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8 players who you probably didn't know graduated from Barcelona's La Masia academy

Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi are some high-profile La Masia graduates
Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi are some high-profile La Masia graduates
Arvind Sriram
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 04 May 2020, 22:27 IST
Top 5 / Top 10
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Barcelona's famed La Masia academy is considered to be a conveyor belt of talent. Boasting graduates like Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta, the academy consistently produces the best players in the world, year in year out. 

Back in 2010, La Masia achieved a new record of becoming the first academy to have produced all three Ballon d'Or finalists in the same year with Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, and Xavi.

On that note, here is a list of players you did not know graduated from the La Masia academy:


8. Keita Balde

Keita Balde was touted to be a massive star at Barcelona
Keita Balde was touted to be a massive star at Barcelona

Keita Balde was born in Catalonia to Senegalese parents and joined Barcelona's La Masia academy at the ripe age of 9. Touted as a future star, Balde came up rapidly through the ranks until an incident six years later that changed his entire fortunes. Away on a tour of Qatar, Keita placed an ice cube in the bed of a teammate as a practical joke and was sent on loan to UE Cornella as a punishment. 

The youngster was prolific for Cornella's youth side, scoring 47 goals before turning down a return to Barcelona in favour of a move to Lazio. The 25-year-old was, however, prevented from representing Lazio competitively because he had not been granted Spanish citizenship. 

After legal issues were sorted, Balde made his senior debut as a substitute in Lazio's 3-0 win over Chievo in September 2013 and then got his first start against Legia Warsaw in the Europa League. Despite his excellent performances for the club, Lazio slumped to 9th to end a disappointing season.

Keita has since gone off the boil somewhat and had a disappointing 2015 campaign. His talent remains, though, and a move away from Italy may be what the Senegalese needs. Like his coach at Lazio said, "He's a diamond that needs polishing, a talent out of the ordinary."

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He currently plays for Monaco in the Ligue 1 and has racked up 30 caps for Senegal till date.


7. Nayim

Nayim moved to Spurs after a stint at Barcelona
Nayim moved to Spurs after a stint at Barcelona's academy

One of the least popular names on this list, Mohammad Ali Amar, popularly known as Nayim, moved to the La Masia academy at the age of 12. He came through the ranks at the academy but found playing time limited at Barcelona and made a switch to Tottenham where he played some of his best football.

Nayim is best remembered for his hat-trick against Manchester City in the 1993 FA Cup quarter-finals. Overall, he made 144 league appearances for the North Londoners, before heading back to Spain to play for Real Zaragoza. His most famous moment as a player was his last-minute 45-yard lob winner for Zaragoza against Arsenal in the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

Although Nayim has never played for the Spanish senior team, he did help the U-20 side win the World Cup back in 1985.


6. Jordi Cruyff

Jordi, like his father, played for Barcelona
Jordi, like his father, played for Barcelona

Not as famous as his father Johan Cruyff – at whose behest the La Masia academy was founded, Jordi joined the Barcelona academy and made his debut for Barcelona B in 1992. Cruyff made his senior team debut two years later and helped Barcelona to a 4th place finish in the La Liga. 

After a couple of successful seasons, the Dutchman moved to Manchester United for whom he made over 30 league appearances. Jordi went on to play for several clubs including Alaves, Espanyol, Mettalurh Donetsk and Valletta after United and also featured on nine occasions for his the Netherlands.

Cruyff retired in 2010 and is currently the manager of the Ecuador national football team.


5. Pepe Reina

Reina began his career at Barcelona before moving to Villarreal
Reina began his career at Barcelona before moving to Villarreal

Son of former Atletico Madrid and Barcelona goalkeeper, Miguel Reina, Pepe began his career as a striker, before deciding to change his position.

Reina joined the La Masia academy at the age of 13 and worked his way up the youth ranks, finally finding himself in the reserves in 1999. In 2000, aged 18 he received his first call-up to the Barcelona first team and made his debut in a 3-3 draw against Celta Vigo.

He went on to make 19 appearances in the league and was the club's first choice in the UEFA Cup. Reina continued to serve as an understudy for the next two seasons, but made a to move to Villarreal in 2002.

In his three seasons at Villarreal, he established himself as one of the best keepers in the world and led the club to their first-ever Champions League qualifying spot. 

Liverpool then came calling, and after completing a move to Anfield, The Spaniard went on to make over 400 appearances for the Reds, claiming the Golden Glove in 3 consecutive Premier League seasons. Reina also holds the record for most clean sheets for Liverpool. At the Merseyside club, Reina managed four trophies before being loaned out to Napoli. 

