Masiaflation and you


Bla, bla, Masia whinewhine.

Because the subtle approach hasn’t worked, let’s take a more direct one:

Nobody who played on Barça B is fully ready for promotion right now.

This is an odd time in the maturation process of a youth class, where the first team is really good and the players on the come aren’t quite there yet. There is angst and distress in culer land over a cake that people want to eat, but it’s still baking. And dammit, it’s the fault of the coach and the board, because we’re hungry NOW!

There is a lot of worry about Luis Enrique, concerns voiced about whether he is able to properly manage youth players. He watches B, has coached B, understands youth football and how to bring along a prospect. He’s also pretty good and evaluating talent. Because history has a way of smearing reality, it’s worth a look back, to youth prospects under other coaches.

Pep Guardiola: Used them, but all coaches do. Who stuck? Pedro and Busquets, players who would have succeeded under any coach. All the others, the Jeffrens, Tellos, Dos Santoses, etc are gone — not because they were poorly managed, but because they weren’t good enough. Bojan Krkic? Gone. Fontas? Gone. Gai “Next Messi” Assulin? Gone. Thiago Alcantara was good enough, but we all know how that story went. There is a persistent belief that Guardiola was some sort of Youth Whisperer, or that the club promoted young’uns and didn’t buy players under his tenure. That just ain’t true. The first Treble team was built pretty much as the second one was, via a big summer influx of the right transfers. The team isn’t buying players just because. It doesn’t strike me that the commitment to youth and upward mobility has diminished in any way. But the team has needs, and the academy folks aren’t ready to meet those expectations. How do we know? Because if they were ready, they would be on the first team.

Tito Vilanova: Only Sergi Roberto and Jordi Masip stuck. Nobody else was good enough to make it, but again, he used B teamers in the pre-season, giving them a good, long look

Tata Martino: Cuenca came up, had some pretty rotten injury luck and was later moved along.

Every Barça coach has given time and looks to youth products in the preseason, Martino included. We haven’t seen that many promotions or successes because those folks weren’t good enough. As laudable as Jonathan Dos Santos’ desire to succeed at Barça was, he wasn’t going to make it here. Nolito is tearing it up at Celta, after moving on from Barça. The Liga is packed with Masia graduates, most of whom get to play against the current first team and say, “Oh yeah … NOW I remember why I left.”

But again, it’s the danger of letting a once-in-a-lifetime class define a breed. When I hear people wondering whether Enrique is going to be a good manager of youth players, the first reply is that no first-team boss is a good manager of youth players. He isn’t supposed to be. A first-team boss is supposed to assemble the players necessary to enable his team to be the best that it can. He brings youth players in, and they’re either good enough or they aren’t. There’s no magic there.

Is some special handling required for a player who is almost good enough, assuming there is space on the squad? For sure. But that player has to be ready enough to step into, or be close to stepping into, a world-beating team. Those don’t come along all that often, and minutes should be earned, not given as some sort of Masia birthright. Busquets and Pedro weren’t charity cases. They were good enough to make it into the Barça first team. None of the others who left were and that’s why they’re gone, with the exception of Thiago Alcantara.

Bartra is getting gobs of time this season, and he ain’t exactly setting the world on fire. Whose fault is that? Moving a little deeper in the pile, Enrique is on record as saying that the B team wasn’t good enough last season, and it’s true. They weren’t, despite the Masiaflation that is going on. But let’s take the folks on the cusp on a case-by-case basis.

Grimaldo: Massive upside as Jordi Alba Jr. IF Adriano moves on to Roma or somewhere, it’s not hard to imagine Grimaldo would get a promotion, but culers would have to be patient because he isn’t ready to be Alba Jr. His future would be Copa matches, and early-round Champions League efforts. If Adriano was to leave, Mathieu would be the injury sub, etc. Grimaldo is good enough to warrant care and feeding, and if he leaves Barça at all it will be on “loan,” in the context of the current sell-with-buyback system.

