Trying to find the next global superstars is a favorite activity of both clubs and fans alike. There is no exact science on how to find the newest generation of Champions League winners, but that doesn’t stop every club with a hefty payroll in sending their scouts throughout the world to look for the next Lionel Messi.
Regardless of what La Masia’s current reputation may be, FC Barcelona has been the leader in the 21st century at developing talent. It appears that looking at the players on Barcelona B as the next wave of Blaugrana talent is no longer the best system. Nevertheless, there are different options as to how players can find themselves integrated into the first team.
Here are the ten young players with ties to Barcelona with the best chances of finding a future role as a starter in the first team:
1. Rafinha Alcántara
While the young Brazilian is currently recovering from a torn ACL, his bright start to the season shouldn’t be forgotten. If he can return to the first team with the same vigor that he had this year, the 22-year-old who can play multiple positions could be a long-term starter and would allow Luis Enrique versatility in his line-ups.
It shouldn’t be understated that Rafinha first fought for his spot in first team football away from the Camp Nou at Celta Vigo before making his return.
2. Alen Halilovic
Speaking of playing away from Camp Nou, the 19-year-old Croatian currently out on loan at Sporting Gijon has become the primary playmaker at the Asturian club. Halilovic may be the finest creative force in the Barcelona pipeline and similar to Rafinha, his offensive versatility cutting into the middle from the wings could do wonders for his parent club when he returns.
Already providing a number of assists, the Barcelona board has to like what they are seeing from his development.
3. Sergi Samper
As Sergi Roberto proved, sometimes a player just needs to be persistent to carve out a role in the first team. While pundits didn’t have many nice things to say about the youngsters who featured in the recent Champions League draw against Bayer Leverkusen, Sergi Samper was easily the best of them.
The 20-year-old has greatly improved his defensive play of late, and the next step in his development will be the most important. Barcelona B doesn’t look to be getting out of the third division any time soon, so a change of scenery may be best for the young midfielder before he reintegrates himself back into the Barcelona setup.
4. Gerard Deulofeu
Barcelona have a two-year buy-back clause on Gerard Deulofeu’s contract at Everton, and they may try to entice him back to the Camp Nou if he continues the fine form he is in at Goodison Park. A goal and eight assists so far in the Premiere League this season have turned Deulofeu into a fan favorite in England, and his work rate has improved in response to the support.
Deulofeu is already a favorite of Roberto Martinez after dealing with injuries and substitutions last season. If Barcelona doesn’t splash cash on another forward during the January window, they may have to take a hard look at bringing back the young Catalan over the summer for a bargain price.
5. Denis Suárez
Another 21-year-old Spaniard with a buy-back clause in his contract, the young midfielder is probably a better option for a return to Catalonia than Deulofeu.
One goal and five assists this year is a decent output for Suarez, and while the Barcelona midfield may look awfully crowded with Arda Turan, Ivan Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha, Sergio Busquets and of course Andres Iniesta, there may still be room for the current Villarreal player due to his potential for the future.
6. Wilfred Kaptoum
Making his debut against Leverkusen, the 19-year-old Cameroonian midfielder looked raw and ill-prepared for the top level. That should come as no surprise in a player’s first team debut, but clearly some of the tools are there for him to capitalize on to become a quality player for the Blaugrana.
Another year with Barcelona B and then a potential loan deal may await him, but depending on how quickly he can make good on his potential, he may help to provide cover for defensive midfield if Sergio Busquets needs a rest.
7. Carles Aleña
The final group of potential starters all still plies their trade in La Masia, with Juvenil A’s Carles Alena at the top of the list. Much like Munir El Haddadi before him, a golazo in the UEFA Youth League helped put him on the radar of Cules.
Carles' call-ups for Barcelona B show that he may be better than some of the current options at that level, and the U-19 Spanish international with tricky feet is just getting started. He is still only 17 years old, so he may still be a good few years away from the first team, but fans may want to start tracking his progress as Barcelona have found another midfield gem.
While La Masia is known for developing strong offensive players, the number of quality defenders to come out of the youth system is surely lacking. A defensive midfielder by nature, 18-year-old Ferran Sarsanedas has appeared at center-back while playing at Juvenil A as well as in the UEFA Youth League. This versatility may have coaches telling him to learn as much from Javier Mascherano as he can while he has a front-row seat of the Argentinian destroyer.
Ferran's game is one that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, so Cules will need to trust the coaching staff that he is developing properly as another player sitting a few years away from the first team.
9. Seung-Woo Lee
The 17-year-old South Korean forward, who turns 18 in less than a month, was the biggest name to be affected by the FIFA transfer ban. After scoring large numbers of goals in every youth level, he found himself promoted to Barcelona B, but unable to play.
The likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid reportedly tried to pry him away from the Camp Nou, but he instead went to train with South Korean club Suwon FC until he could return to the fold. The expectations for him are already through the roof, but with a little patience, he could be the cheapest option for Barcelona in even a year or two when they are in need of extra goal-scoring.
10. Kun Temenuzkov
While only 15 years of age, Bulgarian forward Kun Temenuzkov is one that the Barcelona front office would like to keep around Catalonia. He was rewarded for two goals in an important Cadet A match with a contract extension to keep him at La Masia for the near future.
Barcelona and Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov will naturally be the comparison that follows this youngster around, but only time will tell if he will have the same difficulties that recent young Barcelona forwards have had trying to make it at the Camp Nou. Like any youth player, patience may be the best thing that Cules can give him.
Missing the cut
For those wondering why Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez are not on the list, it is because they have already started games for the first team and do not look close to ready to be starters. They were both thrust into the first team as teenagers but, while their development isn’t complete, they may need to spend a season or two away from the pressures of Barcelona to help them reach the next level.
As for Gerard Gumbau, Juan Cámara and Aitor Cantalapiedra, they all could carve out future positions on the substitute bench, but seem to lack the necessary talent to be full-time starters at Barcelona. Playing for Barcelona is tough enough as is and they are all still quality players with much to offer, but they may not be the answer as the next group of club icons.
Adama Traore missed the cut because it doesn’t look like Barcelona is interested in buying him back while Jean-Marie Dongou looks to have his window for first team action closing with each passing week.
Finally, and most polarizing, Alex Grimaldo could be out of Catalonia as soon as the January transfer window. Much can be debated about what went wrong for Grimaldo at Barcelona, and some could even debate that his window to play for them isn’t entirely closed. Yet, until further notice, fans should not count on him as the future of the left-back position.