There was an article about Barcelona football's influence [on Spain's World Cup win] (AKA Sid Lowe fanboying over Barça) and a fair bit about La Masia, and I thought I'd share it here. Basically it's a whole lot of fanboying, which I'm sure we can all relate to. It's fabulous. :')
Here is the article!
FROM LITTLE THINGS BIG THINGS GROW
How Barcelona’s youth academy won the World Cup, and produced the greatest player on the planet.
Sid Lowe reports.
Joan Laporta is a Catalan separatist, a politician whose sometimes delirious discourse focuses largely on the pride of his stateless nation. He carries a burning desire for Catalan independence from Spain and the injustice of the way he claims the nation plunders Catalonia’s resources, pillaging from Barcelona and growing rich from its loot without giving anything back.
He also happens to be the former president of the most significant Catalan flagship of all: Fútbol Club Barcelona. Not just the former president but their most successful former president, winning two European Cups, humiliating the representatives of Castilian centralism in their own home and boasting that he nurtured the world’s finest footballer. He is also the former president who removed the Spanish flag from Barcelona’s headquarters, replacing it with Catalonia’s.
So, when Laporta declared this summer that “FC Barcelona won the World Cup, only they were wearing the wrong shirts” no one was surprised. And no one took him particularly seriously either. After all, he would say that.
But here’s the thing: he might just have had a point.
The Spanish national team’s captain is a Madrileño; the coach Vincente Del Bosque has significant ties to Real Madrid; the right back, Sergio Ramos, is from Sevilla; and one of their central midfielders, Xabi Alonso, is Basque. But when la selección took to the field against Holland in Johannesburg last July, five of their starting XI were Catalan; Joan Capdevila (who plays for Villareal), Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets and Xavi Hernández. Better still, seven were Barça players: Piqué, Puyol, Busquets, Xavi, Pedro Rodríguez, David Villa and Andres Iniesta.
As if that was not enough, the man who imposed a style, a football identity, on la selección was Barcelona’s Xavi. Barcelona’s Iniesta got the winning goal in the final, Barcelona’s Puyol got the winning goal in the semi-final and Barcelona’s Villa got the winning goals in Spain’s other victories.
Over on the bench was another Barcelona player: goalkeeper Victor Valdés. Oh, and there was Cesc Fabregas too: the Catalan from Arenys del Mar who began his career at Barcelona before joining Arsenal and was desperate to return home again. Plus Pepe Reina, who began his career at Barcelona before joining Liverpool.
That was Laporta’s point. Casillas’ penalty save had been vital, Ramos’ performances superb, Alonso a central figure. You could also argue that Villa, from Asturias in the north, was more Valencia’s player than Barcelona’s having not yet played a game for his new club, but still...
Barcelona might not have won the World Cup - although can you imagine the Spain side plus Leo Messi? - but they had gone a long way towards doing so. And it was not just that Barcelona had players in the World Cup-winning side; it was that they had made the players in the World Cup-winning side.
Of the seven Barcelona players in the Spanish starting XI, six had been brought through the club’s youth system. So too Fabregas and Reina. So too Messi - the world’s best player, holder of the FIFA World Player award, and the Ballon d’Or. Argentina? Messi joined the Catalan club at 13.
Real Madrid may claim to have signed seven Ballon d’Or winners in nine years but not one of them won the award for what he did at Madrid; in each case he joined the club with the award under his arm.
Meanwhile, Barcelona’s winners - Figo, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Stoichkov - have won the award while Barcelona players or, more traumatically, just after leaving. More significantly, Messi is the current holder, and among the 2010 candidates are Xavi and Iniesta. “We create Ballon d’Ors,” Laporta bristled. “Others buy them.”
Barcelona create a lot more besides. When they defeated Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League Final, en route to a historic haul of six trophies out of six, seven of the starting 11 were homegrown.
In the dying minutes, another youth-teamer, Pedro, also made an appearance. All are products of La Masia - the symbolic home of Barcelona’s youth system, its academy.
There is no sign of the supply drying up. At least that’s what Barcelona hope. Of the current 19-man first team squad, 10 are La Masia graduates. And the reason that Barcelona have limited the squad to 19 - the smallest in the top flight - is that coach Pep Guardiola has, in his own words, “blind faith” in the youth team players he can call into the squad. Maybe not so blind. At the time of writing, Barcelona B (the reserve team) were just three points off the top of the Second Division. And yes, that is the Second Division.
It is hard to look at La Masia and not think of the opening line of the Asterix books, to see Gaul with its tents and its resistance. A tiny little hamlet holding out against the world. La Masia isn’t much to look at. A traditional Catalan stone farmhouse, it’s pretty enough, but it’s the fact that there’s something utterly incongruous about it that draws you in - a curiosity, a wonder that it’s still around, stuck between life and death; maternity hospital on one side, crematorium on the other. A stone farmhouse dwarfed by the stadium and city that has grown up around it, engulfing it.
