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Cover Story

From little things

OAN LAPORTA is a Catalan nurtured the world’s finest footballer. He is also the
separatist, a politician whose former president who removed the Spanish flag from
sometimes delirious discourse Barcelona’s headquarters, replacing it with Catalonia’s.  
focuses largely on the pride of his  So, when Laporta declared this summer that “FC
stateless nation. He carries a burning Barcelona won the World Cup, only they were wearing

big things
desire for Catalan independence from Spain and the the wrong shirts” no one was particularly surprised.
injustice of the way he claims the nation plunders And no one took him particularly seriously either. After
Catalonia’s resources, pillaging from Barcelona and all, he would say that.
growing rich from its loot without giving anything back.  But here’s the thing: he might just have had a point.
He also happens to be the former president of the The Spanish national team’s captain is a Madrileño;
most significant Catalan flagship of all: Fútbol Club the coach Vincente Del Bosque has significant ties
Barcelona. Not just the former president but their most to Réal Madrid; the right back, Sergio Ramos, is
successful former president, winning two European
Cups, humiliating the representatives of Castillian
centralism in their own home and boasting that he

grow How
youth a



emy w

the W the greate

produc n the planet.
Cup, a st

player e reports
Sid Lo

Air we go: Pep Gerard Pique
Guardiola is an
ex-La Masia boy
Victor Valdes

“Two years ago,

Sergio Busquets and
Pedro Rodríguez
had just won the
Third Division title.
Now they have won
the World Cup”

from Sevilla; and one of their central midfielders, Xabi Barcelona might not have won the World Cup – In the dying minutes, another youth-teamer, Pedro, farmer’s home, 610 square metres in size, although Amor, Mikel Arteta and Leo Messi. With room for 60
Alonso, is Basque. But when la selección took to the although can you imagine the Spain side plus Leo also made an appearance. All are products of La it looks less, and spread over two floors, a modern kids in bunk beds, there is a library, dining room and
field against Holland in Johannesburg last July, five of Messi? – but they had gone a long way towards doing Masia – the symbolic home of Barcelona’s youth day use was found for it during the 1950s as a kind of kitchen. The children are schooled there too.
their starting XI were Catalan: Joan Capdevila (who so. And it was not just that Barcelona had players in system, its academy. construction headquarters – what would these days  But it is more than just a residence. It is a kind of
plays for Villarreal), Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Sergio the World Cup-winning side; it was that they made the There is no sign of the supply drying up. At least, be a pre-fab Portacabin occupied by dusty shoes indoctrination centre in all things Barcelona. It is, as
Busquets and Xavi Hernandez. Better still, seven were players in the World Cup-winning side. that’s what Barcelona hope. Of the current 19-man and high-visibility fluoro vests, home to architects and the official line has it, “the cradle of Barcelona’s youth
Barça players: Piqué, Puyol, Busquets, Xavi, Pedro Of the seven Barcelona players in the Spanish first team squad, 10 are La Masia graduates. And the builders as they set about constructing the monster system.” La Masia is shorthand for their cantera, their
Rodríguez, David Villa and Andres Iniesta. starting XI, six had been brought through the club’s reason that Barcelona have limited the squad to 19 – the right next door – Barcelona’s Camp Nou. entire academy – a symbol.
As if that was not enough, the man who imposed youth system. So too Fabregas and Reina. So too smallest in the top flight – is that coach Pep Guardiola  When work finished on the stadium – still the Even those kids who never actually lived there are
a style, a football identity, on la selección was Messi – the world’s best player, holder of the FIFA has, in his own words, “blind faith” in the youth team biggest in Europe – La Masia was abandoned and always referred to as La Masia graduates and even
Barcelona’s Xavi. Barcelona’s Iniesta got the winning World Player award, and the Ballon d’Or. Argentina? players he can call into the squad. Maybe not so blind. stood empty. In 1966, it became Barcelona’s social as they lose physical contact with the place, spiritual
goal in the final, Barcelona’s Puyol got the winning goal Messi joined the Catalan club at 13. At the time of writing, Barcelona B (the reserve team), centre and then, in 1979, the club bought it outright. It contact, it is hoped, is to be maintained. The club’s
in the semi-final and Barcelona’s Villa got the winning Real Madrid may claim to have signed seven Ballon were just three points off the top of the Second Division. became a residency for young hopefuls – the kids who new youth academy, currently under construction at
goals in Spain’s other victories. d’Or winners in nine years but not one of them won And, yes, that is the Second Division. came to Barcelona to try to carve out a football career. San Joan Despí, on the edge of the city, has been
Over on the bench was another Barcelona player: the award for what he did at Madrid; in each case he  From the windows there is much to see: the city’s called “the 21st Century Masia”.
goalkeeper Víctor Valdés. Oh, and there was Cesc
Fabregas too: the Catalan from Arenys del Mar who
began his career at Barcelona before joining Arsenal
joined the club with the award under his arm.
Meanwhile, Barcelona’s winners – Figo, Rivaldo,
Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Stoichkov – have won the
I t is hard to look at La Masia and not think of the
opening line of the Asterix books, to see Gaul with
its tents and its resistance. A tiny little hamlet holding
prostitute population for a start. David Beckham
recalled watching the “other lads” leaning out of the
window, whistling and cat calling at the girls on the
 Those who have been through La Masia graduate
with specific skills. Their education is a very particular
one. That’s why indoctrination really is the word. There
and was desperate to return home again. Plus Pepe award while Barcelona players or, more traumatically, out against the world. La Masia isn’t much to look street when he stayed there for a weekend after is a zealous, almost puritanical protection of a certain
Reina, who began his career at Barcelona before just after leaving. More significantly, Messi is the at. A traditional Catalan stone farmhouse, it’s pretty winning a Bobby Charlton Soccer Schools competition social, political and football identity. A rigidity. You
joining Liverpool. current holder, and among the 2010 candidates are enough, but it’s the fact that there’s something utterly as a kid. But, more importantly, you can see the could even call it a fetish. And that, say the school’s
That was Laporta’s point. Casillas’ penalty save Xavi and Iniesta. “We create Ballon d’Ors,” Laporta incongruous about it that draws you in – a curiosity, small pitch where, until three years ago, Barcelona’s supporters, is the secret of its success.
had been vital, Ramos’ performances superb, Alonso bristled. “Others buy them.” a wonder that it’s still around, stuck between life and first team trained and, behind that, the Camp Nou:  Not just Barcelona’s success but now Spain’s
a central figure. You could also argue that Villa, from Barcelona create a lot more besides. When they death; maternity hospital on one side, crematorium on a constant expression of what they were striving too. The Barcelona philosophy has become Spain’s
Asturias in the north, was more Valencia’s player than defeated Manchester United in the 2009 Champions the other. A stone farmhouse dwarfed by the stadium towards. Aspirations in concrete and grass.   philosophy – the philosophy that has finally brought
Barcelona’s having not yet played a game for his new League Final, en route to an historic haul of six trophies and city that has grown up around it, engulfing it.  Almost 500 footballers have lived at La Masia over success with a first European Championship in 44 years
club, but still . . . out of six, seven of the starting 11 were homegrown.  La Masia was constructed in 1702. A peasant the years, amongst them Cesc Fabregas, Guillermo and a first World Cup ever. A style that across Spain has

