Barcelona returning to youth and security for the future
Background photo: Xavoun, CC BY-SA 3.0
It's said the best way to prepare for the future is by investing in youth. While this statement is often used when discussing educational matters, it touches on several aspects of life. Football is one.
Modern football values youth more than in the past. More time, money and energy is spent on developing youth talent than ever. Stars like Vinicius Junior, Kylian Mbappe and Jadon Sancho are breaking into elite clubs while still in their teens.
Some clubs have been at it for longer than others. Barcelona might be the best known. There is no argument the brightest phase in Barcelona's history came under Pep Guardiola between 2008 and 2012. During that period, the Catalan giants dominated with style.
While all four seasons were exceptional, the 2008/09 campaign stood out. Pep Guardiola guided the team to a clean sweep of all six trophies on offer in the 2009 calendar year, including La Liga, the Copa del Rey, Champions League, Spanish and UEFA super cups and the Club World Cup. Perhaps the most special part of the team was its youth and the many great players who came through La Masia, the club's academy.
Lionel Messi was just 21 years old that season and the team's heartbeat. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, both under 25, allowed Barcelona to put games under control with great ease. Pedro Rodriguez, Sergio Busquets, Bojan Krkic and Gerard Pique were also notable members who made priceless contributions, They shook the football world. At the time, the squad was considered the club's future. Now, with Messi, Piquet, and Busquets all on the wrong side of 30, Xavi, Iniesta and all the rest gone, they are the past the next generation must live up to.
With the pressure to match the old guard's success and Real Madrid rising back to the top with four Champions Leagues in five years through Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane, the Blaugrana board took the easy way out. They began signing high-priced talent like Neymar, Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic. Young stars such as Thiago Alcantara left for other clubs to find playing time. Only Sergi Roberto represented the post-Messi classes from La Masia in the first team. Before Ernesto Valverde arrived in 2017, concerns arose that the club was losing its identity.
The former Athletic Bilbao boss still dips heavily into the market, as evidenced by Philippe Coutinho, Arturo Vidal and Kevin-Prince Boateng. But he has sought younger players too, Ousmane Dembele, Arthur Melo and malcom from the outside, Carles Alena and Riqui Puig from the academy. By signing incredible prospects from the transfer market and giving opportunities to their academy products, Barcelona return to their youthful philosophy.
The club splashed a massive €75 million to secure highly-rated Ajax midfielder, Frenkie De Jong. The Dutch International will move to Catalonia in the summer where he will link up with Arthur and Alena in a new midfield that promises to echo Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets.
Nelson Semedo, Sergi Roberto, Samuel Umtiti, Clement Lenglet and the potential return of Marc Cucurella project strong defensive line for Barcelona in the future. Dembele, Coutinho and Malcom promise a potent attack even after Suarez and Messi hang up their boots.
While people laud Real Madrid for changing its philosophy to emphasise youth, Barcelona are reminding people they set the La Liga standard in that category.