Why Barcelona must trust La Masia academy products
By Ssekamatte Allan Mabiriizi Simonsen
Barcelona were in danger of being written off as the beautiful game’s relics until club president Joan Laporta mortgaged their future with a succession of economic levers. His brief once he replaced serial bungler Josep Bartomeu was to restore the Catalan giants to the pinnacle of global football’s pyramid. However, the string of signings Laporta has pulled off in his short tenure will not solve the club’s three principal problems – unsustainable long term debt, a bloated salary structure and inability to utilise the La Masia academy.
Much to the relief of Camp Nou diehards, Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Raphinha, Frank Kessie, Andreas Christensen and Marco Alonso have made Blaugrana immediately competitive. All the same, the long term solution lies in reviving La Masia’s productive line. Barca won 8 Liga Santander titles in 11 seasons and 3 Champions League crowns in six years on the back of a core of eight academy products. Departing from a module that worked to near perfection would be foolhardy.
Spain were principal beneficiaries of La Masia’s success as 7 of Vincente del Bosque’s starting line up in the 2010 World Cup final and Euro 2012 showpiece match were Barca stars. The rapid progress being made by Pedri, Gavi, Ansu Fati and Alejandro Balde ought to convince Xavi Fernandez and his bosses that cash splurges similar to the one undertaken last summer are unsustainable.
Balde’s case is particularly interesting in light of Alonso’s recruitment. At the time of writing this piece, Balde was topping Primera Liga’s assists chart while playing the kind of Cruyffian football preached by Johan Cruyff and Carles Rexach. Put another way, with La Roja stalwart Jordi Alba also still on the Camp Nou books, recruiting Alonso was a waste of resources. Unless his progress is interrupted by injury, Balde is certain to be Spain’s first choice left back within 24 months.
Borussia Dortmund, Red Bull Salzburg and Ajax Amsterdam are examples of clubs that have turned nurturing talent to help meet economic goals into an art- form. This season alone three teenagers are starting matches for Edin Terzic’s Black and Yellows. Youssoufa Moukoko, 17, Jude Bellingham, 19, and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, 18, command a market value of €200m despite costing the Signal Iduna Park outfit next to nothing.
RB Salzburg are minting bucket loads of cash each season using the very same approach. 19-year-old Benjamin Sesko has already joined Sadio Mane, Erling Braut Haaland, Takehiro Minamino, Amadou Haidara and Dominic Szoboszlai as success stories from the club academy.
Of course Ajax are past masters at this kind of business. Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard Patrick Kluivert, Matthis de Ligt, Clarence Seedorf, Edwin van der Saar, Jari Litmanen, Denis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and Cruyff himself are examples of academy products that have kept the club afloat by delivering value in the transfer market.
Sir Alex Ferguson is the greatest manager the game has seen due to his belief in the class of 1992 whereas Arsene Wenger built Arsenal into a global brand following this module. London club Chelsea possess a great academy but are rarely patient with their own products and so end up getting shortchanged in the market.
On the flip side, Real Madrid’s academy may not be delivering talent to match expectations but the club’s director of football deserves plaudits for putting faith in Brazilian teenagers Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes. The pair have matured into Santiago Bernabeu striking mainstays just three years after the European champions invested in their futures.