The name of the old house that hosts FC Barcelona's young recruits is synonymous with club's whole ethos and, with eight graduates from La Masia in the current side, it is also the foundation of its continued success.
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"The player who has passed through La Masia has something different to the rest, it's a plus that only comes from having competed in a Barcelona shirt from the time you were a child."
Josep Guardiola, FC Barcelona coach
It is a rare occurrence nowadays to find a top European club travelling to play a domestic league game with eight home produced players in their match squad, yet on 19 October FC Barcelona did just that.
Glimpse of the future
On that day, the club's collection of talented youngsters based in the ancient country residence known as La Masia would have gathered together to watch Barcelona win 1-0 at Athletic Club Bilbao. They would have known where goalkeeper Víctor Valdés learned his trade and that Carles Puyol, Víctor Sánchez and Gerard Piqué once sat in the chairs they were occupying. Andrés Iniesta and Sergi Busquets offered further examples of how far these youngsters could go while their idols Lionel Messi and Bojan Krkić warmed the bench. The only absent graduate from the club's school of excellence was the injured Xavi Hernández. The man guiding the Azulgrana from the sidelines, meanwhile, was the first player to have passed through La Masia's famous halls and go on to become Barcelona coach, Josep Guardiola.
The Barça way
The name of the old house that hosts young club recruits has become synonymous with Barcelona's youth academy. La Masia is the residence that provides a home for boys who have moved away from their parents in order to receive a footballing education, but it is also the youth system itself. José Ramón Alexanco, the man who lifted the 1992 European Champion Clubs' Cup for Barcelona at Wembley and the club's current director of youth football explained: "To be from La Masia means to be Barça. It's integrated with everything the club believes about football. We offer the boys a chance to be here for a certain period and apart from football they get an education. La Masia does a lot to turn the kids into men by the time they leave. We have a stamp here that's a Barça stamp; the footballing philosophy is taught by FC Barcelona."
Importance of youth
From Barcelona Atlètic, the club's main youth team, downwards, there are 12 teams that count on more than 300 players and 24 coaches. According to midfielder Xavi Hernández, the younger a person can learn the values of the club the more chance he will have for future success. "The feeling of belonging to Barça must start form an early age as you need to feel like you're at home with your family," he said. "People who come from within the system are crucial as they learn that we like to play offensively and to keep possession with one-two passing. Home grown players form the foundation of any team; they have commitment and that identification with the club that other players don't have. I think it's always important to have at least five or six players who have come through the youth system. In short, that's La Masia's way."
Defender Gerard Piqué left La Masia to gain experience with Manchester United FC in 2004 but has since returned and is now enjoying life as a first-team regular under Guardiola. He is thankful of the experience of having been raised a Barcelona player. "[In the youth academy] you feel the colours, the club and its crest," he said. "Above all it's about values, not only in football but on a personal level. I think the fans feel more connected to the team because of all of the home-grown players." The club's technical secretary Txiki Begiristain also spoke of the benefits of rising through the ranks and used one of the stars of the current crop to highlight his point. "The kids here are brought up to demand victory even in friendly matches. Take a look at Lionel Messi, he's from Argentina but he comes with the stamp of La Masia; he was formed in our house."