Yet another La Masia season is over. Barcelona’s academy sides are now preparing for the customary summer tournaments, and for us here at totalBarça, the time has come to run the ruler over the young Blaugranas who stole the eye this season. Read on to find out about all the stars, the surprise packages, and the disappointments of the 2015-16 season in the world’s best football academy.
To introduce the story of the 2015-16 season at La Masia, one would first have to mention the terrible consequences of the FIFA ban. In a recent interview with Mundo Deportivo, Jordi Roura did not hold anything back.
“Every single team in the world would not perform as well if you suddenly went and stripped it of three or four of its best players without replacement,” said Roura, who added that “had this happened at another club, they wouldn’t have been able to pull through.” Of course, the youth football coordinator could not forget the tough times the academy went through. “The human consequences were tough. You can’t imagine how much it hurts having to tell an 11- or 12-year-old child who comes up to you to ask if they can play that in fact they can’t play.”
However, despite of all the hardships, La Masia’s season has been everything but disastrous. Barcelona’s academy sides not only have competed well this season, but between the 14 academy teams, from the Juvenil B to the Prebenjamín, eight league titles and 33 tournaments were won. This is a truly impressive haul, given that some teams effectively had to kick off their season in January, with the end of the FIFA ban. This precisely was the case with the youngest La Masia team, the Prebenjamín side, which had to be assembled from scratch as every year. La Masia’s little ones (we are talking about players born in 2008), led by Juanan Gil, were surprisingly crowned champions, for the first time in the last few years. The other seven league winning teams at La Masia were Cadete A, Cadete B, Infantil A, Infantil B, Alevín A, Alevín D, and Benjamín A.
The champion of champions
During 2015-16, many Masia teams stole the eye with their performances. The impressive Infantil B coached by a La Masia veteran in Sergi Milà and led on the pitch by their amazing Captain Tarzan, Xavi Simons, can obviously stake a claim for being the best of the best, having won the league and a whopping five international tournaments this season, but still they somehow fall short of the standards set by the Cadete B side.
Cristian Catena’s Cadete B side, to put it simply, is blessed to have some of the best talents at La Masia in its ranks. In midfield, Adrià Bernabé pulls the strings in Iniesta style. He is aided by the team’s Sergi Roberto, Sergi Altimira, whose cousin Adrià plays at right back. Even without the brilliant Anssu Fati, who suffered a double tibia fracture midway through the season, the team cruised to the title, confirming their status as champions with five weeks to spare without having lost a single match. The team’s talent is immense, from goalkeeper to forwards. In fact, they are so talented, that even Luis Enrique himself, who never talks about any other team than his own, praised them on Barça TV.
“I know there is a brilliant crop of players at Cadete B, but hopefully their agents aren’t listening to me right now,” said the coach back in December. And how couldn’t he praise them, with centre-backs Eric Garcia and Josep Jaume complementing each other as well as Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano do, and with Nils Mortimer banging in the goals like there’s no tomorrow.
Simple answer. Pablo Moreno. Many players have played extraordinarily well, but nobody has really come close to the Infantil A striker. The 2002-born poacher has been nothing short of spectacular. Blessed with a physique that intimidates the opposition and a pure striker’s skill set, the Granada native is really a combination of Lewandowski and Ronaldo Nazário in a Barça shirt. His 70-goal haul with the Infantil A betters those of 12 out of the 15 teams in his team’s age group. His best moment of the season came away at arch rivals Espanyol, but his goal against Vilanova i la Geltrú (see below) is one for the highlights reel. The real question is, does he have a future at Barça? Strikers of his type have never found it easy to settle in the Barcelona style of play (just ask the great Zlatan), but Moreno is a specimen La Masia is seeing for the first time. If the Catalan press is to be believed, next season will see him thrown into the deep, as Jordi Roura has reportedly decided that Pablo has to move directly to the Cadete A side, skipping the Cadete B stage.
The FIFA ban has meant that many Masia players had to wait for long before they could debut. Once who was worth the wait was Pablo Páez Gavira, better known as Gavi. The midfielder, with a godly first touch and a keen eye for a pass, has been a surprise star in a star-studded Alevín A side. Gavi really captured the essence of his team’s play, and exhibited a striking loyalty to the tiki-taka style Barcelona so famously employed under Pep Guardiola.
Most Improved Player
During one’s formative years in football, the most important thing is to progress with the passing of time. Cadete A’s Bulgarian forward Kun Temenuzhkov, named after the Manchester City man, seems to have got the message. During 2015-16, Kun was no longer the rough, selfish penalty box poacher people saw when he first pulled on the blaugrana. The Bulgarian is now much more of a team player, and most importantly he has learned how to take part in his team’s overall play. His numbers, 31 goals in 29 matches, are just a fair reflection of his hard work.
Another one who could make a case for himself for this accolade is Kun’s Cadete A teammate Jandro Orellana. The classy midfielder put his name on the long list of youth players who made the move across town from Espanyol to Barcelona two seasons ago, and his performances with Barcelona have certainly not disappointed. A number of Premier League sides are rumoured to be following him closely, and Barcelona already seem to have a battle in their hands for convincing him to stay on and make the move into professional formative football with the Juvenil B.
Another no brainer, as Cadete B captain Eric García was head and shoulders above anyone else tasked with keeping opponents out. The centre-back, who has been at Barcelona since the age of 6 (yet still managing to also play for his local side Martorell before joining Barça), is La Masia’s most promising defender. He seems to have everything culés currently admire in Gerard Piqué: strength, an uncanny ability to build from the back, and lots of character.
At the start of the season, Barça’s Juvenil A side seemed to have everything a team needs to triumph. A good coach in Gabri Garcia, lots of talent and lots of enthusiasm. The results however, have been nowhere close what had been expected of the team. Their Youth League campaign ended very early, and their league challenge was never really a serious threat for eventual champions Espanyol. Gabri’s side finished fourth in the league, a whole 19 points adrift of their city rivals. The much-hyped Korean duo of Seung Woo Lee and Paik failed to deliver the moments of magic expected of them, mainly due to their long absence from competitive football due to the FIFA ban. Lee, who is expected to star in the future, did show some moments of real class, especially when he teamed up with midfielder Carles Aleñà.
The all-action midfielder spent relatively little time under Gabri’s orders, given that he often got called up to the B team, but still managed to be Juvenil A’s best performer. Aleñà also made a real contribution to Barça B’s play whenever he played with Gerard López’s men, and currently seems well placed for a starting role next season.
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