(Aside: I like the sell-with-buyback. You get a player off the books, and if he isn’t good enough he’s gone. Sold. If he is, you build in a low buyback, say selling him at 8m and buying back at 10. The team that develops him gets a little something for their trouble, and Barça gets back a fully developed player. There was screaming about Deulofeu going for 6m, but look at his buyback. If he develops into the player his potential suggests, 9m would be dirt cheap. If he doesn’t, but club got rid of a clunker for 6m.

A loan is a problem because it comes with expectations of a return. And that leads to a Krkic, Keirrison or Afellay, where a player is on the books, but there is no intention of bringing him back. That sucks, for the player and the club. The sell-with-buyback is an excellent option, if you ask me, not that anyone did.)

Adama Traore: Not even close to ready for the Barça first team, though might be eventually. Has many of the same problems that Deulofeu has. He also needs lots of playing time under a strong coach, at a team that can afford to give him that playing time, with all the attendant risks. Rumor is Liverpool, but I don’t see Traore getting enough time at Liverpool, though it would certainly be more than he would get at Barça.

Sergi Samper: He’s almost ready, but staying at Barça has the potential to hinder his development. He, among all the almost-readys needs a loan to a good, mid-table Liga side, one good enough to not turn turtle when the top clubs come to town, cowering on the rocks with 11 behind the ball. Keeping him at Barça with the midfield the team has in place, is madness. Iniesta, Busquets, Mascherano, Rakiic, Turan, Rafinha. Samper isn’t going to displace any of those players in a meritocracy. Send him on loan. Man, would Rayo be an excellent location. Enrique knows what he has, and how talented Samper is. He also knows how good he is in the first-team context, because he gets to watch him in training every day.

Munir El-Haddadi: He’s in the exact same situation as Samper, and needs the same thing. Only Masia egocentrism would suggest that keeping Munir is better than loaning him so that he can get the playing time that he needs to develop. He is capable of starting for many a Liga side and as he gets stronger and more knowledgeable, expect him to realize his immense up side. Sitting on the bench watching Suarez and Neymar isn’t going to help him.

Sandro Ramirez: A keeper until Munir is ready, then move him on unless he somehow blossoms. It isn’t that he isn’t talented enough to keep, but rather that a fully-realized Munir will leave him in the shade. But for now he has seized his place in the first team, barring anything unforeseen with the anticipated Pedro migration. Sandro is also what the team needs, which is a Suarez-type forward to allow for subs and rotation, in addition to Rafinha being slid up the pitch.

Gerard Gumbau: Nope. No way. He just isn’t good enough, and it seems that Enrique wanted him on this U.S. tour to make his mind up fully in that regard. But ya gotta play somebody in a friendly, so why not Gumbau? The idea that Enrique prefers him to Samper is laughable, and not just because they’re different players. For the first team, Enrique would prefer neither of them. But Samper will be back with Barça after he leaves. Not Gumbau.

Alen Halilovic: A step or two behind Samper, but in the same approximate boat in that he is a HUGE talent that needs to, in the words of his countryman Ivan Rakitic, “grow as a player and a person.” That requires playing time, and it almost doesn’t matter where, because Halilovic will get playing time almost anywhere except that select group of top-tier teams. Like almost all of the others on this list, he’s too good for Barça B, but not good enough for a full promotion even as his contract specifies promotion.

The difficulty facing Enrique is that he has to deal with a coterie of almosts, players who are almost good enough and good enough to set supporter tongues wagging, but who aren’t legitimately good enough to make a first team of the caliber of Barça. It isn’t a question of managing those youth players within that first team, but a simpler question of quality.

It isn’t Samper or Halilovic’s fault that Barça has a stacked midfield. It’s a consequence of the team wanting to build the best possible squad. Should Barça have passed on Turan to make sure that there was a spot for Samper? That’s the “theory vs reality” question again. Theory is “Yes, of course. Youth player development is the most important thing.” Then RM picks up Turan, and the Barça technical staff is stupid for not having bought him, because a player such as that, blablabla.

