Homage to Catalunya: on the old guard and the integration of new signings

The most magical place on earth

Greetings, earthlings. I’m Linda, long-suffering London-based grad student and occasional football blogger at The Beautiful Game. I enjoy playing Devil’s Advocate, Argentinian football players and Pep Guardiola. Nice to meet you all.

Let’s talk signings.

“Youngsters need opportunities — everyone needs time,” former Barcelona player Guillermo Amor told The Associated Press. “With all conditions being equal, a homegrown player has a better chance than one who comes in from abroad. The Xavis and Iniestas took 10 years to get to where they are.”

The above quote, taken from a recent article singing the praises of La Masia, is very telling on a number of levels. No, this isn’t another post on the myriad achievements of our youth system over the past two decades. That’s old hat. I want to talk about something a little more controversial.

Amor has neatly encapsulated the organising philosophy of Guardiola‘s Barca, about which much ink has been spilled in the last few months. I want to use his comment as a jumping off point to talk about a thorny issue for Cules: that is, how big money signings who haven’t been hand-reared in the Barca school of football fit into the picture under this philosophy.

“I’ve said many times that for the homegrown guys [Barca] feels like a family business.” – Xavi, Xavi550 documentary

Firstly, let me be very clear: this post rests on the assumption that Guardiola operates with a bias towards La Masia graduates, all other things being equal. You may or may not agree with this policy, which has arguably been in place for decades before being taken to new and exciting heights under the leadership of the ultimate hometown boy done good. The reasoning behind it is fairly obvious – once again, all other things being equal – the home-grown player will probably fit in more easily, both in terms of personality and in terms of playing style. But what about those positions where reinforcements are necessary?

This post was partially inspired by discussions between host Eoin McDevitt and journalist Graham Hunter and later Eoin and presenter Ken Early on the Off the Ball Football Show (the 17 November 2010 edition in particular). [By the way, I thoroughly recommend the podcast. Fantastic listening 90% of the time.]

To briefly sum up the two discussions for the purposes of this post, the first concerned the proposed signing of Ibrahim Afellay. In response to a question about Afellay’s utility, Hunter gives a fairly complete overview of the relevant boxes a player has to tick in order to fit in well at Barca. I’m going to condense those criteria down into five categories: 1) quality, 2) culture, 3) style, 4) mentality and 5) personality. We’ll come back to this later.

The second discussion concerned whether or not the Barca old guard are overly cliquish, given the close-knit nature of the locker room. Hunter claims that while the camaraderie amongst players who have known each other since they were kids could be difficult to penetrate from the outside, the old guard were sufficiently welcoming towards those who were: 1) decent footballers in possession of 2) a hard-working attitude. Ken Early retorts that a lot of players have had trouble fitting in recently (true) and that the thoroughness of La Masia’s ideological indoctrination is itself an intimidating barrier to other players. (He didn’t put it in those words, but that’s the gist.)

[I have done my best to be accurate with the summary above. My apologies if there are any errors.]

In about 2003, Barcelona’s local boys sat down together and noted that they had won no big prizes. They resolved to stop tolerating selfish stars. Instead, they themselves would rule the side. – Simon Kuper’s FT.com column, 2009

I’ve never seen this tantalizing piece of gossip mentioned anywhere else [if you have, please point me to the source in the comments], but Kuper is as fine a source as any. The timing he claims is particularly interesting. While the team of Frank Rijkaard formed by the major reshuffle in 2003 had a strong home-grown influence, it would be a slight stretch to say that it was ruled by local boys. Foreign superstars such as Ronaldinho, Deco and Eto’o loomed large over the side, and for as long as that influence remained positive, it seemed a healthy balance. When Ronaldinho – the great symbol of that side – and Deco – one of its main leaders – began to violate the second part of Hunter’s formulation of acceptability, the one requiring a certain amount of dedication and professionalism, it was the beginning of the end for both.

On the other hand, Eto’o remained a hard-working professional, well regarded by the rest of the locker room. He is perhaps one of the better examples of Hunter’s argument. Let’s revisit those criteria:

1) Quality: not a matter of snobbery. Barca’s style requires a certain level of technical proficiency, otherwise it just doesn’t work for anyone. Maxi Lopez, God bless him, is a negative example of this principle.

