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Are we witnessing the fall of the La Masia?

Aniket Sharma
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The main façade of La Masia
The main façade of La Masia

La Masia is often used to describe Barcelona's famed youth academy. This academy has been praised as one of the best in the world and is a significant factor in FC Barcelona's European success as well as the Spanish national team's success.

In the 21st century, Barcelona have always relied upon their homegrown talents, in contrast to their rivals Real Madrid, who have adopted what is known as a "Galactico" approach to the transfer market by spending large amounts of money. During the Guardiola era, the Blaugrana had 8 academy bred starters in the squad on an average and won 14 out of 19 titles in 4 years.

The academy also made history when the Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, the top 3 finalists of the 2010 FIFA Ballon D'or, all belonged to the La Masia. 

Messi, Xavi and Iniesta were the heart and soul of Barcelona in the Guardiola Era
Messi, Xavi
Iniesta were the heart and soul of Barcelona in the Guardiola Era

So what went wrong?

The nature of youth football, and academy player production, in particular, is necessarily recurring: the better players they produce, the stronger the first team is, the better the next players must be to break through. It cannot continue for an unlimited period of time, and with FC Barcelona, there has been a significant downturn. That said, it's not only a lack of graduating youngsters that is the problem. It is the unending trail of untapped potential being drained out of the club before they even get close enough to get a chance at first-team level, and it must really be worrying fans.

One of the main reasons is the board. Josep Bartomeu seems keen on doing things differently to Joan Laporta, who prioritiszed La Masia. It is obvious that if an amazing talent like Messi comes along he may still get through, but the chances of getting through are less in comparison to previous years. Thiago Alcantara, now of Bayern Munich, is the perfect example.

La Masia under Tito Vilanova made history on November 25, 2012, as 11 academy players appeared together on the pitch for an hour in a 4-0 win over Levante after Martin Montoya replaced an injured Dani Alves in the first half. On the contrary, Ernesto Valverde recently came into headlines as Barcelona's 2-2 La Liga draw at Celta Vigo on April 18, 2018 saw them name a line-up without a single club youth product for the first time in 16 years.

In the past 5 years, the Catalans have not been afraid of breaking the bank for various players like Neymar, Luis Suarez and now for Ousmane Dembele and Phillippe Coutinho, spending over €400 million in the process.

Ousmane Dembele was brought in the summer window of 2017 for €105 Million and Philippe Coutinho was brought in the January window for €142 Million
Ousmane Dembele was brought in the summer window of 2017 for €105 Million and Philippe Coutinho was brought in the January window for €142 Million

The 2014/15 Treble-winning campaign included a mere five regular homegrown starters in the starting 11 compared to eight in 2008/09. The ideal Barcelona XI for the 2018/19 season includes only five homegrown starters, and four have reached the age of 30.

Although exciting prospects like Carles Alena and Riqui Puig are slowly breaking into the first team, only time will tell how far they will go. Many of these players are just not quite at the level needed and are let go when they are at an age ready for the first team, like Gerard Deulofeu and Marc Bartra.

With the continuous arrival of the big signings, the present day academy players might feel a little insecure and get a little low on confidence. But it's nothing new: Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba left and came back as world-class players, Fabregas has done the same in the past. Players will look at them and think the route to the top is clearer elsewhere as Barcelona no longer look dependent on their homegrown talents.

Does this mean that in today's world, to win big, you have to spend big? Can the La Masia really produce any more players like Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, and Puyol?

Well, we'll only know that in the years to come.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and they do not necessarily represent the views of Sportskeeda.