"We want to win, but it's about how we win," Jordi Vinyals told UEFA.com, the coach putting style first as FC Barcelona defend their UEFA Youth League crown.
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Only five players from the FC Barcelona squad that won the inaugural UEFA Youth League five months ago took part in the opening match of their title defence, a 3-0 win against APOEL FC.
Partly, that is the nature of the competition – this season, only players born on or after 1 January 1996 are eligible. However, in this case it is also a tribute to the overarching philosophy first embedded in this club in the late 1980s by Johan Cruyff, that "if you are good enough you are old enough". In fact, the better the player in Barcelona's famous Cantera (youth system), the quicker coaches will promote him upwards, and out of any potential comfort zone.
Of those who have vaulted forwards in their career thanks to the experience, success and profile gained while winning the UEFA Youth League in April, Munir El Haddadi is now not only a Barcelona first-team regular but a Spain international, while Adama Traoré is pulling up trees in Eusebio Sacristán's Barça B as they sit near the top of Spain's second division.
Among those who are left behind for coach Jordi Vinyals to profit from, Enguene and Wilfrid Kaptoum grabbed the attention throughout the debut win. The goals went to Isaac Padilla, Mohamed El Ouriachi (aka Moha) and Juanma García, but it was the pair of Cameroon-born 18-year-olds who ran the game.
Enguene, in particular, laid on a show. Two assists and a wicked swerving free-kick off the crossbar marked this down as a night when, even in the rigid Barcelona tactical system employed with a 4-3-3 formation, he was permitted almost total freedom to roam.
Vinyals told UEFA.com after the match: "Enguene just loves to be on the ball all the time, to prompt the movement of the team. We do try to instil in all of them that positional intelligence and discipline are important at all times – it's how the team prevents gaps appearing for the opposition to take advantage of. However, this was a game where there was more space and he moved around to take advantage."
Watched by Eusebio, former Barça midfielder Gabri, and Carles Puyol – now assistant to director of football Andoni Zubizarreta – the youth team dominated but failed to convert that pressure into a big score. "This was an opportunity for many more goals," Vinyals confirmed. "In this group, thinking about qualification, it's feasible that a goal here or there might actually determine whether or not you go through."
On the day when the club announced that their main training pitch would be named after the late Tito Vilanova, it was emotive to see his son, Adrià, make the bench for the junior version of the competition his father twice won as assistant to Josep Guardiola.
Vinyals was eager to remind his players of that sense of continuity, of successes built on heartfelt principles. "We are Barcelona – we want to retain our trophy," he said. "We must play with the same pride and quality as always. We want to win, but it's how we win – how we play – that is most important."