2) Culture: this is two-fold: can the player settle in Spain, both on and off the pitch? Are they willing to learn the language? Can they fine-tune their playing style to fit with La Liga’s fussy referees? Maxwell is an example of someone who has done this well. One could argue that Alex Hleb is an example of the opposite.

3) Style: does the player fit with Barca’s style of football? Here’s where the Ibrahimovic debate comes in. On the flipside, current problem child Dani Alves slotted in like a missing puzzle piece.

4) Mentality:the good old cliché: ‘can he cut it at this level?’ Henrik Larsson, for example, was an emphatic yes, despite the doubts voiced by some detractors back in the day. (Haters, please familiarize yourself with the left hand evacuation procedure.)

5) Personality: probably the trickiest. This is what Henry put his finger on when he spoke about the need for new signings to understand the fans, the club and the city in order to succeed. I would argue that Keita is a good example of someone who fits in well personality-wise.

Applied to Eto’o: one of the best strikers in the world, who was already well accustomed to both Spain and Spanish football, whose playing style suited Barca down to the ground, with the kind of ferocious desire to win that Barca circa 2004 were in need of, and who understood barcelonismo implicitly.

Bringing things back to our new kid on the block, only time will tell if Afellay ticks all the boxes. An ‘inconclusive due to insufficient data’ on 4) aside, the early signs are very promising. Plus he’s Dutch. That always helps.

Comments welcome, although I ask for your forgiveness in advance for delays in replying. Grad school and all that. I’m also to be found on Twitter @blackwhitengrey, if you’re that way inclined.

Categorized as Barcelona

By Linda

20-something Chinese Kiwi Barrister. Enjoys short walks on the beach, Argentinian players and Pep Guardiola. @blackwhitengrey for hot takes on all three.


  1. Welcome aboard, Linda, with a delight of a post. I learned some stuff, and not just about driving a Subaru wagon slideways in the snow.

    Go team!

    1. I dunno. They say it serves some kind of purpose in the life of a human being, but I have no idea what they’re talking about.

    2. *blink*

      Well, if we get Snowpocalypse as promised, I won’t have to go to work tomorrow and can spend all day reading these.

      Speaking of which, has anyone picked up the new FourFourTwo yet? I must get it!

    3. I have the new FourFourTwo, but it’s way behind approximately 58 academic articles on my reading list. Will probably skim the Messi article soon though – Simon Talbot’s always good value.

    4. The whole magazine is good value (although very expensive here in Canada, IF you can find it). My only issue with it is that the print is tiny!

    5. Glad I read comments in the morning or else I would’ve been losing sleep like the rest of y’all. Wow, Kxevin, great find!

  2. Awesome stuff, Linda! I also learned some new things. I’ve also been inpsired to post a small compilation of good podcasts/regular websites to go to.

    Our blog just got a blockbuster signing in the January transfer window.

  3. Hunter claims that while the camaraderie amongst players who have known each other since they were kids could be difficult to penetrate from the outside, the old guard were sufficiently welcoming towards those who were: 1) decent footballers in possession of 2) a hard-working attitude.

    I think this is probably the key point, here. For this team, attitude is everything. Look at Mascherano–while undoubtedly a great player and captain of the Argentina NT, there were still plenty of doubts whether he would be willing and able to put aside his ego and work himself into a place on the team. Of course it helps that he was already friends with Messi from the NT, but he has been nothing but hardworking, gracious, and professional, and has slotted in perfectly with the team.

    Afellay has already mentioned how supportive and welcoming his teammates have been, and reports are that he is learning Spanish very quickly. From what he we have seen of him on the pitch, I think he is well on his way to becoming a first-rate Barca player.

    Welcome, Linda!

    1. Agreed wholeheartedly about Mascherano. I’ve been worried in the past about how well he’d fit in in terms of playing style, but never personality. He’s a grafter through and through.

      I heard about Afellay already speaking some Spanish. That’s a great sign. He’s not in an easy position, playing so many games as a late sub, but hopefully he can make the most of it.

      Thank you!

