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 Abraham, Fontàs and Gai Asulin before the break, the Gràcies Pep series is now back. It’s now time to look into the stories of Jonathan Soriano, who was ready to leave football before joining Barça and is today one of the big stars Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg; Jonathan Dos Santos, the boy who was always in the shadows of his brother and his teammates, but who has always been there, working the hardest; and Marc Bartra, the blaugrana kid who has been at the club since he was 11 and who might be the answer to one of Vilanova’s biggest problems.
Born: 24 September 1985
Date of debut: 28 October 2009
Opponent: Cultural Leonesa
Result: 2-0 (home)
Competition: Copa del Rey
Jonathan Soriano was born in El Pont de Vilomara, Barcelona on the 24th of September in 1985. Even though where and how he started playing football is unknown, he found his way to RCD Espanyol as a 15 year old. What is common knowledge about his youth career is that he impressed everyone that saw him play and could have chosen to go to England, Germany, or Italy. Many doors were open for the Barcelona boy, but he declined. Jonathan stayed at Espanyol where he quickly impressed with his goalscoring abilities, making his professional debut in 2001 at the ade of 16 with the club’s B team. One season later, in December 2002 at only 17, Soriano made his first team debut in a 3-1 home win in the League against Rayo Vallecano. He continued on the roster of the B team until the 2005-06 season when he was promoted. But after just half a season as a first team player, Soriano was loaned out to a series of second division clubs, including Almería (2006), Poli Ejido (2007) and Albacete (2009). He eventually returned to Espanyol, netting twice during his 24 appearances for the Catalan club.
Espanyol and Jonathan were not on the same page and the striker found himself in a very bad position, supported only by his family and without any bids forthcoming. Without clamoring for a first team spot nor monetary gain, Soriano was given the boot by Espanyol. To this day, he still feels disappointed by how the club treated him and many others, saying, “I felt the way they treated me was not the best way to go about it, but I see that I was not alone. Recently I’ve seen how they’ve dismissed David Gracia, Chica and Coro. No, I was not the only one.”
Things seemed so bad that the Catalan boy decided to leave football. Before that could happen, Barça’s B team showed an interest and Soriano didn’t have to think twice before signing for the neighboring club. It meant taking quite a huge step down from the first division to Segunda B (third division), but Jonathan saw it more as “one small step back and then two forward”. The impact of the move would be huge for Soriano: “I came to train, to have fun, to live my profession, to get back into the world of football and I returned to smiling again, to scoring again to gain confidence. Barça saved my footballing career.”
At Barça B, Soriano began to enjoy himself and his football again and it would show on the pitch. During his first season in 2009/10, he helped the team gain promotion to Segunda A, scoring 22 goals. The coming season, he brought his playing to another level, finishing as the league’s top scorer with over 30 goals as Barça B finished in a very surprising top 3 position in Segunda A. Soriano explained the secret to the team’s success that year: “picture a locker room where there are no stars and no distinction between the players. We are all a part of a team, and if someone comes up from the junior teams they are treated like everyone else. We’re all playing as one.”
Coming to the club in 2009, it was never really intended that Jonathan Soriano would be anything other than a great backbone player for Barça B. However, he impressed first team coach Josep Guardiola, who invited Soriano for the preseason and training sessions with the first team. Pep even gave Soriano his first team debut on 28 October 2009 in a 2-0 Copa del Rey win over Cultural Leonesa. Knowing promotion was unlikely, Jonathan viewed practicing with the first team as a huge reward, giving him the chance to work with the best team and best players in the world. With forwards like Messi, Villa and Pedro, Soriano never really saw himself as a future first team player. But his debut and involvement with Guardiola and the first team saw the market open for the boy who some years earlier been ready to hang up his boots.
In January of 2012, after three seasons at Barça, Jonathan Soriano signed for Austrian team FC Red Bull Salzburg. This season, he has gained a bit of notoriety, as the YouTube video of him missing a penalty went viral. However, the fact is that Soriano has become a big deal at his new home. With 6 goals after only 7 games, he is already a fan favorite in the Austrian city.
Jonathan Dos Santos
Born: 26 April 1990
Date of debut: 28 October 2009
Opponent: Cultural Leonesa
Result: 2-0 (home)
Competition: Copa del Rey
Born on 26 April 1990 in Mexico City, Jonathan Dos Santos is the son of Zizinho and younger brother (by one year) of Giovani Dos Santos. A Barcelona scout spotted both Jonathan and his brother, while the two were playing in a youth tournament in Paris for Mexico’s U-12 in 2002. It has been said that in the beginning, however, Barça was only interested in the 12 year old Giovani, but the family insisted that he would only come to the Catalan club along with the 11 year old Jonathan. So both Dos Santos brothers ended up moving to Barcelona and La Masia.
At Barça, Giovani would explode through the youth system, impressing everyone while Jonathan worked diligently with boys his own age. However, it would be the young Jonathan and not Giovani who first featured in a commercial on television for Nike. After juggling with a ball on a balcony, the 11 year old boy screams into the camera: “Recuerda mi nombre: Jonathan Dos Santos” [Remember my name: Jonathan Dos Santos].
