Thursday, March 3, 2011

Introduction to Barcelona's Superstar factory- La Masia

Barcelona's superstar factory has a production line that is the envy of the world.
And SunSport has been granted unprecedented access as the Catalan giants opened their doors to showcase football's most successful youth system.
Boss Pep Guardiola's side have been dubbed 'the best team of all time' for their epic success in the last three years.

Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes, Pedro, Xavi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Bojan Krkic and Jeffren all came through Barca's youth set-up.
Each is a product of what Barca call 'futbol base'.
Today, it numbers 330 kids and hundreds of employees, costing the club upwards of £10million a year.
Central to that is La Masia, the 'chalet' adjacent to the Nou Camp stadium where 60 top talents - those whose families live in remote parts of Spain or abroad - reside in the hope of making the first team.

An inauspicious, two-storey building, it has one dining room, six bedrooms, a library, a computer room and a recreation room.
Just 12 of the kids sleep in the building. The rest have dormitories in the first floor of the stadium, a mere 30 yards away.
Messi, Iniesta, Puyol, Valdes and Pedro lived at La Masia for years. Krkic and Jeffren were also residents, while Xavi went there for meals, so the club could monitor his diet. Pique and Busquets lived with their families elsewhere in the city.
Guardiola spent years at La Masia as well in the 1980s before becoming a legend as a player. So did his No 2, Tito Vilanova, and the man who today heads the youth set-up, Guillermo Amor - another former Spain international. All three were in the same class of 1986-87 and today this trio runs every aspect of the club from the footballing side.
A quarter of a century on, they ensure the continuity in a philosophy of excellence, both sporting and human, that has been established within the Spanish giants.

Other one-time La Masia residents include Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas, Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina, Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta and Atletico Madrid's ex-Arsenal midfielder Fran Merida. The list is endless.
Even Nayim, the former Tottenham midfielder most famous for a 45-yard Euro strike against Arsenal in 1995 while with Real Zaragoza, came through the Barca ranks.

Albert Folguera, the head of La Masia, outlined the club's approach.
He said: "It's a system of director, teachers, a doctor, a psychologist, cooks and other workers. There are three teachers, who work in the evening with the children.
"There's also a chief of studies and another administrative person who manages all the purchases, tickets and all the kinds of thing the children need for their recreation and studies. We also have three cooks and six kitchen staff."
Current maestros like Xavi and Iniesta always rave about their La Masia years.
Folguera added: "Xavi speaks about values we instil here - sharing things, camaraderie, friendship, laughter. You can't learn that, you live it.
"Do we have problems of adaptation with some kids? Obviously. They come here aged 12 and are away from their families. It's difficult but it's part of the process.
"For Iniesta, the first months were a real struggle. He missed his family, 700km away in Albacete, terribly.
"Leo Messi also. His mother and brother were in Argentina. He was only 12, had growth problems and couldn't play official matches for a year because of a documentation problem. It was soul-destroying for him.
"Victor Valdes had to go home after a season. He missed his family so much.
"Here, we manage emotions. To be made to feel at home and to be among so many people makes the children not feel isolated.
"It's more like a family. The doctor, the psychologists, the teachers and, at times, the coaches come here to eat, so the kids feel more supported.
"All the current stars who suffered away from their loved ones became great champions. They had the character and guts to overcome the difficulties."
Surprisingly, most of the day is spent on school studies. Only two hours are devoted to training in the evening - and 'always with the ball'.
Folguera declared: "This is the best time for La Masia since it was created in 1979 and also in Barca's history.
"The three men responsible for every aspect of FC Barcelona grew up in this home. The first team has 10 players from the academy, the majority of them from La Masia.
"In Barcelona B, the reserves, 12 players go to university."
Outside the windows, the only thing the talented interns can see during their long hours of study and additional home teaching, all paid for by the club, is the Nou Camp. A dream within touching distance and yet so far.
Only a fraction make it to the very top but they prepare the kids to be well rounded, well educated individuals first and athletes second.
Their education will allow them to make it in other areas if, in the end, their talent is not enough or an injury prevents them from realising their ambition.
All under the watchful eye of Guardiola. Folguera said: "I speak with Amor once a week and he informs Guardiola. Pep was here 10 days ago and we had a chat about everything. He does that a few times a year.
"Since Pep has been the coach, more 17 to 18-year-olds have trained with the first team than in the entire 32-year history of La Masia. He is the first to correct them and advise them.
"The first thing Guardiola, their youth coach and I tell them when they come back is, 'Listen. Now when you return to the youth team you have to be the one who works harder than anyone else. Don't get carried away'."
Competition is fierce and, once deemed good enough to enter the youth set-up, some pushy parents become desperate for their offspring to continue right to the top. That is why the club has banned mums and dads from training.
Folguera concluded: "La Masia is about education at all times - in the dining room, at training, in the home teaching classes.
"We tell parents, 'What we will value in your son is character, humility, hard work and discipline. But we also want him to have fun on the pitch, to have creativity and freedom of spirit.
"If you transmit that to your kid, and I transmit the same values too, that is what your son will grow up to be like.
"Xavi comes here all the time to talk, listen and advise the youngsters. Andres comes when the kids are away at school and brings boots and all kinds of equipment. They all do. They still feel part of the family."

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