42 FOOTBALL+ + 43
Sergio Busquets
holds off some
close attention From country house to
“The philosophical dream academy
father of Barcelona’s Matthew Hall charts the history of La Masia

approach is Johan TAKE THE Barcelona Metro to the Maria Cristina station, almost the last stop on the Green Linea 3.
Exit the station, ignoring the distraction of El Corte Ingles, the Spanish department store, and walk

Cruyff – who led down Avinguda Diagonal past the banks and cafes. Turn left at Avinguda Joan XXIII and stroll down
the sweeping hill toward the ever-looming Camp Nou stadium, Barcelona’s home ground. It’s an

the Dream Team imposing place of history, heroes, and legend; one of football’s true great venues.
But it’s the little stone building we’re interested in rather than Camp Nou,

to four successive or even the “mini stadium” where Barça teams play and train in a ground
bigger than some other clubs’ main facilities.
Pep Guardiola
(left) and

titles and the club’s These days La Masia (“The Farmhouse” from Catalan),
architecturally out of context and literally in the shadow of the Camp
Carles Puyol

first ever European

Nou, is behind a wire fence and gate. But on friendly days you can walk
up the driveway and knock on the front door to perhaps get a glimpse

Cup. Cruyff became

of the future stars of world football.
Built as a country house in 1702, La Masia was later used by
architects and builders to construct scale models of the Camp Nou during

a guru, laying down its construction in the mid-1950s before being shut down. It was used as
the club administrative headquarters in the 1960s but rapid staff expansion

a football identity saw staff move elsewhere. On October 20, 1979, La Masia was officially
reopened as living quarters for youth team players from outside the city.

