By and large, Barcelona often receive words of praise from those formerly associated with the club. Of course the club is praised for the high level of its first team, but more importantly, for its youth academy, La Masia. Yet, every week “The Farmhouse” and its relationship with the first team seem to be under fire. Oftentimes, especially concerning critiques from Madrid, which can be ignored.
However, former president Joan Laporta is the latest to express displeasure with the current board’s handling of Johan Cruyff’s creation. Laporta may have praised the work of Sergi Roberto, an academy product acquired and promoted to Barcelona B while he was president, but he was very critical of the way that the current administration is handling the youth.
The board’s current policies have completely disregarded the cantera. The board is dismantling the cantera. They’ve gone for another style, looking at the transfer market, but this could end up costing them. You have to prepare for the Barcelona of the future. It’s the moment for the youngsters from the academy to begin to learn from the cracks, but that’s not the case. It’s a shame not to indulge the factory of dreams which is La Masia. If more Sergi Roberto’s had been brought through, now we wouldn’t have a problem.
Laporta’s message is clear and he does have some very valid points, beginning of course with Sergi Roberto’s path. Unlike Lionel Messi or Sergio Busquets, the now right-back had to wait several years of playing a role as a substitute for the first team before he claimed a starting spot.
Cules praise players like Sergi Roberto, Marc Bartra and even Jonathan Dos Santos to continuing to stay season after season just so that they can fight for their shot to feature more often. In the cases of Bartra and Dos Santos, how often they featured seems to have a direct effect on the amount of time they were willing to wait for that opening whistle job. Cules want to root for and praise players that show commitment to the club, and any player with the quality and patience to work their way into a larger role is the kind of player that every club dreams of having.
Yet in the circumstances laid out, it always seems like the onus is on the player to figure out if they can make the grade. If they find themselves to be surplus to requirements, as so many like Bartra, Martin Montoya and Sandro Ramirez did, they must look for those coveted match minutes elsewhere. Laporta is putting the onus on the Barcelona board however. He is not just bashing the transfers of the first team, but of the whole system, as Barcelona B has one of its greatest influxes of outside faces in club history.
The infusion of new blood into Barcelona B was made with a stated purpose. That purpose was to use players with established Segunda Division B experience to help the club get back to the Segunda Division. The goal of getting back to the second division of course is ultimately to get the academy products the highest competition level possible to prepare them for the first team, but in the fight of promotion or player development, one had to take priority.
Luis Enrique’s evaluation of Sergi Samper last season that he just wasn’t playing at a high fast enough level would be the indicator of why promotion became the logical choice, as Samper as now for a few years been labeled as a prospect destined for the first team.
The possible future that Laporta may be hinting at may be a tad dark for some, but the worst thing that could happen to La Masia would be for young players to no longer believe that they can break into the first team. At other top academies around the world, including Ajax, Sporting Lisbon and Porto, youth come up through the system, have a quick cup of coffee with the first team in a few Champions League group stage matches and get sold to the major clubs for a hefty transfer fee, still realizing their dream.
If teenagers around the world start to believe that the best way to play for Barcelona is through someone else’s academy, then Barcelona board’s has indeed done the damage to La Masia that Laporta is predicting.
Nevertheless, Laporta's disastrous scenario is not close to reality. Whether they thrive at Barcelona or not, there are La Masia products of numerous ages and positions scattered around Europe plying their trade, particularly in La Liga. The class of 1987 may never be replicated talent-wise, but a steady stream of two or three players ever two or three years will always keep the club brimming with academy talent.
In truth, it may be better that Barcelona seem to have recently changed their policy of sending a player like Samper out on loan instead of having him sit on the bench all season. While he could practise and learn from Busquets and Andres Iniesta at the Camp Nou, first team action may be much more important to his development to earn any minutes at the club eventually.
When, eventually, Samper comes back to the club with a little more confidence and poise, then he can add some tricks from the greats into his arsenal, play alongside them for the twilight of their careers and finally take their place in another Champions League winning side.
Long live La Masia!