Jonathan can be seen at 0:42:
Many of the talented players at La Masia jump levels among the club’s youth teams, often two a season. Jonathan kept on playing with his own age group, and there was never much noise made about him. Many knew who Giovani was, while few knew Jonathan. It was a different case among the coaches at La Masia. Always creating, organizing and providing mobility that helps his peers, Jona has always been the quiet player but a necessary game builder. The kind of player every coach dreams about.
Giovani exploded into the first team and just as quickly left for Tottenham, after demanding too much from the club. Jonathan kept on working in the youth teams, as his brother’s behavior cast a shadow, with many believing that Jonathan would act the same when he made the first team, demanding what he didn’t yet deserve. But Jonathan is different from his brother. Maybe it’s because he was never viewed as a ‘wonderboy’ the way that Giovani was. No, Jonathan took his time and after his older brother had already left the club, Jonathan stepped up to the club’s B team for the 2009-10 season.
Jonathan played 19 games and scored one goal during his first season under Luis Enriqué. Not long after, on 28 October 2009, he was called up by Josep Guardiola and he made his first team debut in a 2-0 Copa del Rey win over Cultural Leonesa. The same season, he also made his Champions League and league debut as he ended up playing in 6 games with the first team. Though he would continue playing with the B team the following season, becoming one of Luis Enriqué’s most important players, Jonathan would get 5 more chances playing with the first team. During the 2011-12 season, Jonathan played 30 more games for the B team and 8 with the first team. This was also the year that the club announced that the younger Dos Santos would be promoted to the first team the following season.
Even though he will have a difficult time being part of the best midfield in the world, there is no doubt that the younger Don Santos brother has an incredible talent. Still, because of the incredible competition in the Barça midfield, it seems highly unlikely that this boy will stay at Barça. Then again, considering how he works in the background quietly gaining a foothold, perhaps sooner or later he will find his goals, like he has done so far during his time with the blaugrana.
Born: 15 January 1991
Date of debut: 14 February 2010
Opponent: Atletico Madrid
Result: 1-2 (away)
Competition: La Liga
Bartra has made sure to place Sant Juame dels Domenys on the map, including the small town of Baix Penedès, which only has 800 inhabitants, and was where the Barça first team player grew up. Born on the 15th of January in 1991, along with his twin brother Eric, both brothers started out playing for RCD Espanyol at the age of 10 before moving on to FC Barcelona only a year later. Both boys were blaugrana fans and did not hesitate when the opportunity came to come to La Masia. There, the boys would form part of the famous ’91 generation, playing with Tello, Cuenca, Montoya and Thiago, among others. Back then, Marc was already playing as a centerback. During his first season at La Masia, playing for Alevin A, Marc was coached by Sergio Lobera, who remembers the kid as “a very technical center half with excellent ball playing ability, but what struck me the most about him was his speed, which is unusual for a player of his height.” After two years, Eric’s career as a footballer came to an end owing to persistent injuries. However, Marc would carry on, rising through all the youth teams at the club.
During the 2008/09 season, Marc became a key player for Javier Garcia Pimienta’s Juvenil A team. The next season, while his name was still on the Juvenil A squad list, he spent the majority of the year with the B team, featuring in 30 games at the Miniestadi under Luis Enriqué. With the B team, he produced some excellent performances and scored a goal against Orihuela from a corner at the Miniestadi. During that same season, Marc would have a day he will never forget, when on Valentine’s Day in 2010, only one month after his 19th birthday, he made his first team debut under Pep Guardiola. The debut came away against Atlético Madrid in a 2-1 loss, but Marc will still remember it as one of the best days, describing it as a childhood dream come true.
The next season, Bartra was promoted to Luis Enriqué’s Barcelona B squad, who had won promotion to the second division. This meant harder opponents, which saw Marc and the others work a lot in the gym to be able to compete with their opponents who were older, stronger, and more experienced. The team of kids went out and played against older and more experienced players every weekend, but Marc and his teammates would surprise everyone by ending the season in a fantastic third position. This was a position that would have meant a spot in the play-offs for promotion to the first division if the side hadn’t been the B team of Barça. Marc stayed with the B team for one more season, continuing to impress with both the blaugrana and Spanish U-21 team.
Under Guardiola, Bartra took part in a total of 8 official first team games, as well as some preseason activity. Before leaving, Pep decided that the boy from Sant Juame dels Domenys would be promoted to the first team the coming season. Obviously Pep meant a lot to Marc, for giving him his debut as well as promotion, leaving the boy with a promising future and a lot of confidence.
With Tito, Marc has continued to feel the confidence of his coach as he played a vital role in the preseason games. In these matches, Marc managed to silence some of the voices calling for Barça to buy a new center back, a purchase that would seem unnecessary with Bartra now in the team.
Stay tuned for part 5 where we’ll cover the stories of Nolito, Oriol Romeu and Sergi Gomez.