La Masia was constructed in 1702. A peasant farmer’s home, 610 square metres in size, although it looks less, and spread over two floors, a modern day use was found for it during the 1950s as a kind of construction headquarters - what would these days be a pre-fab Portacabin occupied by dusty shoes and high-visibility fluoro vests, home to architects and builders as they set about constructing the monster right next door - Barcelona’s Camp Nou.
When the work finished on the stadium - still the biggest in Europe - La Masia was abandoned and stood empty. In 1966, it became Barcelona’s social centre and then, in 1979, the club bought it outright. It became a residency for young hopefuls - the kids who came to Barcelona to try to carve out a football career.
From the windows there is much to see: the city’s prostitute population for a start. David Beckham recalled watching the “other lads” leaning out of the window, whistling and cat calling at the girls on the street when he stayed there for a weekend after winning a Bobby Charlton Soccer Schools competition as a kid. But more importantly, you can see the small pitch where, until three years ago, Barcelona’s first team trained and, behind that, the Camp Nou: a constant expression of what they were striving towards. Aspirations in concrete and grass.
Almost 500 footballers have lived at La Masia over the years, amongst them Cesc Fabregas, Guillermo Amor, Mikel Arteta and Leo Messi. With rooms for 60 kids in bunk beds, there is a library, dining room and kitchen. The children are schooled there too.
But it is more than just a residence. It is a kind of indoctrination centre in all things Barcelona. It is, as the official line has it, “the cradle of Barcelona’s youth system.” La Masia is shorthand for their cantera, their entire academy - a symbol.
Even those kids who never actually lived there are always referred to as La Masia graduates and even as they lose physical contact with the place, spiritual contact, it is hoped, is to be maintained. The club’s new youth academy, currently under construction at San Joan Despí, on the edge of the city, has been called “the 21st Century Masia”.
Those who have been through La Masia graduate with specific skills. Their education is a very particular one. That’s why indoctrination really is the word. There is a zealous, almost puritanical protection of a certain social, political and football identity. A rigidity. You could even call it a fetish. And that, say the school’s supporters, is the secret of its success.
Not just Barcelona’s success but now Spain’s too. The Barcelona philosophy has become Spain’s philosophy - the philosophy that has finally brought success with a first European Championship in 44 years and a first World Cup ever. A style that across Spain has come to be known as ‘tiki-taka’ - a nonsensical phrase that broadly means touch-touch or tippy-tappy, one that is all about positioning and technical ability, about short, quick passing and possession.
It is a style of which Barcelona are proud and one they are quick to claim as their own. They are rather less quick to recognise its originals in the Ajax Academy, although they do recognise that the philosophical father of Barcelona’s current approach is Johan Cruyff - the former player who arrived at the club in 1973 and changed their history, then later as coach led the Dream Team to four successive titles and the club’s first ever European Cup in the early 1990s. Cruyff became a guru, laying down a football identity to aspire to.
Cruyff-ism was carried to the youth team. More so, even, than the first team, bringing about a production line of clever, technical footballers, determined to play ‘the right way’.
In Spain, youth systems are known as canteras, or quarries, as if players are hewn out of the rocks; Barcelona’s have been carved out of works of art. At least that’s the self-consciously superior way supporters talk about it. The commitment to that approach is unwavering, which helps to bring stability even in times of instability and generate a certain type of player.
Some critics feel that might be a disadvantage with Barcelona only producing that ideal type, but the results have been astonishing.
Such is the clarity of identity about Barcelona, that Michael Robinson, the former Liverpool player who is now Spain’s leading football pundit, insists: “Show me 20 kids in a park and I can pick out the two who are at Barça. When kids do get the chance to play in the first team, the approach does not change and as a result they’re more likely to feel comfortable, more likely to be armed with the necessary tools to achieve.” As young Barcelona player Jonathan Dos Santos said earlier this year after being given his chance in the first team: “the football is exactly the same.”
Stability, continuity, financial reward and ideological tranquility are the result. As Hristo Stoichkov claims: “If Barcelona tried to buy the players they have created, it would cost them a billion dollars.”
“If we need a new player we will always look at the youth team first,“ said the director of football, Andoni Zubizarreta, himself a former Barcelona legend.
Even Madrid’s spokesmen have lauded Barcelona’s approach. Jose Mourinho said that Barcelona could play “blindfolded”. He, on the other hand, has yet to build an identity for Madrid.
“Barcelona are a club that for some time have worked according to a certain philosophy and personality and built projects according to that image and what they think is right,” said former Madrid captain Fernando Hierro.
It would be a mistake to place the credit solely at the door of a La Masia philosophy - after all, Barcelona have bought superstars too, from Romário to Ronaldo, from Rivaldo to Ronaldinho, from Henry to Eto’o - but over the last six years, they have won four leagues, a Copa del Rey and two Champions Leagues, while Madrid have win two league titles and failed to win a European knock-out tie. Madrid were the 20th century’s most successful club; the 21st century is a different matter.
“If you look at Barcelona’s culture, it’s the same at Under 12 and Under 14 level,” says Zinedine Zidane. “The guy who looks after the Under 16s plays the same way as the first team. You don’t find that at Madrid. You wonder what their style is. The style of Cruyff, of Pep Guardiola, gives real identity to Barcelona - which is something Madrid still need to find.”
