As Culés, we are all extremely thankful to Josep Guardiola i Sala, a man that has achieved and changed so much at our club. But there is one particular 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 their 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 twenty-two 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.
In this edition, we’ll look into the stories of: The boy who was said to be the biggest goalkeeping talent at La Masia since Valdés, but who wanted too much, too early: Ruben Miño. And the boy who spent his entire childhood at the club but had to go through the hardest of challenges to get where he is today: Martín Montoya!
Born: 18th January 1989
Date of debut: 13th August 2010
Result: 3-1 (away)
Competition: Spanish Supercup
Born in Cornellà del Llobregat on the 18th January 1989, Ruben Miño started his football career in local club UE Cornellà at the age of five. He stood out from an early age as a skillful goalkeeper that trained hard and took advantage of his height. Growing up, Miño was a big admirer of the Dutch goalkeeper Ruud Hesp. Hesp, between 1997-2000, protected the goal of his favorite team, FC Barcelona, a club Miño would come to join at the age of 11. In 2004, 15 year-old Miño was sent back to his childhood club for a loan period of two years before returning at La Masia to play at Juvenil level in 2006.
Back in the Barça shirt, Miño kept on impressing and took the tough step up from Juvenil A to Luis Enriqué’s Barça B in 2008 . Since Victor Valdés, La Masia had had problems creating great goalkeepers. However, as Rubén Miño emerged from the youth system, many believed the next goalkeeper crack of the cantera had arrived. Unfortunately, his rise through the ranks would create somewhat of a luxury problem for Luis Enriqué as the Gijon man suddenly had two extremely talented goalkeepers at his disposal: Miño and Oier.
In their first season with Barca B, it seemed that Miño would be the one making the bigger impression as he played 29 games to Oier’s 9. Assistant coach Joan Barbara explained the situation like this: “We’re satisfied because, with Rubén and Oier, we have two very good goalkeepers. Miño is very talented. But Oier is also a quality goalkeeper and he can return to the goal at any moment. We have a lot of confidence in both of the players. Both are working hard and whoever will play will do great”.
And Oier would return between the posts, more or less the next season, as the two keepers played equally much with Oier getting 21 games and Miño 20. Luis Enriqué seemed to be divided on what keeper to use but for first team coach Josep Guardiola, it was Rubén Miño who had impressed the most. And on August 14th 2010, due to an injury to Pinto, Rubén Miño was included in the Barcelona first team squad that would face Sevilla in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. As Victor Valdés needed rest, Miño played the full 90 minutes in a 1-3 away defeat. However, it was not the first time that Miño traveled with the first team, as during the previous season, he had gone with the team as third keeper in the Club World Club. If Luis Enriqué wasn’t sure about his two keepers, Guardiola seemed to have done his choice. At least for the moment.
Being so close to the first team, Miño felt he would have a chance to challenge José Pinto for the 2nd keeper’s spot and, in a close future, even go up to challenge Victor Valdés. However, at Barca B, even more competition would emerge as third keeper, Jordi Masip, decided to join the picture by getting 12 appearances in a season to Miño’s 15 and Oier’s 14.
Much to his dismay, Miño was getting fewer and fewer games with Barca B. At the same time, the club decided to name Oier third keeper in the first team. Clearly, things weren’t going as the Cornellà boy had planned. To make matters even worse, an injury that sidelined him for two and a half months would give the upper hand to Oier. During the 2011-12 season, Miño would only get 10 games with Barca B, just one more than Masip, while Oier assumed a more comfortable position between the posts with 23 appearances. An unhappy Rubén Miño decided to not renew his contract with the Blaugrana club as he now longer saw himself as Segunda Division keeper but one who should play in La Liga. And so, on July 5th 2012, he signed for La Liga team Real Mallorca.
It’s a move that’s been questioned by some, as he joined a team that already boasted two great goalkeepers in Calatayud and Aouate. However, as first choice keeper Aouate went out injured in a game against Espanyol, Ruben Miño finally got his chance. And on his 24th birthday, January 18th 2013, Ruben Miño got his debut for the Mallorca side, playing the remaining 28 minutes of the game. Even though Miño played a great game and showed no indication that he hadn’t played all season, he would let in two goals, one of which was a penalty, as Mallorca lost 3-2 away. With Aouate out for four weeks, Miño will now have his chance to fight it out with Calatyud who still appears to be the favorite to get the nod.
In the end, leaving FC Barcelona to go to Real Mallorca might not have been the best solution for Ruben Miño, who only played 28 minutes so far this season.
Born: 14th April 1991
Date of debut: 26th February 2011
Opponent: RCD Mallorca
Result: 3-0 (away)
Competition: La Liga
The 16th player to make his first team debut under Josep Guardiola did not take the easy road to get where he is today. Martín Montoya was born in Gavà on April 14th 1991 and it was also there that his football career started. But just at the age of 8, he already enrolled into FC Barcelona’s football academy, starting to play for one of the club’s youngest teams. Yet this meant a big change for the little boy and his family. His mother would need to work hard to help her son during his time at La Masia and drive him to the big city everyday for practice.