  4. Great first post! I’m also in grad school, usually squeezing in Barca matches before class (with Barca-friendly class schedules a top priority, of course).

    I have a good feeling about Ibi, as he just seems to belong on the field with the rest of our guys. I like seeing how he tackles and fights for the ball, not to mention his shots from distance and ability to tiki-taka – I’m still shocked that we got this kid for 3 million!

    1. Thanks! Barca-friendly class schedules aren’t as much of a problem for me this year as I’m temporarily located in gloomy London, but it’s certainly been an issue in the past. Silly time zones.

      Ibi was a bargain, there’s no doubt about that. And his ability to shoot from distance is invaluable considering that goalscoring is one of the few things our midfield doesn’t excel at.

  5. Great to have so many quality writers together.. all you guys are just wonderful. Feeling very grateful today dunno why, but yeah Thank you Kevin, Hector, Issaih (where are they), Tom, Euler…Kari, Linda.. and the ones i have missed out.. All you guys are a big part of the better part of my life..and Nav for that link on atdhe.. 😀

    1. and Please add the most knowledgeable mom ever.. “Soccer Mom” to that list.. Thank you..

    2. Wonder how Luke feels about you forgetting him here and in your follow-up comment as well :p

  6. I can’t begin to explain how happy I am right now. When I first discovered Isaiah’s blog, back in the Offside days, I quickly saw it as my go-to place. Back then, there were probably fewer than 10 of us commenting and visiting regularly. The numbers grew, and Isaiah had the fool idea of asking me to contribute, and The Offside grew.

    When we decided to strike out on our own, it was with precisely this kind of space in mind, a space in which a cadre of excellent writers contribute to creating the best Barca blog extant, driven on by our readers, who expect and deserve the best. Now that the dream is a reality, I just want to say thanks to everyone, and hopefully the best is yet to come.

    1. Bfb has sort of become a big part of my life. Its one of the websites i visit most. When i first came, what i first fell in love with was not the quality of post but the sensibility in the comments section. I had been used to direspectful, silly commenters whom seem to me to be fans of any sport but football. Here even when i dont commnt, i can’t but read all.
      of recent, the number of post has increased which is a wonderful thing.
      but one problem i have here is the apparent timezone of majority of the admin and readers, am on barcatime and more often than not discussions happen here at just the moment am in bed only for me to wake up to 150-comments post which had only 20 before i went t bed

    2. Same for me too. Almost all the posters and majority of the commenters live in the same timezones, where most activity is pretty much around midnight or early morning over here in Asia time. I live in GMT +5 at the moment, the US/Canada is about GMT -8 or so, so mid-day over there is 1am over here. Where d’you live OSBAG?

    3. I’m going to have similar issues, being on London time. (And even worse when I go back to being on New Zealand time, AKA ‘earlier than everybody else’.) People from weird time zones unite!

    4. Yeah and maybe you would write something for us specially. I keep waiting endlessly for you next article on ‘the beautiful game’

    5. All 10 of us commenting on Isaiah’s posts and arguing about when we should sell Ronaldinho. Ah, those were the days.

  7. Wow, oh wow. Since I’ve discovered BFB, it’s been great to read, the writing and the commentary both, but this past week, it’s been just extraordinary, like our favorite team itself: running full tilt, working remarkably. Thanks so much for all your great pieces and the wonderful discussion from everyone.

    1. I think we’d do well to be as consistent and fluent as our remarkable team has been for the past 3 years. What a fantastic compliment. 🙂

  8. Regarding atdhe, acccordiing to their twitter, http ://atdhenet.tv/ is their real site.

    If this is true, you should delete the previously mentioned link from the other topic kari.

  9. Just wanted to second the comments of appreciation that have already been voiced for this blog. A big thank you to all the writers and commenters a like.

  10. Ditto to all the sentiments shared here re: writers and comments.

    Honestly, I’m just glad to be a part of it. I’ve always enjoyed reading the comments and I still do.It was/is a huge honour to be part of the writing team, and if I’m honest, I’m (still) a little star-struck at the moment. Quality, real quality, all around, from the posters to the admin. Visca BFB!

