Barcelona’s famed, La Masia, youth academy continues to be a very delicate subject to both fans and former players alike. The senior team has seen its share of home-grown talent dwindle in the last few years since Pep Guardiola departed. Some of it has to do with coaches post-Guardiola relying less and less on academy players. Not all of it comes down to the coaches themselves. It’s a mixture of factors ranging from pressure to win everything so experimenting with younger players isn’t always an option. Also, the players not being good enough or ready to make the jump to the senior team.
What we’ve also seen in the last couple of years is Barcelona losing promising young talent to teams who either offer them more money or promise a shot at the first team. Examples of the latter would be Jordi Mboula who left and signed for Monaco. This unquestionably draws ire from the fans wondering why the board is letting players such as Mboula leave.
With the price of players in the transfer market rising, keeping young players has become more crucial as it means teams don’t have to pay exorbitant high transfer fees for decent players.
However, we have seen players return to their former teams. The best example would be Paul Pogba and Manchester United. After not being given a chance under Sir Alex Ferguson, Pogba left on a free to Juventus. He excelled with the Italian side prompting Man United to dish out more than €100 million to bring him back.
Barcelona have lost their fair share of players but rarely do they ever sign them back. It’s a tactic that former Barcelona legend, Xavi Hernandez, seems to agree with.
When asked about if he would sign Hector Bellerin, he said, “I haven’t seen him play much, but I’ll say one thing: it would be difficult for me to sign a player we’d already had.”
When told that Pique and Cesc were similar cases, he said these kind of deals can be good, bad or average but that he was not in favor of re-signing players who had left.
In the same interview, in response to the departures of Mboula and Eric Garcia, he said, “I wouldn’t re-sign them in the future. I’d have that approach. You were here, you wanted to leave, well don’t come back.”
Clearer, Xavi could not be.
In a different interview, former Barcelona defender, Carles Puyol responded, ““It’s an opinion which has to be respected. I think that it should be judged on a case by case basis. If you need a player and they have left… In the case ofPique, whose performances have been spectacular, we wouldn’t have signed him.”
In essence, while Puyol respects Xavi’s opinion on the subject, he does not agree with them. He uses Pique’s case as an example because he left to Manchester United and then was brought back. Fair to say that it was a crucial signing in Pep Guardiola’s first season.
Puyol’s mindset towards this subject seems to be more level-headed. Xavi believes that if you leave, then you can’t come back. He doesn’t take into account the reasons as to why these players choose to leave. Everyone has different motivations.
Since Mboula was mentioned in the interview, let’s start with him. One of the reasons that Mboula gave was that he saw no direct line to the first team. There were simply too many players ahead of him on the depth chart. Monaco also promised him first-team football. Who would pass up that opportunity? You get to accomplish your dream of becoming a professional footballer and potentially get to play in the Champions League. The way Barcelona is set up at the moment, those opportunities would not be possible.
Assuming that La Masia will always pump out players like Messi, Xavi, or Iniesta is lunacy. More often than not, the players that come up through the ranks will be more of the Sergi Roberto’s of the world and that is not a bad thing. These are good players but rarely will teams produce one-of-a-kind, Ballon d’Or caliber player. Fans need to temper their expectations on academy players because they are not a certainty.
People underestimate the damage and stunting of player development that Barcelona’s transfer ban had on Barcelona’s youth academy. Everyone focused on what it meant for the senior team but they won the treble that season. The ban meant that some of Barcelona’s more promising players had to sit out for a year. This led to the growth of players such as Paik and Lee stalling and it led to a significant exodus of young players who decided to leave in order to continue their progress. Coupled with the fact that Barca B was demoted, it should not have been a surprise that Luis Enrique was hesitant to utilize younger players.
In the end, La Masia players have to bet on themselves and if it means leaving Barcelona, then so be it. Not everyone is going to make it on a senior team so they have to give themselves the best opportunity to make it. If their dream is to play for Barcelona, they can still accomplish it by playing well wherever they go and catching the team’s attention. If Barcelona feel that players who leave can help the senior team then there should be no controversy if they do wind up coming back, assuming the price is right.