to aspire to” La Masia originally housed 15 residents, who all lived on the top floor of
the building. It now features dormitories, bathrooms, study rooms, a dining
Cruyff out the front room, and kitchen. As the number of recruits grew, the club also established
of La Masia during La Masia II inside the Camp Nou, taking up two floors of the stadium with bedrooms.
his playing days Ten youth players now live in the original La Masia while up to 46 more can
reside in the stadium annex.
The club emphasises that players might become sports stars but there’s more
come to be known as ‘tiki-taka’ – a nonsensical phrase with Barcelona only producing that ideal type, but the and what they think is right,” says former Madrid pass, offer.” And Fabregas adds: “If you’ve played at chance they will not reach the top level so their “training” is not just for sport but also life. Everyday,
that broadly means touch-touch or tippy-tappy, one that results have been astonishing. captain Fernando Hierro. Barcelona, you develop a taste for good football.” the players are bussed to the city’s best schools. It is not always easy. Just ask Andres Iniesta.
is all about positioning and technical ability, about short, Such is the clarity of identity about Barcelona, that It would be a mistake to place the credit solely at the “We are sons of the Dream Team,” Guardiola says, “He was very close to his family and every goodbye each weekend would become a mini-drama,”
quick passing and possession.  Michael Robinson, the former Liverpool player who is door of a La Masia philosophy – after all, Barcelona have “Trying to emulate them.” More than a son, he has recalls Albert Benaiges, a La Masia coach. “Andres would be crying and he spent a lot of time at my
It is a style of which Barcelona are proud and one now Spain’s leading football pundit, insists: “Show me bought superstars too, from Romário to Ronaldo, from become its defender, protecting and enhancing the house. When my mother sees him smiling now she always makes a joke because she remembers
they are quick to claim as their own. They are rather 20 kids in a park and I can pick out the two who are at Rivaldo to Ronaldinho, from Henry to Eto’o – but over legacy. Promoting it. how much he suffered in those days.” Says Iniesta: “You would look out and there was the Nou Camp
less quick to recognise its origins in the Ajax Academy, Barça. When kids do get the chance to play in the first the last six years, they have won four leagues, a Copa The day Iniesta first trained with Barcelona, Guardiola stadium opposite. It was always on your mind, that the goal was to play there.”
although they do recognise that the philosophical father team, the approach does not change and as a result del Rey and two Champions Leagues, while Madrid was still a player. “You’re going to retire me,” he told
of Barcelona’s current approach is Johan Cruyff – the they’re more likely to feel comfortable, more likely to be have won two league titles and failed to win a European Xavi, “But this lad is going to retire us all.” The beauty for
former player who arrived at the club in 1973 and armed with the necessary tools to achieve.” As young knock-out tie. Madrid were the 20th century’s most Barcelona is that they have been able to work together
changed their history, then later as coach led the Dream Barcelona player Jonathan Dos Santos said earlier this successful club; the 21st century is a different matter. – the purest expression of a football identity, of the La
Team to four successive titles and the club’s first ever year after being given his chance in the first team: “the “If you look at Barcelona’s culture, it’s the same at Masia model. A completion of the circle.
European Cup in the early 1990s. Cruyff became a football is exactly the same.” Under 12 and Under 14 level,” says Zinedine Zidane. Guardiola was Cruyff’s captain. He then became
guru, laying down a football identity to aspire to. Stability, continuity, financial reward and ideological “The guy who looks after the Under 16s plays the same Barcelona’s second team coach. Now, he coaches the
Cruyff-ism was carried to the youth team. More so, tranquility are the result. As Hristo Stoichkov claims: “If way as the first team. You don’t find that at Madrid. You first team. When Guardiola was promoted ahead of
even, than the first team, bringing about a production Barcelona tried to buy the players they have created, it wonder what their style is. The style of Cruyff, of Pep Jose Mourinho – the man many in the media wanted
line of clever, technical footballers, determined to play would cost them a billion dollars.” Guardiola, gives real identity to Barcelona – which is – Laporta declared: “We chose a philosophy, not a
‘the right way’. “If we need a new player we will always look at the something Madrid still need to find.” brand.” Guardiola, one of his closest collaborators,
In Spain, youth systems are known as canteras, youth team first,” says the director of football, Andoni Ah, Guardiola. Where that identity is most clearly says he, “suckled at the teat of Cruyff”.
or quarries, as if players are hewn out of the rocks; Zubizarreta, himself a former Barcelona legend. expressed and imposed is in midfield. A stylistic line of  With that education, Guardiola could hardly do
Barcelona’s have been carved out of works of art. Even Madrid’s spokesmen have lauded Barcelona’s continuity can be drawn from Fabregas to Iniesta, to anything but respect La Masia. And in doing so, he
At least that’s the self-consciously superior way approach. Jose Mourinho said that Barcelona could Xavi, down the years to De La Peña and Guardiola. has allowed Spain to do so too. He has not wavered at
supporters talk about it. The commitment to that play “blindfolded”. He, on the other hand, has yet to When Guardiola played, an opponent defined him bringing through the kids he mentored. Two years ago,
approach is unwavering, which helps to bring stability build an identity for Madrid. in a single word: “pam”. Single but many. “Pam-pam- Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodríguez had just won
even in times of instability and generate a certain “Barcelona are a club that for some time have pam-pam-pam-pam-pam-pam”. Pass, pass, pass. Xavi the Third Division. Now they have won the World Cup.
type of player. worked according to a certain philosophy and described he and Iniesta as “sons of the system”. Iniesta La Masia may not be much to look at, but it’s a tiny
Some critics feel that might be a disadvantage, personality and built projects according to that image recalls the Barça mantra: “Receive, pass, offer, receive, Catalan farmhouse that conquered the world.

