Statistics are cold, objectivity can be reality, both of them might or might not contain truth. La Masia is in the news again, via a Marca story that suggests that the vaunted FC Barcelona academy has become a profit center rather than a stepping stone into the first team, that players are now being raised with cold, hard cash in mind rather than a welcoming Catalan home at the Camp Nou.
Prima facie, this is true, as fewer players than ever are making it into the Barça first team, and more potential talents are being sold. But statistics and objectivity don’t tell the entire story when it comes to La Masia and Barça, from that halcyon day when there was an all-Masia XI to now, when FC Barcelona has the best team in the world (again). Let’s start by looking at the XIs of the Treble sides:
2008-09: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Toure Yaya/Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Henry, Eto’o
2014-15: Bravo/Ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic, Messi, Neymar, Suarez
On paper, 7 Masia people were on the first Treble side, vs 5 on the most recent Treble side. A-HA! But Valdes left in a huff, Xavi and Puyol effectively retired.
Now let’s go a little deeper and look at Masia talent over the years, from that Treble side to now:
2009: (in addition to the above) Krkic, Jorquera, Victor Sanchez
2010: Valdes, Pique, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Krkic, Pedro, Busquets, Jeffren
2011: (same as 2010)
2012: Valdes, Pique, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Cuenca, Fontas, Thiago
2013: Valdes, Pique, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Montoya, Tello, Cuenca, Dos Santos, Oier, Sergi Roberto, Bartra, Fabregas
2014: Pique, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Montoya, Masip, Sergi Roberto, Bartra, Alba
2015: Pique, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Montoya, Dos Santos, Masip, Bartra, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha, Alba
Current: Pique, Iniesta, Messi, Busquets, Bartra, Rafinha, Masip, Sandro, Munir, Sergi Roberto, Alba
Should we jettison players such as Pique, Fabregas and Alba who went away, developed and returned to the club, for a focus only on the ones who came up through the system into the first team? Sure, why not.
2009: Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Krkic, Jorquera, Victor Sanchez
2010: Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Krkic, Pedro, Busquets, Jeffren
2011: (same as 2010)
2012: Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Cuenca, Fontas, Thiago
2013: Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Montoya, Tello, Cuenca, Sergi Roberto, Dos Santos, Oier, Bartra,
2014: Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Montoya, Masip, Sergi Roberto, Bartra,
2015: Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Montoya, Dos Santos, Masip, Sergi Roberto, Bartra, Rafinha,
Current: Iniesta, Messi, Busquets, Masip, Bartra, Rafinha, Masip, Sergi Roberto, Sandro, Munir
Now let’s have even more fun and re-examine that list with an eye toward players who are truly good enough for a Treble-winning side such as this current roster or, given their contributions, pretty much any recent Barça championship roster. (Admittedly, there is some subjectivity here.)
2009: Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets
2010: Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets
2011: (same as 2010)
2012: Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Thiago
2013: Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Bartra
2014: Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Bartra
2015: Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Busquets, Bartra, Rafinha
Current: Iniesta, Messi, Busquets, Bartra, Rafinha, Masip, Sandro
You kinda end up with the same crew, year after year, which tells you what? That La Masia is great at producing talent, and great at producing professionals. Players such as Cuenca, Fontas, Krkic, Muniesa and many others are starting and featuring for clubs all over the world, but are they good enough for this, or pretty much ANY Barça? The reputation of Barça is that during the Guardiola years the first team was a welcoming haven for promoted talent. And this is true, as long as you don’t mind players who aren’t good enough. The players who legitimately stuck, Pedro and Busquets, did so because they are excellent players. Pedro has just left the club because he wanted more playing time in the face of Neymar, who nobody, even the most vociferous Masia supporter, would suggest Neynar should sit so that Pedro can play more.
I remember the good old days, when Barça would lose a youth player for a pittance, to the promise of a professional contract. There was a different kind of outrage then, that the club couldn’t protect its youth players, and didn’t know how to capitalize fiscally on young talent that wasn’t good enough for the first team. Yes, there was actually a time when the board was being slagged for not getting money, or enough money for youth talents. Now the tables have turned.
