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La Masia: Where champs are reared

sports Updated: Jan 11, 2011 23:29 IST
Rohit Bhaskar
Rohit Bhaskar
Hindustan Times
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There's a fable about FC Barcelona's famed La Masia academy, which involves three of its most successful products - Pep Guardiola, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

In 1999, when Xavi broke into the Barcelona first team, and Guardiola's future looked uncertain a journalist went up to the present coach of the Catalans during a training session at the academy, and pointed in Xavi's direction, saying, "This kid will soon put you out of business."

Never one without an interesting retort, Guardiola pointed to the direction of a 15-year-old Anders Iniesta, and said, "You may be right, but that kid (Iniesta) is going to put us all out of business."
At La Masia, they identify talent young, and identify it well.

The academy was envisioned by the man who turned things around in Catalonia, Dutch master Johan Cruyff, as a place where Barcelona could house and train youngsters from across the region. Cryuff's inspiration was pretty straightforward - replicate the success of his mentor Rinus Michels at Ajax Amsterdam, where Total Football was born.

In 1979, the academy, which shadows Barcelona's iconic Nou Camp, was officially inaugurated. Some laud Cryuff for his foresight, but it was another Dutchman, Louis van Gaal, who turned things around and ensured the kind of success that has seen it become the first football academy to have reared the three finalists for the Ballon d'Or. Van Gaal said, as far back as 1999 that he "wanted to field a starting XI comprising only of La Masia graduates", and was the coach who helped Carles Puyol, Xavi and Iniesta, break into the first team. Barcelona's decision to move out of the facility by 2012 will mean the end of an era, but as long as the guiding philosophy of La Masia is kept alive, the Catalans will continue to churn out footballers at record pace.