  11. Villa scores in all categories and is already a brother to his teammates. Just as Iniesta got no respect last year while he worked through his recurring injuries, playing different positions while filling wants left by other players, Villa is getting no respect this year as the lime light falls on the flashiness of the wonderful Pedro.

    Meanwhile Barcas attack has made a meaningful shift to the left. Messi favors drifting over to work with Villa and Iniesta. Pedro floats over and even gets outside Villa. Even Alves has shifted more central in many attacks. Maybe Villa should start playing on the right. Last year Ibra got in everyones way, this year the left is getting crowded.

    Pedros goals are way up in part because of Villas effectiveness in producing that concerted buildup on the left.

    Significantly, Villa is more mature and patient in his role. The 30th min against Hercules he should have been rewarded with a virtual tap in from Alves instead of the tight ball to Messi fully covered. Much is made of his touch and offsides and shooting and movement in a negative way which is unkind when the same is not applied equally to his teammates trying to master the same skills going forward at speed in the box. Only Messi and Villla with Pedro a distant third have the green light to go right at the defenders in the box.

    I should say the same for Messi worlds greatest player two years running getting called out for poor touches and less than par effort and selfishness when he has most La Liga assists. I just love it when Xavi puts a ball on a moving target and gets so much admiration while Messi drops a flying ball straight down onto his foot galloping with a defender shoving him in the back and then manages to rip a shot wide of goal and then he is too complacent tracking back.

    Sorry for the rant. its all good cause without Villa and Messi the possession game is the most boring and despised game of all. And a good way to lose a lot of games. I feel better

    1. I didn’t even bother to mention Villa because in my mind, he’s already settled. Sure, his frequent tendency to stray offside is frustrating, but when he gets it right it’s spectacular. (See the Clasico – how many times was he offside in the first half? And then – bam.)

      I particularly like your final point – Villa, Pedro and Messi are the point of our spear. Without them (and their shots wide, defensive lapses, losing the ball, offsides – all consequences of trying to go direct) we can’t do nearly as much damage.

  12. With all the laudatory press about Barca reaping success with La Masia, I’ve kinda wondered if Villa ever feels left out — “World Cup winners Spain, with eight Barcelona players, seven from La Masia!” — “World Cup final starting eleven with seven Barcelona players, six from La Masia!” — “FIFA World XI/UEFA Team of the Year with six Barcelona players, five from La Masia!”

    Well, by all accounts Villa is inhumanly self-effacing and grounded, so I doubt it actually bothers him. It’s just funny how it gets highlighted over and over again…

    1. I guess this wuld be joke in their dressingroom. Villa and the ____ la masia graduate winning all the plaudits

  13. Hahaha here is a comment on goal.com lionel messi v crynaldo head to head this week

    Derek Seattle
    7:44 PM Feb 1, 2011
    Messi has better goals per 90, better assists per 90,
    better shots on target %, more passes completed,
    better passing accuracy, fewer balls lost, fewer fouls
    committed, more first goals, more winning or tying
    goals, and more goals in all competitions. I’m tired
    of this comparison lets start comparing CR and
    Berbatov or something.

    Dude said exctly what i had in mind. Thong boy delight seems to be shooting from any and everywhere. See as messi almost has the same no.of shots on target from a little more than half of ”every/anywhere ronaldo shot”s

    Heres d url

  14. I believe Sid Lowe is a Barca fan, dude was quite thrilled by the EE loss
    as said, now the league is for us to loose not theirs to win

    1. Seems even only barca fans reads his column. One said this
      ”watching Real Madrid throw themselves against a
      wall so gracefully being scaled by Barcelona; like
      normal people trying to follow Spiderman; is
      immensely satisfying.”

    2. He didn’t seem thrilled to me. His article on our 4-1 loss at the Bernabeu in 07/08 doesn’t give that impression either. Also he works for Real Madrid TV, in addition to CNN, Guardian and Sports Illustrated.

      He is just very neutral and was wryly pointing out how Marca reacted to the loss by shutting down their website and saying how the title race is probably over, I think.

    3. He’s definitely not a Barça fan.

      Barcastuff swears he’s a Madridista and it’s quite funny to read some of his comments towards Sid.

