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The Barcelona School

2011 February 16
by Skip Sauer

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.

9 Responses
  1. February 17, 2011

    Barcelona are now the best soccer club in the world? Maybe you need to ask Arsenal about that…

  2. Skip Sauer permalink*
    February 17, 2011

    Simply glorious win last night. As for relative status, I’d gladly accept Arsenal becoming mere champions of England this year!

  3. ryan permalink
    February 17, 2011

    They are not the best team in teh world. Are you basing this off their champions league victory 2 years ago. The same one they had to use their hands multiple times to advance past chelsea in? Even Ronaldo knows the truth about that one – “I have the experience already to endure all the pressure. It is always bad to lose, whether against Chelsea or Barcelona, who had some luck, as they did not deserve to win the semi-final against Chelsea.” I’m not sure who is the best in the world, but its not Barca, its either Arsenal, Man U, or Chelsea.

  4. Skip Sauer permalink
    February 17, 2011

    Ryan,

    Maybe Barcelona aren’t the best team in the world. But Arsene Wenger has said it himself, among many others, and above all I “trust Arsene” (that’s Gunner fan talk, for the uninitiated).

    But Chelsea? What planet have you been living on? At the rate they are going they will be lucky to even *qualify* for next year’s Champions League.

  5. Ade permalink
    February 18, 2011

    @Ryan you lost me when you mentioned Chelsea. But I’ll admit, that they have the talent, and could win the Champions League.

    @Skip Sauer
    La Masia is impressive and successful in every sense of the word. But how do you explain the massive debts Barcelona are in?

  6. Nick permalink
    February 18, 2011

    Citing Messi is an indication that there’s more to Barca’s youth development set-up than simply a good training camp. They were prepared to fly a 13-year old half-way round the world to join them, so he must have had some development before starting at La Masia.

  7. Greg Pinelli permalink
    February 19, 2011

    I’ve got some news for Nick..Messi had NO..ZERO..ZILCH..development before Barca got hold of him. What he had was outsized talent.

    I was fortunate enough to take a rather extended series of Coaching classes and training sessions from one of Ajax’s great developers Frans Hoek. Hoek also was…surprise..a brilliant assistant at Barca during the great developmental years.

    Hoek showed us endless films on the Ajax Youth program..one year he brought over the U-10 and U-11 Head trainers for those programs! It was a revelation. This Youth model could..and should ..be applied by every aspiring great Club. It forces..as Hoek made clear..the Coaches at the highest levels to be clear and cogent about what it is that makes great players from young talent.

    There are many applications to this system..in America it could..and should..be developed by the NBA to bring great High School talent to a coachable, non-college level..The same for MLB…they have shamelessly substituted paying enormous sums for Free Agents for developing worldwide talent…..

  8. Skip Sauer permalink*
    February 21, 2011

    Ade,

    Pretty simple: they also spend a lot on players, Mascherano & Villa are two of note this year. Neither came cheap, but at least Villa is performing. Arsenal have a lot of debt too. But it’s mostly tied to the stadium and they’ve been paying it off, in part by selling Barca over-rated (Hleb) or over-the-hill (Henry) players.

  9. Soccer Fan permalink
    February 21, 2011

    Those of you who mock Barcelona being the best in the world are displaying an astonishing ignorance of soccer, or profound bias for the Premier League. And Arsenal is my favorite team. But Barcelona plays at a different level than the rest of the world, and the world knows this outside of this small group of would-be commentators. Barcelona was missing its main defender last week. Did you guys even know that? They are a noticeably different team without him.

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