The kids are … alright?

This is a guest post from @Jeffreyklz on Twitter, who is also part of the @Youngcules account. Both are very useful follows for anyone wondering about the future of the club. This piece came about through conversations and musings some folks were having about the future, short and long-term. Who is ready, who is almost ready, who is worth looking out for?

Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodriguez, Thiago Alcantara, Rafinha Alcantara, Sergi Roberto, Marc Bartra, Gerard Deulofeu — just a handful of players who came through FC Barcleona’s famed La Masia, footballers still playing for various top teams across Europe. There are some who shouldn’t have left but did, others who have never fulfilled their potential. But the job of an academy is to create professionals, and this La Masia does. We know what’s come from the recent past, but let’s take a look at what’s in store for the future, the players from Barça B and Juvenil A who might be available for the first team in the short term and who’s a possibility for a few years down the line?

Short term

Sergi Palencia
Right back, extremely solid defensively and does his part in attack. Definitely not a Dani Alves type of player, but one of the most reliable defenders you’ll see. He’s also determined, passionate and a true captain for Barça B. In La Masia he never really stood out; he was good but he didn’t start shining until his first season at Barça B. Palencia is one of the things that Vinyals got right when he replaced Eusebio.
Palencia is already more than capable of being Semedo’s back-up in the first team.

Carles Aleñá
As Sach from Youngcules once said in a totalBarça article: “[The potential to become] what Cesc should or could have been.” Aleñá is not Iniesta and he’s not Xavi, but he is a Barça midfielder through and through. Known for his powerful left foot, Aleñá has great passing range a long-distance shot that is nothing to laugh at. Like Palencia, he is a very level-headed, and has also shown leadership qualities. Unlike Iniesta and Xavi, Aleñá is tall (5’11”) and is also physically strong. These qualities conbine with his dribbling skill to make him a treat to watch, and the biggest reason to watch Barça B in this coming season. For the first team, Aleñá should be integrated as soon as possible; not only to learn from Iniesta – but to fill the gap that missing in midfield at the moment. As we said at the start of the season: “This season should be for Aleñá what 2010/2011 was for Thiago”.

Barça DNA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTYmILvNzoc

Marc Cucurella
Cucurella, or Cucu, is many cules’ hope in getting to do what Grimaldo did not get the chance to do: reach the first team. Cucu arrived at Barça from Espanyol in 2012, made his debut for Barça B in November 2016 and has been a starter ever since. Cucu has established a fairly good connection with LW Jose Arnaíz already and has been a solid aspect of the team this season. Franc Artiga (Cadet A) praised Cucurella’s work rate and said he is a reference point for any canterano. Cucu is a very interesting sight to see on that left back position: fast, defensively solid and always running up and down the pitch with his curly hair. As for first team prospects, he recently made his debut in the Copa but it seems unlikely that he’ll play more in the first team this season with Alba and Digne playing at their current levels. But there is no doubt he’d do a great job if called upon.

José Arnáiz
One of the summer transfers for the B-team, Arnáiz has quickly established himself as a guaranteed starter on the left. Arnáiz made his professional debut for Valladolid and has been playing in Segunda ever since. In the Copa fixture against Murcia he made his first-team debut for Barça. Arnáiz is a left winger with good dribbling skills and with a very powerful right foot. His idol is Cristiano Ronaldo, which shows when you watch him play. While he can do crazy stuff with the ball at his feet, he also has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long for his own good, when there are better options available.
With a severe lack of real left wingers in the first team and not every forward performing as well as expected, Arnáiz could be someone to ignite the attack in the first team every now and then.

David Costas
In case the first team finds itself riddled with injuries on the back line, the safest bet for the centre back position is Costas. The right-sided centre back has been a starter since his debut, and travelled with the first team to Bilbao for the fixture against Athletic Club. He is currently on loan from Celta de Vigo, but the club has a purchase option at the end of the season. Given his current performances, it is one the club will trigger. Costas is known for his pace, and ability to play out of the back.

Long Term

Jorge Cuenca
Cuenca arrived from Alcorcón in this summer, choosing Barça over Real Madrid. Cuenca (not related to Isaac) made his Segunda debut with Alcorcón in March of the 2016/2017 season. The 17-year old made his Barça B debut at home against Lugo in a 1-2 loss and has been starting most matches ever since (also due to Martínez’ injury) at left center back. Cuenca is tall, passes the ball well (also with his less favoured left foot) and positions himself well. His youth still shows and he isn’t that strong physically, but he is a talented player. With Umtiti bossing that left centre back position for the first team, first team chances aren’t bound to happen very soon for Cuenca, but he is very young and a lot can happen in the years to come.