Enrique is, like the youth players people are so worried about his management of, between a rock and a hard place. He has to keep on winning. Would any culer tolerate finishing third in the league with an XI that gave the likes of Grimaldo, Samper, Munir and Traore all the playing time they required to reach their fullest potential? No. Don’t even try it. People can’t even deal with losing a pre-season friendly.

Jordi Alba is a Masia product who went away and came back a much better player than he probably would have been had he stayed, because of playing time. He developed as a starter for Valencia, worked into the Spain XI and returned to the club of his roots. And he arrived with that understanding. What of a player such as Traore? Alves creates so much danger because he understands how to interact with Messi. Is the first team ready for a Traore who will take the ball, poke it forward and rush toward the end line to either cut into the box or make a cross? We saw some of Samper vs Chelsea, and the different kinds of pressure that a top team brings to bear. Enrique isn’t just watching Samper makes those elegant passes, He’s also watching defense, off-the-ball movement, etc. Are we ready to concede set pieces a tricky, quick forward sharpens Samper’s learning curve? What of Munir letting yet another chance go begging because he gets pushed off the ball too easily?

Development is called that for a reason, and youth products need it. As ideal as it would be to have that development come at the club they are eventually going to play for, a cradle-to-grave experience, that just isn’t likely, viable or to my view, the best thing for the players in question. And the only person whose fault that is goes by the name of Bad Timing.

By Kxevin

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.


  1. No one could accuse me of championing youngsters when they aren’t ready. I’ve tried to throw cold water over Bojan and GDS at the old Offside and was told that they were better than a fading R10 and the future. I asked then the question I ask now of all young players ; what killer skill do they have ? It’s the question I asked about Cuenca/ JDS/ Montoya which didn’t always go down well and actually it’s also the question I asked about Sanchez ( not so young) and was told that work rate would do the trick. Tbh, it’s the question I’m still asking about Rafinha and Rakitic which will be equally as popular but to me remains valid. Work rate alone doesn’t hack it in the end at Barca. A young player needs a skill(s) which stands up when they actually play in the first team.

    However, of the current crop one I’ve seen with that level of skill is Samper – without a doubt. His vision, positioning, turning ability, passing ability all scream quality to me. He’s incredibly reminiscent of a young Xavi to me. He’s not almost ready – he’s ready. Does that mean he will stay? No, because I’m not sure LE values those skills as highly as I do, even if he does see them every day. With the arrival of Turan and the use of Masche, Rakitic,and even Gumbau among the young players, I suspect he is looking for a more physical side merely to support MSN and it’s a fair call if all we are looking to do is win. It’s more than that for me. I looked at the period where Rafinha and Rakitic ran the midfield both last season and for a short spell in the last game and wasn’t impressed.

    In our start of season predictions last year I said that MSN would be unstoppable and it wouldn’t matter about the rest of the team as long as we tightened the defence and gave Pique someone reliable to work with. I reckon this season will be a different prospect. We’ll be very, very fortunate to keep the front three clear of injury and if forced to rely on the midfield without Messi dropping deep we will struggle. We need to develop someone who is happy being the playmaker again. Busi can’t do that. Although a natural DM, I reckon Samper could. But it won’t happen.

    I do agree that we need to make some decisions about young players and actually sell them with buyback. We’re becoming a laughing stock that we can’t decide who will make it so keep hedging our bets . Back your judgement, guys.

    1. Nice post to balance this issue, Kxevin. I agree, Jim, to some degree. It’s true they need stand-out quality to enable them to make it in the first team (though perhaps Pedro’s skill was all-round) – but while Adama, for instance, seems to have the killer-skill speed, he lacks balance. Rakitic, to me, does not have the qualities to run our midfield, far from it. But he does have (and add) balance and enough skill for a work horse-position. Rafinha… well, I agree with you more on this one: I can’t see him running any midfield, either. I would be surprised if he will last; he seems too flimsy, somehow, to function in a Barca midfield.

