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A LOOK AT LA LIGA

The Barça way

Guinea-Bissau forward Ansu Fati (right) is the latest to emerge from the Academy.
Guinea-Bissau forward Ansu Fati (right) is the latest to emerge from the Academy. / AFP
  • The real issue at the Camp Nou is the failure to create a pathway to the first team from La Masia

In a quiet moment on the day of a Clásico, about twelve years ago, I flicked through the channels and stumbled upon FC Barcelona's TV station: it was just like watching the first team. It was almost as if they were developing clones in every position for the next generation.

There were 13-year-olds who looked like and moved just like a mini Xavi Hernández or Andrés Iniesta; a kid slightly taller than the others who bullied the opposition, who clearly had a picture of Sergi Busquets on his bedroom wall; and a goalkeeper whose foot skills would get him an outfield place in the academy team of any other club.

At that time Pep Guardiola was the coach and Barça were the envy of world football. Guardiola had created a team largely drawn from graduates of La Masia, the club's renowned academy. It looked like it would be world domination for years to come.

I noticed that an author released a book about the DNA of Barcelona, A Winning Culture, with the blurb promising "key principles that have defined FC Barcelona's success and shows how the DNA of a winning team can be successfully applied to any working environment". That hasn't aged well and it was only released a year ago.

So what exactly has happened? Those teenagers should now be the backbone of the team but there's not one who has established himself in the first team.The ideal was that they would draft a graduate when a senior statesman needed replacing. It would be replenishment.

Lord knows what happened to the millennials who should be claiming squad numbers at the Camp Nou! Instead the shirts are taken by boys from Brazil, Germany, France, Germany and a 16-year-old from Guinea-Bissau.

Guardiola enjoyed the best years as coach, Luis Enrique benefitted from most at their prime and Valverde has won trophies with the back end of the generation. He's taking the flak for a couple of seasons of under-achievement in Europe despite domestic dominance.

Blame Valverde for tactics, failing to prepare for matches, the lacklustre start to the season but not the whole hog. You can replace him as coach but it won't cure all of the ills. The real issue is the failure to create a pathway to the first team from La Masia for the starlets. If Valverde is relieved of his duties his successor would inherit the same dilemma.

The dilemma is how to redevelop a team that has leant on Messi for a decade, and how to integrate the undoubted talent of Antoine Griezmann, Arthur Melo, Frenkie de Jong and Ousmane Dembélé.

"Valverde Out" is the cheap headline but nobody has the answer to who should replace him. The truth is the Catalans want another Pep but he's on a mission elsewhere which relies on nurturing players through a club's system and creating a distinctive DNA.

Ironically you could probably watch any Manchester City academy team and see a distinctive style of play; these days even the Barça first team don't play 'the Barça way'.