It is no coincidence that coaches and coach educators from across the world make pilgrimages to FC Barcelona's La Masía academy, hailed as a shrine of youth development. In this context, it is also no surprise that the next generation of Barcelona talent has qualified for the UEFA Youth League final tournament in Nyon.
Yet, having sailed through the group phase undefeated, with 20 goals scored and five conceded, the young Blaugrana were obliged to negotiate a steeper learning curve in the knockout rounds. First they had to come from 1-0 down at home to FC København and then find a tactical response to an Arsenal FC side who, in the quarter-final at the Mini Estadi, successfully defused Barça's explosive attacking play for long periods.
The youth squad are steeped in the first team's playing traditions, educated to base their game on ball possession, technical excellence, combination play and, above all, a level of humility illustrated by the club's policy of deterring players in the junior ranks from conducting interviews in order to maintain low media profiles. Coach Jordi Vinyals prefers to focus on collective rather than individual virtues.
Even so, the Barcelona lineup features some eye-catching individuals. Eight goals in as many games speak volumes for the predatory instincts of striker Munir El Haddadi. The speed and skills of right-winger Adama Traoré provoke comparisons with senior counterpart Pedro Rodríguez. Jordi Ortega mirrors the unsung-hero qualities of Sergio Busquets as screening midfielder. Behind him, Juanma García and Rodrigo Tarín are the pillars of a defence which has shipped only eight goals en route to Nyon.
"We have been learning a lot, and the experience will be magnificent again," Vinyals said as he looked ahead to the Swiss semi-finals. "In our match against Schalke, I shall be hoping for a bit of magic and joy."
When Barcelona won the UEFA Champions League in 2011, eight of the players involved in the Wembley final were from the club's academy.
Coach: Jordi Vinyals
Date of birth: 24/11/1963
Vinyals, a native of Catalonian town Cardedeu, trod the path from La Masía into the Barça first team as a midfielder and played for six other clubs before moving into coaching in 2000. He returned 'home' to La Masía to take charge of the youth team in 2012.
La Masía has educated 17 of the current first-team squad, including serial award winners Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta – the last two being player of the tournament at UEFA EURO 2008 and 2012 respectively.
Road to Nyon
Group stage: AFC Ajax 4-1 (h), Celtic FC 2-1 (a), AC Milan 6-2 (a), AC Milan 1-1 (h), AFC Ajax 4-0 (a), Celtic FC 3-0 (h) – Group H winners
Round of 16: FC København 4-1 (h)
Quarter-finals: Arsenal FC 4-2 (h)
Top scorer: Munir El Haddadi 8
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