      Samper has the skills and talent, but is he ready enough to get minutes? Will we struggle less in midfield with him on the team? I think we must pray that Iniesta does not break before Arda is ready… (and same goes for Munir and Sandro, neither ready to fill in for an injured unit of MSN).

    2. That’s the thing with Adama, he has that killer skill. The kid completed more dribbles than any other player in Europe this year (243). Messi, in comparison, played more games and reached about 180. Now before people say that he’s selfish, he also led the league in assists (14).

      I know he’s not ready and I know the arguments against him, but in my mind it is madness to send this talent away without at least a clear plan to develop him and bring him back.

  2. Hi My name is Nisarg and i am an addict. I have been reading this blog for 2 years now. Contribution of this blog to my development as a fan has been and is immense. Now that i am hooked i want to thank you guys for all you have done for this site .Love this place. Love the new design ( Despite complaints ) I am eagerly waiting for season predictions.

  3. To be honest i first started as as a Manchester United hater. My roomate was going on and on about Red’s ruling the football world and on Wikipedia page i red that ” Barcelona has beaten team 2-0 in Rome at UCL.. To be frank i didnt even know what UCL was at that time. From there to now when i cant even pass an hour without reading about football. I became member of FCB Toronto Peneya and won a freaking Treble. This site is the catalyst for all that and i am grateful.

  4. [deleted]

    [comment by Lev: For clarity to the readers in this space, dream team and agar2515 are the same person. Think Tyler Durden but not nearly as cool, original or intelligent.]

    1. I’d be more interested in hearing your thoughts about the article, tbh. Personal attacks are becoming tiresome. You obviously don’t agree with the thoughts in the article. I agree with the general thrust but not in Samper’s case. Lev also makes a good point about Adama having that killer skill. How do we keep a handle on all these talents while still winning ? Expand on that and we can have a great discussion.

    2. I personally think that Kxevin is sometimes liable to beat a point to death before writing another couple of pages about it and I skip a few (not this article though). And I find that his views can be over optimistic generally.

      Having said that, I don’t know many authors, sports-wise or not, who can be more genuine and elegant at the same time about what they want to say. And I never read anything from him which sounded unreasonable, even if I disagreed.

      He makes the place look rich. I remember the time when he replied to someone who accused him of something or the other to the effect that – a person is different from his views. I was left thinking ‘That comes from a very wise man’

      In fact, if he writes anything other than FCB, I’d be very enthusiastic about reading that stuff too.

      So, I am especially glad that he didn’t stop writing here because of a few commentators – the lack of whom would make coming here a better experience for me.

    1. I’m not really sure what point the writer is making. I don’t know anyone who is suggesting an all Masia eleven, by his own account La Masia has been a phenomenal success in producing players for the best team in the world and as a natural consequence anyone wanting to make it from La Masia. will have to earn minutes on the pitch through their performance, such as Busi who displaced a Yaya at his prime. Even now, the discussion we’re having is how to cope with the undoubted talents being produced ( admittedly not all completely home grown).

      Tbh, over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about next season and you have to feel reasonably confident about us. Acid test is which side in the world would you even contemplate swapping for ours – and how many managers in the world wouldn’t accept a swap in seconds ? How long would Rafa take to accept ?

      It’s now over to LE to make it happen. If he has learned the lessons of last season we could be on for another great one.

    2. Well, to me it was an attempt to debunk the mythology surrounding the club in a way that I do not think is generally healthy (comp. nationalism, with its tendency toward fiction and idealisation). It’s not about suggesting a La Masia-eleven at this point, but rather to understand that there is little magic involved, and to support Kevin’s point on players going away to return in a better position to compete. The mythology simply creates, to my mind, unrealistic expectations and ideals; while perhaps having the effect of young players wanting to join, these expectations might also create unrest in the same players (by for instance having automatic promotion clauses…).

  5. We have the squad to win CL again.After january with Turan Vidal and maybe Gerson we will have the most amazing squad in the world.If we are top of La Liga or 2-4 points behind,we will win La Liga too.I am so excited about the season to start.For a few days i will enjoy the crying about Samper Gumbau Traore and Gerson haters on twitter world.Other big clubs fans crying for their trophieless seasons,our club fans crying for no reason.