After a permanent stint at Bayern, he moved to Napoli again and is currently playing for Aston Villa on a season-long loan deal from AC Milan. 

Interestingly enough, despite his heroics at the level, it is with the Spanish national team that he is most successful having won the World Cup in 2010 as well as claiming 2 European Championships.


4. Giovani Dos Santos

Giovani was one of the brightest prospects in football as a youngster
Giovani was one of the brightest prospects in football as a youngster

Giovani dos Santos has the reputation of being a player who performs for his country but fails at club level. The Mexican won the Silver Ball in the 2005 U-17 World Cup as well as the Bronze Ball in the 2007 U-20 World Cup.

He was also named Player of the Tournament in the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. He has since gone on to make 106 appearances for his nation, scoring 19 goals in the process.

He was not quite so impressive in club colours, however. Dos Santos began his youth career at Barcelona before being promoted to the first team, where he made just 20 odd appearances and was shipped out to Spurs after a single season. Despite being named one of the Top 50 Most Exciting Teen Footballers that season, he decided on a move to England in search of more playing time.

At Spurs, he managed just 15 league appearances and failed to score a single goal. What followed for the talented Mexican was loan spells at Ipswich, Galatasaray and Racing Santander.

After deciding to leave Spurs once and for all, he finalised a move to Mallorca in 2012 and finally seemed to have gotten his career back on track as he made 32 appearances for the club finishing as their top scorer. 

He was then picked up by Villarreal where he helped the side to a sixth-placed finish in the 2013/14 season. He currently plays in the Liga MX for Club America.


3. Mikel Arteta

Arteta was a part of La Masia but could not break into Barcelona
Arteta was a part of La Masia but could not break into Barcelona's senior team

Mikel Arteta is another big name who hails from the Barcelona academy, although he never played a senior match for the Catalans.

The current Arsenal manager was born in San Sebastian and began his youth career at Antiguoko, along with Xabi Alonso, from where he was picked up by Barcelona B. After failing to impress at the academy, he was loaned out to PSG following which he moved to Rangers. 

A move to childhood club Real Sociedad then ensued, after which he made a switch to England's top flight to play for Everton. At Everton, Arteta made a name for himself as one of the Premier League's best midfielders and was subsequently picked up by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Captain of Arsenal, Arteta went on to make over 100 appearances for the Gunners winning 2 FA Cups as well as 2 Community Shields before calling it quits and moving into management. 


2. Thiago Motta

Motta joined the Barcelona academy at 17 and made over 100 appearances for the club
Motta joined the Barcelona academy at 17 and made over 100 appearances for the club

Motta was born in Brazil and arrived at Barcelona's academy at the age of 17. Initially, a part of the Barcelona B side, Motta's hard work and grit earned him a promotion to their first team.

Although highly injury-prone, the Italian made over 100 appearances for the Catalans in all competitions, winning the La Liga as well as the Champions League during his 6-year stint. 

Motta has been somewhat of a drifter ever since, playing for Atletico, Genoa, Inter – where he won the treble under Jose Mourinho, and currently PSG. The 37-year-old has also made 30 appearances for Italy as well as 2 for Brazil.

Since retirement, Motta was appointed manager of Genoa in the Serie A but was sacked after a series of underwhelming results in 2019.


1. Mauro Icardi

Icardi was prolific for Barcelona
Icardi was prolific for Barcelona's academy but preferred a move away

The Argentine was born in Rosario, the same city as Lionel Messi, and moved to the Canary Islands at the age of 6. Prolific from a very young age, Icardi began his footballing career at Vecindario where he scored over 500 goals for their youth teams.

Attracting interest from top clubs, Icardi signed with Barcelona as a 15-year-old after they fought off interest from Liverpool, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Sevilla, and Espanyol. The Argentine continued where he had left off at Vecindario and netted consistently for the U-16 and U-19 sides.

Icardi, however, was not happy with his role at the Catalan club and decided on a switch to Italy to hone his talents.

A loan move to Sampdoria in 2011 was made permanent six months in after a successful stint at the club. After scoring on his professional debut, Icardi went on to have a highly successful season making 33 appearances in total for the club before making a move to Inter for €6.5 in 2013. 

Since then, he has made a name for himself as one of the most potent strikers in world football and earned himself move to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2019, albeit on loan. Icardi is expected to sign for the Parisian club permanently, thereby ending his six-year spell with Inter.


Published 20 Sep 2016, 20:34 IST
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