Johan Cruyff may have passed away earlier this year but his legacy off the pitch lives on through FC Barcelona.
Barcelona famously paid tribute to Cruyff in their first match at Camp Nou after the death of the Dutch legend on March 26 this year. The match was the El Clasico on April 2 — a date now earmarked on the football calendar for the tributes that over 90,000 fans paid in unison to express their gratitude and mourn the loss of someone who had a profound effect during his spells as player and as manager of the club.
It is in his latter role that the legendary footballer changed the club forever, a vision that has come to life in the form of Barcelona’s domination over world football over the last few years. That vision is the La Masia — the academy where youth players are trained to play the Barcelona way, a form that has colloquially come to be known as tiki-taka.
To begin with, Cruyff brought the idea of a residential youth academy to Barcelona. A farmhouse beside the Camp Nou was selected as the building where players of the youth teams would lodge while training to become professionals with the club. The academy began in 1979 and came to be called La Masia, which is Spanish for ‘The Farm’.
“Look at how they play. It’s the philosophy. They always train with the ball at their feet, never without it. That’s the important thing,” a spokesperson of the youth academy said while pointing to Barcelona’s under-12 team in training to explain the mentality instituted by Cruyff.
Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper (which translates to Joan Gaper Sporting City), located a few kilometres away from Camp Nou, covers nearly 1,40,000 square metres of area and is currently the primary youth academy of FC Barcelona.
Most importantly, it houses the Camp Tito Vilanova — the official training ground for the FC Barcelona first team — and the residential building for youth players known as La Masia.
The sporting centre has two artificial turfs and eight natural grass training pitches, and one natural grass pitch used only for official matches of youth teams. Barcelona takes pride in being not just a football club but an overall sporting club with teams of men’s and women’s football, basketball, handball, fustal and roller hockey -- a training complex for youth and reserve teams for all of these sports is also part of the centre.
And it was a member of one of the other teams that helped Cruyff create a lasting impression on how they trained the football team.
As manager and head coach of FC Barcelona in the early 1990s, Cruyff felt his players lacked the fitness levels required to play at the top level. He brought in a fitness coach from the club’s handball team to create new programmes that would help improve the footballers.
Initially, Cruyff’s idea of bringing in a coach from another sporting discipline was criticised and the coach’s methods were ridiculed. But after the programme began to take shape on the field and reflected in the team’s results, Cruyff was lauded for bringing in another visionary idea to the club.
At the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, there isn’t much by way of plaques or statues to praise Cruyff but talk of the great man that shaped the club continue to echo through the staff that employ his ideologies.
(The writer’s trip is sponsored by Sony Six)