  6. “There is a persistent belief that Guardiola was some sort of Youth Whisperer, or that the club promoted young’uns and didn’t buy players under his tenure. That just ain’t true.”

    Glad you’re writing again Kevin! Hilarious!

  7. Cuenca’s only season playing for Barça was actually Pep’s last season. He was injured and loaned out under Tito and never played for Tata.

  8. Ajax out of CL.But why??They have one of of the best academies in the world and one coach that many people wanted for Barca.Imagine if we had hired FDB and more players from La Masia where we would be now.Thank god nobody in the club listen to us.

  9. Great article. I agree on almost all the things. Patience is the key here especially with Samper, Munir and Halilovic.

  10. Enter Your Comment…well! Great article from Kevin striking all the right notes on the matter, am personaly backing the idea of loaning /selling (with buy back option) of the youngsters because they are still aint the finishing article and may find it difficult to make the cut to the first team

    Jim made a good point on samper he is undoubtedly a good reminiscent to xavi but his defensive game need some improvements, he is not a hard tackler and his light weight along with his work rate is still an issue to be deemed, a loan would be healthy for his development, better than rotten on the bench and waiting for last 10-15 min. To be introduced and that’s would hinders his developments psychologically, LE knows the best for the team and also knows what he wants! deloufeo’s case is a good reminder, when LE loaned him out! And we were all out asking for lucho’s head, untill we realized what he was trying to prove,
    The key is patiance.

  11. I am very much with the new approach “sell with buy back clause”.
    We have talents but they have to earn to be a first team. How can one guarantee a kid first team because he is their academy product?

    Yes we have players possessing great potential to become a great player. But those talents needs nurtured. By mere loaning, I don’t see one could really gets enough time to get matured unless we include a clause like 1200mins of league match.

    That brings me back to “sell with buy back cĺause”. Here the parent club will make some bucks, the new club will try their best to develop him for their future or to make few profit within a year or two.

    If they pan out well, take’m back. Else say goodbuy.
    “Sell with buy back clause” is a win-win business for all parties me think.

  12. I alse have learnt that our close rival have started recruiting young players (Mostly Spanish) maybe to built future squad within their own garden. Are we not really again competing for the young Spanih prospects for our future or content with our already grown players in our garden?

    Is this something to be cautious?

  13. Looking at our squad for Gamper, we have a strong, very good back line. But the same look quite not nice for the midfield and forwards.. May be by Jan, with Turan in midfield is a bit more ok. But, forward line, with Pedro going for sure, Shouldnt we be worried. We would be very lucky if our no.9/10/11 and 4/5/8 will remain healthy for the full season.

    Midfiedlers: 4. Ivan Rakitic, 5. Sergio Busquets, 8. Andrés Iniesta, 12. Rafinha Alcântara, 20. Sergi Roberto
    Forwards: 7. Pedro Rodríguez, 9. Luis Suárez, 10. Lionel Messi, 11. Neymar Jr., 16. Sandro Ramírez, 17. Munir El-Haddadi

    1. Also, Simeoni has built a really competitive team for Atletico… They are going to give a real fight this time. I wish he also had bought Dybala though.

  14. First time here. Great blog with very well written thoughts about the club. Great new design as well. Thanks for whoever is responsible.
    Great article this one too Kxevin. I feel like Barcelona is in a place where recent successes has become a two edged sword in regards to LaMasia. Since 2005, the core of the team comprised of players like Puyol, Iniesta, Xavi, Messi and Pique along with Busquests albeit since 2009. We won everything with these players and as it rightly should be, it gives us an immense sense of pride that our youths grew up to become monsters. However, now that we are at the top, we need to keep the momentum going and that’s not easy. Developing youths requires patience which is a highly priced commodity as I believe that neither the fans nor the club can digest wasting a season or two in working for the future when the best team that we have ever had is plying their trade at the present.
    So, I personally do not worry much about La Masia players at the moment because if they are good enough they will always make it to the first team directly like Messi or indirectly like Alba, Pique. We have possibly the best team in the world and and this crop of players come by only once every generation so I would like to enjoy it while it lasts. Yes, I would love to see La Masia players in the team more often than not, but as mentioned in the article, most of them are almost ready but not quite there yet. So, I am confident that players like Samper no matter what, will make it to the first team but only when they are ready which may not quite be right now.