La Masia is not only in the news, but seemingly in the legislative crosshairs. On Thursday, word came out that Barça declined to renew the contracts of two youth players because of concerns about a FIFA ban. Upon further investigation, after Barça Twitter blew up, accusing the board of incompetence, etc, in fact what happened is that the FIFA rule changed in December, 2014. The signings were perfectly legal (oh, that phrase again … ) when they were made, but the rule change makes them now suspect. Rather than risk keeping the players and trying to explain to FIFA and getting yet another transfer ban, Barça solved the problem by jettisoning the players. Thus FIFA’s rule created the exact problem that FIFA’s regulations are trying to prevent.
With just a bit of investigation the board went from incompetent and actually seeming to want another transfer ban, to gun-shy in the face of a magnifying glass that seems to be pointed only at FC Barcelona and its youth academy.
The Marca article that suggests La Masia has become a profit center rather than a stairstep, looks at data and draws a conclusion, but doesn’t apply any other filters. Adama Traore was sold to Aston Villa because he wasn’t good enough for the first team, and isn’t going to be anytime soon. The bits and scraps of time that he would have gotten had he stayed, wouldn’t have helped his development as much as playing regularly. Also, the board has a current (and logical) preference for sales rather than loans, to prevent the Case of the Wandering Krkic, or “He’s Still on the Books?” Keirrison. By selling the player and including a low buy-back, you protect the club from the problem loan. Deulofeu is another example of the complexities of a loan.
Now if the board are rotten, evil men, then La Masia is a profit center, and players are being sold rather than being loaned or kept because they want to gather together piles of Euros to help the EBITDA ratios and stave off that bylaw Damocles of automatic elections if in two years the EBITDA number isn’t at a favorable level. As if they wouldn’t just cook the books in the same way they alleged Laporta did, to turn a 414 gajillion Euro loss into a 12 Euro profit. But that’s another story for another time.
Sandro and Munir are staying because Enrique thinks they can help the first team. Rafinha is a legit first-teamer. In looking at the above list in the case of those who simply count the number of Masia people on the first team and draw conclusions from that, any such assessments will be flawed because of the departures of Valdes, Xavi and Puyol, who all left the club voluntarily. Even if you look at overall comings and goings, the same holds. Dos Santos was never going to be first-team quality. The same is true of a host of other players. I watched Tello feature for his current team, and he is the exact player who left Barça. But he’s on loan, so look for that to be a potential complexity as the club will need to find a forever home for another not-good-enough Masia talent.
Of the talent that has come and gone, sold and loaned, the only real regret and reluctant (for the club) departure was Thiago. The rest weren’t good enough. Montoya was a cause celebre for a while, an example of Enrique being stupid and cold-hearted. He was sold to Inter, where word out of Italy is that Mancini has also deemed him not good enough, preferring another player. That’s the reality of the situation. Bartra was another one. Now that he is getting lots of playing time, the story on him is changing, from “next Pique” to “fine squad player.”
La Masia is a brilliant place that produces footballing wunderkinds every now and again. It has been written here before that there is danger in letting an Iniesta or a Messi define a breed, or in expecting a dazzling youth player to become a productive first team member. Examples such as Dongou, Assulin and Krkic, the “Boy of a Thousand Goals,” remind us of that.
I don’t like this board, nor do I trust them. They will have to build one hell of a track record of doing the right thing for that trust barrier to come down. But I also don’t believe in lambasting a group just because it’s the thing to do. This board isn’t making the Masia promotions not good enough. Should we say shame on them for buying players such as Rakitic and Neymar, who are keeping talents such as Rafinha and Pedro from having permanent spots in the XI? Or should we stipulate that it is the job of a technical committee to evaluate the available talent and build the best team possible. If a Masia graduate can meet that standard, he stays. If not, he goes.
A lot of Masia talent has come and gone over the years, from the first team and the academy. That will continue to happen, as long as the FC Barcelona first team continues to set a world-beating standard of excellence. That’s something that I am perfectly okay with.