    4. Much as I love the service Barcastuff provides, (controversial opinion alert) I wish they wouldn’t harass journalists who are clearly neutral. People like Sid get enough of that from regular fans, and I strongly doubt it makes them any better disposed towards the club.

      Fact check them, sure, but Sid is one of the better journos for that anyway. At least he didn’t try to claim that Guardiola had 3 sons like the Sun did the other day. (Why was I reading the Sun? No idea.)

    5. I saw that too (the 3 sons thing), and thought for a second that I had been wrong about him having daughters…and then remembered that I was reading the Sun.

    6. He’s not. he has confessed to being a Madrid fan in the past, 2005 and previously. So has Phil, while no one knows about Tim, one can guess he supports Atleti and/or Getafe. Balague as everyone knows a perico while I’m not sure about Eduardo on ESPN.

      And welcome to Linda, nice article and the ones are your blog are top notch! I wonder where language fits in all of this.

  15. It’s Piqué’s birthday today! 😀 You know what that means?

    Oooooooooooooooooooooh! MOC MOC!!

  16. By Sid Lowe on Twitter:

    RT @OptaJose: 8 Players made 1000+ succesful passes in La Liga 10/11: Xavi, Iniesta, Bruno, Alves, Busquets, Alonso, Gabi and Messi

    Also, just going on his Twitter and seeing something about a comedy fight between Diogo and Fabiano back in 2008, I had to watch it. Laughed my ass off. One comment on Sid’s article which had the link to the fight said it reminded him of the fight between Xander and Harmony in that one Buffy episode, and he’s right:


    1. Oh yeah I saw this one. It pretty damn violent, flying kicks and knees to the face and all that. The windmilling cat-fight with Fabiano though which was just utterly hilarious.

  17. I just wanted to congratulate you all for the level of this blog. Not only is it a source of football knowledge for me, it also helps me to improve my English (or, at least I’m trying!). I usually read your posts with a paper sheet by my side and take notes of everything worth remembering, that is, vocabulary and structures to use in my English writing tests. This is possible thanks to the incredible level of all of you, writers and posters.

    A big thank you!

    1. Thank you for reading (and contributing), merge. This big ol’ love fest makes me all woozy.

      And to those who think I have a heart, I’m sure you’ll think differently the next time I have to excoriate Cuddly! 😀

    2. Oh yes, fellow ESL but you are miles ahead of me!!! I’ve just printed your first post just to highlight a lot of useful things, hehe.

      I’m a Catalan, born and living in Barcelona (yeah, I’m lucky here!) so I can say I have 2 firsts languages: Spanish and Catalan.

      Feel free to ask if you need something translated from any of them (though I see a lot of people here is familiar with both of them).

  18. Is anyone here from Blizzard Country? I’m just north of Chicago, in the suburb of Highland Park, and it’s kinda crazy. Two feet of snow, high (35+mph) winds and soon, falling temperatures. Almost 100,000 people in the area without power, some motorists have been stranded on a local highway (Lake Shore Drive) for as long as 10 hours.

    This is truly an historic storm. I am very lucky in that yes, we are getting a lot of snow, but I’m healthy enough to do my Shovelrobics thing, the house is toasty warm and we have power (and an all-wheel-drive Subaru with Nokian snows). But I do spare a thought for those less fortunate/in danger.

    If anyone here is in the blizzard belt, here’s hoping you’re well.

    1. i’m dead square in the middle of the front, and got… maybe an half inch of snow and some wind. i know St. Louis got hammered, but it all somehow missed me. didn’t they call off school in Chicago for the first time in like 15 years?

    2. Yep. Pretty much everything known to mankind is called off, if it’s in Chicago. I’m probably working from home today, but the intrepid part of me wants to fire up the Subaru and drive down to work, just to be a hardass.

      We got lucky with just snow. There are places that got an inch or so of ice, and THEN big snow.

    3. It’s not nearly as bad here in Toronto as they promised, but I took a Snow Day anyway. It just wasn’t worth dealing with public transit on a day like this, plus the storm has given me a nasty headache.

      SO I will be able to watch today’s game live for a change, assuming I can find a stream!

  19. welcome Linda. Great article, easy to follow all your points and i like your writing voice. look forward to future articles

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