  15. Just here to point out that Cuenca actually came up under Guardiola, in fact was recalled from then Segunda B team Sabadell at his specific request. I still believe that if he hadn’t had such terrible luck with injuries he might have turned into a really good player. Such a shame.

    I enjoyed this article, and I largely agree with Kxevin’s sentiments, but like Jim I think Samper is clearly ready for a first team place. Lucho himself said as much last season, which is why it’s been baffling to see him passed over for Gumbau in the preseason.. But as I said on twitter I expect that Lucho wanted to give Gumbau every chance to prove himself.. The thing about Samper is, we all know how good he is, and when we see him play so maturely we forget that he is still only 20. The club in its wisdom (!) seems to have decided that he can wait another year for promotion. It’s disappointing, but my hope is that besides helping the B team with their fight to get back into the Segunda A, he will get regular call-ups for training with the first team and maybe some Copa games. Samper is the natural successor to Busquets. The two of them have already established a mentor/apprentice relationship which has been a joy to behold. In this specific case I think nourishing that relationship is more important than getting Samper regular playing time at another club that plays in a different style.

  16. Apologies for being off topic but how are Vidal and Turan going to play if they may not be assigned numbers until the ban is lifted?

    1. Well, they’re not going to play, obviously. That’s the point of the ban. In January they will be officially registered as part of the team and choose numbers at that time.

    2. Thanks for responding. I assumed that but couldn’t believe Arda agreed to sit out half of the season.

  17. Never mind the samper, anyone watch the gamper? Team looked good with messi in it LOL

  18. Well, apparently Media Pro , worried about the Spanish football authorities reaction to their bumbling, had a re- think about the UK’s La Liga rights, went back behind BT’s back to Sky and asked them to re- enter the bidding. Sky promptly did and secured the rights for less than they offered in the first place. BT fizzing after being told they were the only bidders. You couldn’t make it up.

    1. But BT has the rights for CL right? So it’s a case of one or the other. When I was in Singapore, it was a similar case. I had La Liga but no CL so I missed a lot of good matches a decade ago like the ones vs. Chelsea.

      Which broadcast are you subscribed to?
      Btw, can’t BT sue Media Pro?

    2. I don’t know the legal situation Barca 96, but there was nothing to stop BT having both as Sky did up to now. I’d be surprised if BT didn’t have some kind of case but with Sky’s bottomless pockets probably not worth it.

      Suits me either way. I paid a fiver to turn BT into HD and kept Sky Sports – which I’d have been loath to lose because of the golf and Federer – but got it for half price because of the Spanish football situation. Tbh, Sky does Spanish football well and I’m not sure about BT’s presenting team.

  19. I am boring so this my prediction for the favourites for CL this season.In order.1 Barca 2 PSG 3 Juventus 4 Bayern 5 Madrid 6 Arsenal 7 Chelsea.Well there will be some transfers but i cant see big changes.

    1. What happened to vaccination ? Is the MMR not about 90% effective ? Whatever, the first thing is to make sure it doesn’t spread and the second to hope that this season isn’t going to be payback from fate for a largely trouble free last season.

  20. Enter Your Comment…well, this becoming worrisome, it was alba and now neymar??? I hope messi and suarez knocks the wood and stay injury free! If not then we are totaly screwed

  21. Bayern play a cup game away against a 5th division team and Pep offcourse play a team full of youngsters.Vidal Goetze Lewa e.t.c.But some fans will blame Lucho if he will not start Grimaldo Samper in a final….oh and we start already the we are screwed??how many trebles must this team win to make the fans optimistics??:-(

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