La Masia – where heroes are made

Masia is a common Catalan word meaning country house or farm. For many of Football´s greatest however, this word has a very special meaning, as the first things that come to their minds when they hear it, are their teenage years and how they learned to play tiqui taca.

La Masia de Can Planes (mostly abbreviated to La Masia) is a country house next to the famous Camp Nou stadium and was the home of supposedly the best and most successful football school in the world until 2011. Just like the Camp Nou, it is one of the central pillars on which the success of the FC Barcelona is built.

The building was constructed as a masia in 1702. In 1954 the FC Barcelona bought the building and during the construction of Camp Nou (literally “New field”), La Masia served  as a workshop for the builders. Later, La Masia was remodelled and from 1966 onwards housed the FC Barcelona’s headquarters. However, over the years and with increasing success of the club, it became too small and the headquarters were moved to another building. La Masia was empty once again but in 1979 it was reopened as the new home of the players of the “Planter” (literally “plant breeding”), which is the common Catalan term for a football club’s youth academy. La Masia includes an area of 610 square meters and includes four dormitories and bathrooms, a library, an office, a kitchen and a dining room.

La Masia

FC Barcelona’s famous youth academy, even available as a model kit

A lot of credit goes to the famous Johan Cruyff. In his hometown Amsterdam, youth development programs had always played a very important role, especially in the Netherlands’ most successful club Ajax Amsterdam. Cruyff himself learned to play football in Ajax Amsterdam’s youth academy. This left a lasting impression on him and thus Cruyff, who played for the FC Barcelona between 1973 and 1978, suggested to president Josep Núñez to do something similar.

After having finished his career as a player, Cruyff soon became a coach and it did not take long before he came back to Barcelona in 1988. The same year he was the first coach to give a graduate from La Masia, called Guillermo Amor, the chance to play in the club’s first team. Amor went on to play more then 300 matches in Spain’s Primera División. Later in the same year, two more players followed: Carles Busquets, the father of current Spanish international midfielder and world champion Sergio Busquets (himself a graduate from La Masia) and Josep Guardiola.

Since Cruyffs times, all teams of all ages of the FC Barcelona have played the same system and style. Not only does this allow players to progress naturally through different teams but it also means that the training methods in all teams bear a similar style. In the case of the FC Barcelona this defining style is nowadays often called tiqui taca, which is based on short passes, possession and thus patiently working the ball through different positions, clearly inspired by football total, the style that led the Dutch national team with its star player Cruyff to a World Cup final in 1974.

However, La Masia sets out to be much more than a football school where young talents learn technical and tactical ability and other footballing skills. The goal is to also shape the boys’ lifestyle, attitude and values. The boys attend the best schools, where they are often taught in Catalan, which in the beginning can be tricky for those, who come from other regions, and when they come  back in the early afternoon they have lunch together and after that a siesta. In the evening they typically train for one to two hours everyday before they return to La Masia, where they do homework together with private tutors. After that it’s time for dinner and a little spare time before they usually call it an early night.

Of course, football talent is what unites all of the 13 and 14 year-olds who are lucky enough to get the privilege to join La Masia, but training and games are only one part of their life they share for the next years. In fact, they share their meals, spare time, holidays and the fact, that they all live without their families for the first time in their life. Naturally, this is often not without drama, but it also results in very strong bonds between the boys and often friendships that last longer than any footballer’s career.

How football and values come together is shown by the three objectives, that all of the FC Barcelona’s youth teams are following:

  1. They must play fair and in a non-agressive fashion, always being the more sporting team, trying to commit less fouls than the opposition
  2. They must try to play more attractive attacking football and be more creative than the opposition
  3. They must try to win

The third goal only matters, when the first two are accomplished. Humility is a big part of it, as well. Players like Iniesta or Messi, for example, embody this virtue. Compare their attitude on the pitch to that of other world class players.

The success of the system behind La Masia is best shown by the names of the many former and current stars, that graduated from La Masia. Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta have already been named above, but they are by far not the only ones in Barça’s current first team. There are also current world champions  Xavi Hernández, Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, Cesc Fàbregas, Pedro and Victor Valdés and the youngsters Andreu Fontàs and Thiago Alcántara. Not all of the players stay with Barça for their whole career. Current expatriots include Liverpool’s Pepe Reina, Roma’s Bojan Krkić, Tottenham’s Giovani dos Santos, Espanyol’s Sergio García, Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta and Jeffrén Suárez from Sporting Lisbon. Note that all those players are still active. Amongst the La Masia graduates who have already finished their careers are, for example, Johan Cruyff’s son Jordi, former Spanish international Albert Ferrer, the former enfant terrible Ivan de la Peña, the incredible Josep Guardiola and the current first team’s coach Tito Vilanova. Guardiola himself let at least five new La Masia players make their debut in each of his four seasons as a head coach, 22 players altogether.

2009 was a very special year for La Masia, as for the first time in its history, one of its alumnis won the Ballon d’or, the FIFA’s prize for the world’s best footballer of the year. More than that, not only winner Lionel Messi, but also runners up Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta are La Masia graduates, a truly unique achievement.

2 Responses to “La Masia – where heroes are made”
  1. Legend Rings says:

    Fabulous! Continue the good work. 😀

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] no doubt who would win the final. Bilbao never looked like they could keep up with Barça’s tiki taqua. The first chance 30 seconds into the game should have been the lead for Barcelona. The fans had to […]

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