Oriol Busquets
Obligatory “No, not related to Sergio,” but there are definitely similarities besides surnames. Like Sergio, Oriol plays the same position and has a very similar style. While Oriol makes use of his physique more in a defensive setting, he is still a very elegant central defensive midfielder that can play his way out of pressure very easily. He doesn’t yet have the fancy, futsal-like skills that Sergio shows on a weekly basis, but he consistently finds creative solutions all the same. His passing range is fantastic and he is performing very well for an 18-year old in his first Segunda División season. Valverde recently called him up for the first team match against Athletic, but he didn’t play. As for first team possibilities, he definitely has the potential but with Sergio performing at the level he is, Paulinho being his back-up and Samper also still out on loan; the near future is not really an option in this case.

Abel Ruiz
The main man for Spain U17 in their World Cup campaign before they were stopped in the final by England. Only turning 18 next January, Ruiz is the player with the most caps for Spain U17 (37) and the most goals (27), convincingly scoring more than names such as Jonathan Soriano (18), Bojan (16) and Paco Alcácer (15). Despite always being taller and stronger than his opponents in the youth ranks, Ruiz has adapted well to playing opponents that are his height. Still strong on the ball, Ruiz is a great striker with the typical eye for goal. In recent years, Ruiz has also played a bunch of games on the left wing; but the striker position is where he is clearly the best. While he is still very young, a chance in the first team might not be that far off, given a certain striker’s current form.

Juvenil A

While the current Juvenil A team is not the best one in the recent past, there is still talent to been seen in this team. The appointment of Garcia Pimienta to replace Gabri (who left for Switzerland’s FC Sion) will certainly be a positive improvement for the players in the team. As even the players in this team are still very raw and young, our assessment of the youth ranks will stop here.

Iñaki Peña
When Iñaki turned 16, Manchester United came knocking on the door, but Barça convinced him to stay, promising him a spot at Juvenil A. Unfortunately for him he didn’t get the starting spot (due to injuries) until new signing Carevic got injured in the last preseason. This season Peña has been very solid whenever called upon and the team (despite missing Miranda, Orellana and Mate for the most part) have conceded only 7 goals in 11 matches, a lot due to Peña.

Juan Brandariz Movilla “Chumi”
Usually a regular for the Spain youth sides, Chumi joined Barça in 14/15 from Deportivo. In these years, Chumi has mostly been tormented by injuries but the kid is a solid CB talent. Hopefully he can stay injury free in the next few years.

Jaume Mateu Morey “Mate”
Extremely solid right back for Juvenil A and the Spain U17 team. While he still makes mistakes, as is expected of a youth player, Mate has been excellent defensively as well as on offense. His crossing is excellent and it is fair to say that he was Juvenil A’s best player until the U17 World Cup. He was also Spain U17’s best player in the Euros, in which Spain lifted the trophy (he scored 3 goals as a right back).

Juan Miranda
Like Cucurella, a very promising left back. While Cucu provides a bit more balance on the left side, Miranda is a player that is always bombing forward up the pitch, and loves to be an offensive outlet. Miranda is tall, but still agile and fast with the ball at his feet. Like Mateu, Abel and Gómez he was a part of the Spain U17 team that reached the World Cup final.

Alex Collado
This player is a Barça midfielder through and through, with good passing, positioning and a great left foot like Carles Aleñá. He had a relatively slow start to the season, but with Garcia Pimienta replacing Gabri as Juvenil A coach, it looks like improvement is well underway. Collado had a stellar performance against Olympiakos in the UEFA Youth League, scoring two goals and providing an assist. He seems to be the first name for the coach on the sheet, starting every match.

Jandro Orellana
One of the up and coming talented defensive midfielders galore, Orellana joins the line of Sergio, Sergi Samper and Oriol Busquets. Jandro, unlike the other three, is a more mobile CDM, but still fits the Barça system perfectly. He is more eager to make runs and has good long range passing abilities as well. Unfortunately, Jandro suffered a long-term injury at the beginning of the season and is out for some months. This hurt Spain U17 as well, where he is usually the starting CDM.

Sergio Gómez
The right winger for Spain U17 and Juvenil A, Sergio Gómez has a left foot that is one of the finest in La Masia. He is an intelligent player who usually occupies the right wing, but Gómez is a mix between winger and midfielder. In his last tournament outing, he scored this great distance shot in the quarterfinals against Iran U19.

Honorable mentions:
Carles Pérez, Vitinho, Josep Calavera, Iñigo Ruiz de Galarreta

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

9 Comments

  1. Jim
    November 22, 2017

    Thanks, @Jeffreyklz. Always nice to hear a new voice hear, especially one with an area of expertise that I don’t have. I don’t get much of a chance to watch the youngsters so this was really useful.

  2. Jim
    November 22, 2017

    Hmm, Messi benched and Alba also left out. Good call on Messi as long as he was consulted. Even so, I’m guessing he wouldn’t be particularly happy. I wonder if he has a niggle and is desperate to be fit for Valencia ? Shouldn’t matter as our last game will be at home.

