FC BARCELONA YOUTH ACADEMY PLAYERS
FC Barcelona’s academy is arguably the most esteemed in all of football. Here are brief profiles on their emerging generation coming out of La Masia. Each cover their backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses.
You can find more in-depth player reports in the Scouted Football Handbook, our quarterly magazine in which we profile 25 of the world’s best up-and-coming talents, with additional original features and exclusive interviews included.
What is La Masia's philosophy?
La Masia academy is predicated on a style of play that is ingrained in the identity of Barcelona: technical passing football in a 4-3-3 shape, first established at the club by Johan Cruijff.
Barça’s academy typically produces players that are strong technicians, with high-level fundamental skills that underpin their games – think Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta. They’re often relatively underveloped physically, but their priority is, rightly or wrongly, touch and technique.
What is La Masia's pathway?
Throughout the generations, Barcelona have not been afraid to integrate academy talent into the first-team from young ages – unlike some of their competitors at the elite level. That enables the best talent to grow into strong starters, or sellable assets.
Their B team competes to a relatively high level in the Spanish football pyramid, usually bouncing between the second and third divisions, which helps bridge the gap between youth and senior football.
Who are the best La Masia products?
Lionel Messi. In addition to the greatest player football has ever seen, there’s Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gérard Piqué and Carles Puyol, Cesc Fàbregas, Thiago Alcântara, Jordi Alba, Pedro, and countless more.
La Masia has produced some of the best players of their generations. Some of their more recent products include Dani Olmo, Ilaix Moriba, Marc Cucurella, and more.
Which competitions does La Masia compete in?
Barcelona’s youth teams often dominate the underage levels. Their B team also plays to a relatively high level in the second and third divisions of the Spanish football pyramid.
In terms of Europe, Barcelona won the inaugural UEFA Youth League tournament as well, then won it again in 2018. Those teams included Munir El Haddadi, Adama Traoré, Óscar Mingueza and Riqui Puig.
Ilias Akhomach was almost the one that got away for Barcelona. He joined the club as a seven-year-old but was allowed to leave the club in his early teens. Realising their mistake, Barcelona brought the 2004-born winger back to La Masia after his performances at Gimnastic Manresa had attracted interest from Real Madrid.
STYLE OF PLAY
Akhomach is a gifted technician who wants to beat his man almost every single time he takes possession out wide. He sits wide, tries to isolate at stand up his opponent and then more often than not tries to beat them on the inside.
He is very left foot dominant and is always looking to cut inside and attack the box, meaning that defenders can easily telegraph what he is trying to do. It is all a bit predictable. If he does shift the ball outside, he does not have the quality in his right boot to score or create consistently.
But that does not mean he can’t get past his marker though. Akhomach’s changes of pace are rapid and difficult to anticipate. In doing this, he can get past defenders that lose concentration for a second. Above everything though, his key issue is that he does a lot of his best work in areas of the field are not very dangerous; out wide or too deep.
You don’t get to wear the number ten at any level for Barcelona if you are not talented. The very miniature Txus Alba is no exception. Though unlike some of his team-mates that have been at the club their entire career so far, he only arrived at Barcelona in 2018 after crossing over from city rivals Espanyol.
STYLE OF PLAY
Txus Alba is a true joy to watch in possession. His control is crisp, he keeps the ball so close to him as he glides across the field, and he can beat his man effortlessly with an array of improvised dribble moves.
Moving the ball on, his passes are almost always weighted beautifully, sitting up perfectly for runners, or promptly reaching standing receivers so they are not left waiting for the ball to arrive. He is often guilty of trying to force direct passes a little too much, especially with lofted passes, but he does have delightful range and the talent to hit some delightful passes in behind or spray them out wide.
He has his limitations that arise for players of his size, especially out of possession, but his technical quality in possession means he is not often going shoulder to shoulder with a defender; he wants to stand his marker up and get past them that way.
It is no surprise to see Barcelona churn out technically gifted holding midfielders that love to control the tempo of a match from the base of midfield. In Marc Casadó, they have gone and developed another.
STYLE OF PLAY
Casadó is quite stereotypical of the Barcelona academy graduate we have come to expect. He always wants to be in possession, he is effective in possession, and he is clever without it, using a strong positional sense to always be in positions to receive the ball in a variety of different areas of the field.
He also has the crucial tendency of scanning before he receives possession. He understands the situation developing around him before he gets on the ball, allowing him to make decisions on his next action before he has even received it. And then he has the technical quality once he receives the ball to execute. Casadó moves the ball on quickly and somewhat progressively, with a natural tendency to spray balls wide to the likes of Ilias Akhomach, but he could look to take more risks between the lines.
Defensively, the Spaniard looks quite rugged for a short player, and does not hesitate to foul to stop attacking transitions.
Arnau Solà, the name just screams Catalunya and FC Barcelona. At youth level for Barcelona, he is proving to be a Sergi Roberto-esque presence, filling in all over the field to fill gaps that are needed outside of his favoured left-back post. He debuted in November 2021 for Barcelona B as a right-back, playing 73 minutes.
STYLE OF PLAY
Solà is a very aggressive and direct left-back. He is fast and agile, utilising these traits to cover space well defensively, or press higher up the pitch to win the ball back in the middle third. He is prone to being a little overzealous in his attempts to win the ball back and can be beaten fairly easily by dribblers that are not spooked when he tries to charge them down.
On the ball, it almost feels cliché to say this these days, but he is mostly standard Barcelona (this is of course a compliment). He is technically solid, passes the ball tidily, although he is a bit more high tempo and direct in possession than the typical Barcelona academy product of old; though we are starting to see a lot more of this these days.
His game has great variety too. He can invert or hug the touchline very comfortably and he can tuck into the backline as a safe passing option or hit the by-line. He probably just needs to add a little bit more as a ball carrier to further round out his game.
Lionel Messi. In addition to the greatest player football has ever seen, there’s Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gérard Piqué and Carles Puyol, Cesc Fàbregas and Jordi Alba. La Masia has produced some of the best players of their generations.
Ansu Fati is the big hope of the new generation, and he’s supported by the likes of Gavi, Nico González, Óscar Mingueza and Alejandro Baldé who will be of significant use to the club in future. There’s also a promising emerging generation coming up behind them.