that, during the 65 minutes Tito played with this group of 11, fans got to see four goals and an amazing show of football.


The Now Historic Eleven 

Position: Goalkeeper

Victor Valdés (30) 17 years at the club.

Born in Barcelona, Victor would first come to La Masia at the age of 10. But as his family moved to Tenerife, the boy could only stand being without them for only a few months before giving up his Barça career to move to his family. A decision he would later regret and at the age of 12 he would be back in goal for the Barça youth teams. At the age of 18, in 2000, Victor made his debut for the first team under Louis Van Gaal.

Major Awards: Zamora trophy x5, La Liga x5, Copa del Rey x2, Champions League x3, Club World Cup x2, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012

Position: Defense


Martín Montoya (21) 13 years at the club.

21-year old Montoya has spent almost his entire life at Barça joining the club at the age of only 8. He became a part of the magical 91 generation at Barça, playing his youth football together with today’s first team players Thiago, Tello, Cuenca and Bartra among others. Montoya got his debut under Josep Guardiola in 2011, but had already been picked in the squad for a Spanish national team game in 2010 by Del Bosqué. He was promoted to the Barça first team this season.

Major Awards: La Liga x1, Copa del Rey x1

Gerard Piqué (25) 11 years at the club.

More or less born into the club becoming a member the same day he was born and with an uncle as vice president, Piqué joined Barça at the age of 10 where he became a part of the best youth team in the club’s history playing along side Lionel Messi and Cesc Fábregas and being coached by Tito Vilanova. At the age of 17 however he saw his chances at Barça too small and took his luck to England and Manchester United. Except for a spell on loan at Zaragoza, he mostly sat on the Manchester United bench. Until Josep Guardiola brought him back to Camp Nou in 2008.

Major Awards: Premier League x1, FA Community Shield x1, La Liga x3, Copa del Rey x2, Champions League x3, Club World Cup x2, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012

Carles Puyol (34) 17 years at the club.

Another Blaugrana man since birth; grew up skipping dinner every time Barça lost a game. Carles Puyol would join the club at the age of 17. Four years later in 1999, Louis Van Gaal would give the 21-year old his first team debut. Thereafter it didn’t take long before his heart for the team had made him a favourite at Camp Nou. At the end of the 2003-04 season he was named first team captain by his teammates.

Major Awards: La Liga x5, Copa del Rey x2, Champions League x3, Club World Cup x2, World Cup 2010, Euro 2008, 2012

Jordi Alba (23) 7 years at the club.

Growing up in Barcelona with Johan Cruyff’s dream team, Jordi was nicknamed Romario while playing with his friends. At the age of 10 he would join Barça where he played his youth football for six years. At 16 however Jordi had to leave the club as he was too short. He then ended up at Cornella for two seasons before signing for Valencia B in 2007. In 2009. age 20. he got his debut at Valencia and for the 2012-13 season Tito Vilanova decided to bring him back to the Blaugrana club and give his Barça debut at Camp Nou.

Major Awards: Euro 2012

Position: Midfield

Sergio Busquets (24) 7 years at the club.

Spent his childhood years around Camp Nou with dad Carles Busquets being the first team’s reserve keeper. But Sergio failed to impress to get a place at La Masia until he was 18. As Josep Guardiola took over the B-team in 2007, Busi got his breakthrough and later followed his coach up in the first team the coming season at the age of 20.

Major Awards: La Liga x3, Copa del Rey x2, Champions League x2, Club World Cup x2, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012

Xavi Hérnandez (32) 21 years at the club.

Growing up in a Barça mad family, Xavi had no other choice than to love the club from childhood. Xavi is the player who played the longest at Barça joining the club at the age of 11; he has spent 21 years wearing the Barça shirt and 14 of them in the first team. His debut came under Louis Van Gaal in 1998 when he was just 18 years old. With over 550 first team appearances he is also the player in history to play most games for the club.