44 FOOTBALL+ + 45
Barcelona are famous for their work with youth. Milan, however, have revolutionised
the treatment of those at the other end of their careers. Davidde Corran reports
IT MIGHT seem slightly ironic but a chain-smoking Meersseman blocked the transfer of the French left- It has motivated the Rossoneri to update the
Belgian is leading the redevelopment of football’s back after noticing his bad teeth during a medical. facility and give it, as a club spokesperson explained
most respected injury prevention facility, “the Milan Thanks to their work in the Milan Lab the Italian to Football+, a “new look”. It’s an extensive process
Lab”. It all started in 2002 after AC Milan had seen giants understood that Cissokho’s dental problem that won’t be completed until next year.
$A45 million spent to sign Fernando Redondo from was one of the signs that a serious spinal injury “I think (the maximum age for a footballer is)
Real Madrid go to waste after the midfielder’s body may pop up further down the track. around 40. It used to be 34 at most,” Meesserman
broke down completely. In 2009 Meersseman used this same approach explained shortly before former “ageless” Milan
Keen to ensure they wouldn’t make the same to solve David Beckham’s back issues, which had captain Paolo Maldini retired in 2009.
mistake again, the Rossoneri teamed up with troubled him for quite some time, by solving an AC Milan will be hoping to push that boundary
Belgian doctor Jean Pierre Meersseman to try and issue with one of his teeth. even further once the redevelopment of their
discover the secret to eternal youth. In the past the Lab has also helped players precious facility is complete.
On that front they might not have completely like Brazilian winger Cafu, rejuvenating a career
succeeded, but when it comes to injury prevention,
Meersseman and his team of experts came very
seemingly at its end thanks to injury, and Ronaldo;
before the serious knee injury that ended his “I think the
close and along the way helped make Milan
European champions.
European career, the Milan Lab diagnosed the
Brazilian striker’s hormone problem in his thyroid maximum age
for a footballer is
This was the start of the Milan Lab, a high tech and helped him lose over five kilos.
scientific research centre set up by AC Milan which Meersseman explains this thirst for information.

around 40. It used

the club claims has seen a reduction of traumatic “You can drive a car without a dashboard, without
injuries by 90 per cent. any information, and that’s what’s happening in
“If you can predict the possibility of injuries, soccer. There are excellent drivers, excellent cars,
you stop the player before it happens,” says
Meersseman. He says the way to do this is by
but if you have your dashboard, it just makes it
easier. I wonder why people don’t want more
to be 34 at most”
studying the gait of a player’s jump. Using the information.”
AC Milan’s doctor
Milan Lab’s facilities he claims to be able to predict So while other clubs focus on treating injuries,
with a high degree of certainty whether a player will Milan have made prevention the key.
breakdown with an injury. Yet while the model has never been perfect, last
The lab is also consulted on all transfers to season the lab hit a particular snag with a number
the club. Take the case of Lyon’s Aly Cissokho. of players suffering serious injuries.

Paolo Maldini played

an astonishing 25
seasons with Milan