    Not sure I would also have left out Alba. I’m wondering where the creativity will come from. We have Iniesta and ? Still, good chance to have a look at Digne. I’m still undecided about him. Doesn’t look great but has some nice touches and puts a lot of effort in. Defence could be tested.

    • Davour
      November 22, 2017

      Well, didn’t see much creativity, but second half was pretty decent, even before Messi. Digne ok, to me, but offers little going forward.

      MAtS is just something else at the moment. Defence solid overall!

      • Davour
        November 23, 2017

        Sorry – forgot to say thanks to @Jeffreyklz! Very nice and helpful overview.

  3. Jim
    November 22, 2017

    Yeah, it was an interesting game to watch. In a way it was something we needed to see. Could our defence hold out if there was nothing happening at the other end?

    And they did. Thought Pique was outstanding and strolled through the game. He’ll be missed for the next game, especially in the air. We controlled the ball well enough, largely because Iniesta and Busquets were absolutely immense. Someone needs to get a hold of Ini and tell him he’s still just about the best mid in the world and we need him for at least a couple more seasons. He never loses the ball and exudes calm. He’s also not slow. A couple of times he left men for dead after beating them.

    I’d also put in a word for Deulofeu. I thought he had a pretty good game. With more confidence, his pace, passing ability and movement on the ball could be a real asset. Was it just me or did he look more at home when he came central ? I’m sounding stupid now but if Messi were ever injured, or even in a Copa, I’d like to see him sent out in that position for about an hour, told to get on the ball, go past people and make forward passes to see if I’m imagining things.

    However, this solid sort of performance away from home against a top side is impressive and something we’ve always struggled with. I felt calm throughout that we weren’t going to lose a goal.

    On another note, something which has been growing at the edge of my mind. I caught a little of Revista and Sid Lowe was talking about Messi. I’ve been calm all along about his renewal and I don’t believe for a minute he’s going anywhere but that flaming picture needs to happen, now. I don’t know why it hasn’t but it’s becoming a distraction. Everybody is weighing in on it and they’re right. There’s no earthly reason why Messi can’t sit down and get it done. If he’s not happy with the board, fine, he’s made his point. Now that the censure motion has failed he either gets on with it or goes. If he wasn’t happy with LE’s management or the sorry state of purchases made over the last two years, fine, I agree with him.

    However, at some point this becomes more about him playing the club along and I don’t like that. I find it hard to believe he would do that to this club but can’t think of any reason why this has dragged on. If, as has been stated, he’s already being paid on the new contract that makes it even more baffling. Any thoughts ?

  4. PPos
    November 22, 2017

    I think Messi doesn’t particularly care for Bartomeu and is doing anything that he can to not have to take that picture shaking that idiot’s hand. Messi recently said that he’s been living life day to day without worries of the future. I think that if he’s going to renew he’s going to do it after the World Cup. Who knows? He might leave.

  5. ooga aga
    November 22, 2017

    Thought you would have mentioned it Jim; was fantastic to see Iniesta get the ovation from the Torinos when he came off the pitch.

    Iniesta: “i like it when they applaud me at these stadiums, it makes me happy as a person and a football player.”

  6. Davour
    November 23, 2017

    Yes, that Iniesta-moment was beautiful. And Buffon obviously congratulating ter Stegen was also a nice gesture. Too little of that in football.

    Overall I feel the team is on the right path, despite a lot of doom on Twitter regarding style this and Pep that. I do agree that we are missing something, but the fundamental bits are in place. To me it seems Valverde is slowly building something, while not taking any risks – winning makes people calm, which means time. Obviously we are lacking in attack, but it seems to be within reach. Perhaps Dembele will provide this spark, perhaps there will be a January transfer to change things around a little.

    Özil’s name has been thrown around quite frequently as a possible reinforcement in January – word is he will be cheap (20m) and not cup-tied, and likely both available and willing. Assuming we offload Arda in January (and maybe one or two more), salary might be alright. But is this a player we need? Personally, I have never taken to him, despite his obvious talent, and have trouble understanding where he would fit in, as we already have a no 10 who does not track back much. The upside is a player with great technique and vision, who would be valuable in possession. I can’t help it, but Rakitic is getting on my nerves with that first touch. It is such a disturbing contrast to Busquets… (not that Özil would be a direct replacement for Rakitic, but still).

    Thoughts?

    • georgjorge
      November 23, 2017

      I would be excited for Özil. I think that with regards to creativity and technique Özil would fit very well. His weakness – and a considerable one – seems to be that he doesn’t do well at all if the team is in a slump, if things don’t run smoothly. Kind of an anti-Puyol regarding mentality ; ) and it has made a world of difference between his performance at RM, where he was a key part and leading in assists, and his performance at Arsenal, where he often is average. In a team with Messi, Piqué, Iniesta and Busquets in it, among others – no-nonsense players when it comes to giving everything on the pitch – he might be very good once again.

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