Major Awards: La Liga x6, Copa del Rey x2, Champions League x3, Club World Cup x2, World Cup 2010, Euro 2008, 2012

Cesc Fàbregas (25) 7 years at the club.

Only months old while visiting the Camp Nou for the first time, Cesc was like many of his teammates born to love Barça. He would join the club at the age of 10 and become a part of the best youth team in the club’s history playing alongside Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué and being coached by Tito Vilanova. Although at the age of 16 seeing the chances at Barça too small, Cesc left for Arsenal. In England he soon won the hearts of the Arsenal fans where he would spend eight years becoming captain and the club’s most vital player. In 2011, he would move back home to play for Barça under childhood hero Josep Guardiola.

Major Awards:  FA Cup x1, FA Community Shield x1, Copa del Rey x1, Club World Cup x1, World Cup 2010, Euro 2008, 2012

Position: Forward

Pedro Rodriguez (25) 8 years at the club.

Grew up in Tenerife but the club since childhood was always Barça for Pedro. He would make his dream move at 17 years of age joining Barcelona’s Juvenil team. In 2007, he was almost let go by the club but the new B-team coach Josep Guardiola wanted to try Pedro in a new position and the Tenerife boy got one season to prove his worth. He became top scorer as the B-team won promotion and saw his first team debut the coming season under Guardiola.

Major Awards: La Liga x3, Copa del Rey x2, Champions League x2, Club World Cup x2, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012

Andrés Iniesta (28) 16 years at the club.
Leaving his family already at the age of 12 to play for Barça, Iniesta became the youngest player living at La Masia. He likely would have left to go home to his family after a few months if it weren’t for two year older Victor Valdés who took care of the homesick Andrés. Winning the 1999 premier cup (world club’s cup for 15-year olds) scoring the winning goal saw Iniesta’s first performance at the Camp Nou. He would later be rewarded to train with the first team at the age of only 15. During Louis Van Gaal’s second period at the club, Andrés saw his first team debut in 2002 at age 18.

Major Awards: La Liga x5, Copa del Rey x2, Champions League x3, Club World Cup x2, World Cup 2010, Euro 2008, 2012

Lionel Messi (25) 12 years at the club

Signed his first contract with the club on a paper napkin at the age of 13. He suffered some hard first months at the club with injuries and paperwork preventing him from playing. Messi later became part of the best youth team in the club’s history playing along side Gerard Piqué and Cesc Fàbregas and being coached by Tito Vilanova. In three years, he jumped through the teams at La Masia to make his debut in 2003 under Frank Rijkaard at the age of only 16. A goal against against Albacete later made him the youngest goalscorer for the club at 17 (a record later broken by Bojan Krkic).

Major Awards: Ballon d’Or x3, Pichichi Trophy x2, Golden Shoe x2, Champions League top scorer x4, La Liga x5, Copa del Rey x2, Champions League x3, Club World Cup x2

Position: Coach

Francesc “Tito” Vilanova (44) 12 years at the club
The present first team coach joined FC Barcelona as a player for the first time at the age of 15. At La Masia, Tito shared a bunk bed with two years younger Josep Guardiola to whom he was a role model. At the age of 18 he would make his B-team debut at the club. But as Tito failed to break into the first team he left to play for Figueres in 1990 at age 22. Tito would return to the club in 2001 for one season to coach the best youth team in the club’s history containing Gerard Piqué, Cesc Fàbregas, and Lionel Messi. He would then return again in 2007 as Josep Guardiola’s assistant coach for Barça B. Between 2008-2012 he kept on as Guardiola’s assistant in the first team before taking over the job as first team coach this season.

Other La Masia players in the FC Barcelona first team squad…

Marc Bartra, Thiago Alcantara, Isaac Cuenca, Cristian Tello*, Jonathan Dos Santos, and Marc Muniesa.

*Cristian Tello is not officially a first team player but have spent the entire season so far with the first team.