Just a stone’s throw away from Barcelona’s Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper training ground and overshadowed by the ever impressive Nou Camp lays an idyllic 18th – century farmhouse. Built in 1702 its stands within the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest districts within the Catalonian capital, it is known as La Masia.
This isn’t just a typical Spanish cottage nor its surroundings for it provides the perfect set of ingredients to create the almost perfect footballer. Football clubs across the world have tried to emulate its success by adopting the tiki-taka style ‘Los Cules’ are synonymous for but to no avail. So what exactly makes La Masia such a resounding success?
From the age of 13 or 14, boys who live outside the city are housed at the cottage, allowing the club to carefully construct their futures under the careful gaze of the academy staff, and ensuring their training time is not interrupted by tedious travel to and from the ground. Typically the 14 year-old boys will train for six hours a week and play a condensed 90 minute match on a pitch that for most would seem too small to even move in. On the face of it the schedule seems unrelenting yet crucially it allows the club to develop not just their football skills but more importantly their lifestyle and attitudes, teaching the benefits of eating healthily and those all-important early nights. The boys like an army squadron live, sleep and eat together at La Masia, housed in bunk-bed rooms which resemble student dorms. They eat together to promote comradeship and do their homework in a purpose built library. They even have the luxury of a games room with table football, pool and PlayStations.
Messi, the world's best player, is the current star product of La Masia. He arrived in Barcelona from Buenos Aires when he was just 13 with his family after believe it or not no Argentinian club would pay for the drugs he needed to treat his now much publicised growth deformity. Although with hindsight, it’s clear that Barcelona has an eye for incredible talent. Even though at the time young Lionel was a foot and a half shorter than most teenagers at his age. Unlike in England, where size, sheer strength and the rather ugly ability to throw ones weight around is highly sought after by many scouts, Barcelona thanks to the extraordinary visions of a certain Mr Cryuff applies different criteria to its academy admissions.
More importantly what distinguishes Barcelona from almost all English clubs is that home-produced players make up the bulk of their team. For example, Barca edged out Deportiva La Coruna in a thriller this weekend with nine of the starting eleven players the product of the Club's academy system a feat in England almost certainly unheard of. This ultimately is a 'factory' for world-class footballers and it is currently at the peak of its powers. All of Barcelona’s goal scorers in the thrilling 5-4 victory against Deportivo at the weekend were products of La Masia. It’s safe to assume that the conveyer belt for talent looks almost endless. The club moto is "Més que un club" which in English translates to ‘more than a club’, something which La Masia is a towering example of.
image: © MARIA ROSA FERRE