Most readers are aware that Barcelona are now the best soccer club in the world, and that they, more than most, rely on their youth system to develop talent for the big club. But how do they go about it?
In advance of today's Champions League match against Arsenal, BBC Sport has a piece on La Masia, where the boys who are recruited by Barcelona develop their talent. That the program is successful is pretty obvious given the three finalists for the 2010 Fifa Ballon d'Or -- Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta -- came from there. What intrigues me is the approach to training described in article. It's as much about the mind as it is soccer tricks. Indeed, the focus on the quantity of physical training is arguably less than you'd find in a travelling American youth team.
Scouted from across Spain, the 60 young players who live at La Masia play surprisingly little football - just over one and a half hours per day. Instead, there is a heightened emphasis on school work, with players expected to attend extra classes with tutors at La Masia once they return to the centre after a day at school.
...The less-is- more approach of Barcelona's training regime is designed to make each training session of the highest possible quality.
"It is all about bringing high intensity into those sessions," the club's football youth academy co-ordinator Albert Puig explained. "Up to the age of 16 we don't do any fitness training with the boys, just practice with the ball. Then we add the fitness training, but always incorporated into exercises with the ball."
The story also notes that Barcelona's youth setup "is estimated to cost about a fifth of the £50m fee Chelsea spent on signing Fernando Torres from Liverpool in January." This seems a relative bargain, given the rate at which they are producing top players. That tab seems likely to increase as they are developing a larger school which will open next season. Regardless, I'd think the model is worth studying and copying, especially by US Soccer. In particular, check out the (obviously Catalan-centric) daily schedule posted in the BBC article: school first, then free time, more school, and finally, at 7pm, an hour and forty-five minutes of training.