Ah, Guardiola. Where that identity is most clearly expressed and imposed is in midfield. A stylistic line of continuity can be drawn from Fabregas to Iniesta, to Xavi, down the years to De La Peña and Guardiola.
When Guardiola played, an opponent defined him in a single world: “pam”. Single but many. “Pam-pam-pam-pam-pam-pam-pam-pam”. Pass, pass, pass. Xavi described he and Iniesta as “sons of the system”. Iniesta recalls the Barça mantra: “Receive, pass, offer, receive, pass, offer.” And Fabregas adds: “If you’ve played at Barcelona, you develop a taste for good football.”
“We are sons of the Dream Team,” Guardiola says, “Trying to emulate them.” More than a son, he has become its defender, protecting and enhancing the legacy. Promoting it.
The day Iniesta first trained with Barcelona, Guardiola was still a player. “You’re going to retire me,” he told Xavi, “But this lad is going to retire us all.” The beauty for Barcelona is that they have been able to work together - the purest expression of a football identity, of the La Masia model. A completion of the circle.
Guardiola was Cruyff’s captain. He then became Barcelona’s second team coach. Now, he coaches the first team. When Guardiola was promoted ahead of Jose Mourinho - the man many in the media wanted - Laporta declared: “We chose a philosophy, not a brand.” Guardiola, one of his closest collaborators, says he, “suckled at the teat of Cruyff”.
With that education, Guardiola could hardly do anything by respect La Masia. And in doing so, he has allowed Spain to do so too. He has not wavered at bringing through the kids he mentored. Two years ago, Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodríguez had just won the Third Division. Now they have won the World Cup. La Masia may not be much to look at, but it’s a tiny Catalan farmhouse that conquered the world. ✧
[And here is a bit more about La Masia, belonging with the same article. Crybaby Iniesta! Awwww! :')]
FROM COUNTRY HOUSE TO DREAM ACADEMY
Matthew Hall charts the history of La Masia
Take the Barcelona Metro to the Maria Cristina station, almost the last stop on the Green Linea 3. Exit the station, ignoring the distraction of El Corte Ingles, the Spanish department store, and walk down Avinguda Diagonal past the banks and cafes. Turn left at Avinguda Joan XXIII and stroll down the sweeping hill toward the ever-looming Camp Nou stadium, Barcelona’s home ground. It’s an imposing place of history, heroes, and legend; one of football’s true great venues.
But it’s the little stone building we’re interested in rather than Camp Nou, or even the “mini stadium” where Barça teams play and train in a ground bigger than some other clubs’ main facilities.
These days La Masia (“The Farmhouse” from Catalan), architecturally out of context and literally in the shadow of the Camp Nou, is behind a wire fence and gate. But on friendly days you can walk up the driveway and knock on the front door to perhaps get a glimpse of the future stars of world football.
Built as a country house in 1702, La Masia was later used by architects and builders to construct scale models of the Camp Nou during its construction in the mid-1950s before being shut down. It was used as the club administrative headquarters in the 1960s but rapid staff expansion saw staff move elsewhere. On October 20, 1979, La Masia was officially reopened as living quarters for youth team players from outside the city.
La Masia originally housed 15 residents, who all lived on the top floor of the building. It now features dormitories, bathrooms, study rooms, a dining room, and kitchen. As the number of recruits grew, the club also established La Masia II inside the Camp Nou, taking up two floors of the stadium with bedrooms.
Ten youth players now live in the original La Masia while up to 46 more can reside in the stadium annex.
The club emphasised that players might become sport starts but there’s more chance they will not reach the top level so their “training” is not just for sport but also for life. Everyday, the players are bussed to the city’s best schools. It is not always easy. Just ask Andres Iniesta.
“He was very close to his family and every goodbye each weekend would become a mini-drama,” recalls Albert Benaiges, a La Masia coach. “Andres would be crying and he spend a lot of time at my house. When my mother seems him smiling now she always makes a joke because she remembers how much he suffered in those days.” Says iniesta: “You would look out and there was the Nou Camp stadium opposite. It was always on your mind, that the goal was to play there.”
Source: Football+ magazine
Words: first article, Sid Lowe; second article, Matthew Hall.
Disclaimer: Any spelling/grammar mistakes are probably mine, and I apologise. Any factual mistakes, however, are not, so please write to Lowe or Hall if you have a bone to pick. XD
Edit: Fixed a few of said [embarrassing] spelling errors, although I might've still missed a few. Please let me know if you see anything! :)
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There are also two articles as part of Football+'s "Our 10 Men of 2010" feature, which, among others, covers Iniesta and Messi separately. For Iniesta, they fanboy (it's Sid Lowe again, jsyk) and talk about his humbleness and his hero-status, and they somehow incorporate Star Wars into it, idek, it's both hilarious and a bit confusing. For Messi, they talk about... well, they just fanboy over him. They take ten achievements of his and talk about Why He Is So Fabulous. :')
Would you guys be interested in reading about them? If not, that's cool. :) If so, should I smush them into the one entry, or separate them? (they are rather long articles, ftr)