For Martín, it was not only a change of football team, but of way of life as well. He would no longer have time to hang out with friends but instead all his focus was to be directed towards football. At the time, it seemed like a big sacrifice for the boy, but he would come to realize it was well worth it.
At La Masia, Martín played with the now famous 1991 generation: Barcelona first team players Thiago Alcántara, Marc Bartra, Isaac Cuenca, Cristian Tello, Chelsea player Oriol Romeu and Racing Santander forward Gai Assulin among others. Together, they became a nearly unstoppable team.
Playing for the mighty Barça was a big deal for Montoya and he would snap a photo with his idols from the first team if he got a chance. As he progressed through the youth teams, Martín would soon also make it to the youth national teams representing Spain on all levels from U-17 to U-23.
Even though his football life was going pretty much perfectly, young Martín would have to face the hardest moment of his life: the tragic death of his mother due to a serious illness. It was a tough time for both Martín and his dad, Martín Sr. But the loss wouldn’t affect Martín’s football in a negative way, au contraire. Knowing how much his mother helped him with his football career and that her dream was to see him succeed at Barça, he would work even harder to make her dream a reality.
After making his Barca B debut in 2009 under Luis Enriqué, Montoya was promoted in the 2009-10 season. He would quickly become one of the leading figures in Barca B who that season earned promotion to the Segunda Division. The next season, Barca B achieved its best ever position ending third in the Segunda Division, with Martín firmly established as a key-player. His impressive performances at Mini Estadi were highly noted by Josep Guardiola and in 2011, Martín Montoya was given his first team debut.
The debut came in an away game to Real Mallorca on February 26th 2011, as Montoya replaced Adriano for the last five minutes of a 3-0 win. Getting your debut with the first team is something that’s big for every youth player but, for Martín Montoya, it might have meant a bit more than it does for most. Not only did he debut in the shirt of his childhood club, he also did it alongside the players he grew up having as idols. At home, Montoya had a picture of him as a kid alongside one of his heroes, Carles Puyol. Now, they were playing on the same pitch, side by side and sharing the same dressing room.
“Pep told me to play like I did with Barca B but above all, to be calm. I was nervous, but it was unforgettable, it was amazing! To play with the best players in the world who have been my idols, it’s something you can’t put a price on”.
But it was more than that that made this debut so special for Martín Montoya. It was not only his dream that came true but more importantly his mother’s. Three years after the tragical death of his mother, in an interview shortly after his first team debut, Montoya, with eyes filled with tears and a shivering voice, told a reporter: “Everything I do today, I do for her. I love her so much. I know she will never come back. But I want to reach the first team of Barça, it was her dream. Now I know that she is looking over me and it gives me the strength to keep on”.
Everything was going great for Martín and on April 30th, he got his first start with the first team as they took on Real Sociedad. Even though the game resulted in a 1-2 loss, Martín’s time on the pitch ended before it really started as he suffered a broken clavicle in the opening minutes. The injury left him out of play for the rest of the season. But if there is someone who can face set-backs, that is Martín Montoya and he would not look back. But instead, he worked hard to be ready for the U21 European Championship in Denmark 2011. Spain won the tournament with Montoya playing every minute. He returned and kept on impressing at MiniEstadi for Barça B. In fact, Martín impressed so much that Del Bosque decided to call him up to the Spanish national team, making him only the second Barça B player in history to be called to the national team. Ultimately, he didn’t get to play, but it was a tremendous learning experience for the youngster and an even better incentive to keep working hard.
During the 2011-12 season, Montoya got to practice more and more with the first team and got a total of 10 games under Josep Guardiola. He even got his chance in the Copa Del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. This game marked the end of an era as it was Guardiola’s last game as FC Barcelona coach (3-0 win).
After the final, Guardiola said: “Montoya had a fantastic game, he has many great years in the club ahead of him”.
Before Pep left, he and Tito had already decided together to promote four youth players to the first team in the upcoming season, one of them being Montoya. The dream of the boy and his mother was finally realized, but Martín knew it was also now that the really tough work started. And he would be thrown into the fire directly, as Adriano got sent off early, Montoya started his first year as a first team player in a game against Real Madrid away at the Bernabeu. A mediocre Barcelona lost the game 2-1 but Martín Montoya was one of the few highlights for the Catalan team.
In the return leg, the youngster got to play again, as Dani Alvés went off early due to an injury. The game ended 2-2 which meant that Barça lost the Supercup final, but afterwards, Tito Vilanova had nothing else but praise for the La Masia graduate: “Martín had to jump straight in and had Cristiano Ronaldo against him on his flank. But with the match he played, he showed us that we have one incredible player who can jump straight in, adapt and play great”.
Martín Montoya has kept on impressing when he got the chance on the pitch, something he’s been given at 15 times so far this season, in the three major competitions, 9 of those as starter. For every day that passes by, the boy from Gavá makes his mark in the Barcelona first team clearer and clearer and it will certainly not be a surprise if he becomes a regular starter at Camp Nou in the near future. Looking down upon him, his mom surely must been proud.
Martín Montoya is the first player to have played at every level of FC Barcelona from Benjamín A to the first team!