Saturday, August 06, 2011

Barcelona expands academy for youth players

Joseph Wilson
Associated Press/Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona has risen to the top of European football on the strength of its highly productive academy. Now, it's looking to expand its stock of homegrown talent through an expanded school facility to develop even more young players.

The new building was presented to the media on Friday and bears the name of the Catalan club's emblematic old residence, La Masia. By increasing its capacity from 60 to 83 players, Barca hopes to produce more stars like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.

"We have visited several facilities of our competitors to get ideas," Jordi Moix, Barcelona's economic and strategy director, told The Associated Press, adding that Milan, Bilbao and Arsenal were among the clubs scouted. "To have a building like this at the same place as the training fields ... and not fifty kilometers (away), it's something we can be proud of. We can say this is one of the best facilities now in the market."

The 11-18 year olds selected by Barca's talent scouts to train at the old La Masia used to travel 30 minutes to practice each day. But that has changed with the opening of the modern five-story building located at Barca's training grounds on the outskirts of the city.
The new academy can house up to 58 football players. Another 23 spots are allocated to prospects for the club's basketball, handball and roller hockey teams. Twenty-two young athletes have already moved in with more set to return from summer holidays.
The Spanish champions consider the euro11 million ($15.5 million) cost of the facility a good long-term investment.

"We hope to create athletes to feed our first team, (players) our fans can more easily identify with," Moix said, adding that it also makes financial sense to develop players instead of relying on the transfer market to build a quality squad.
While the old La Masia is an 18th-century Catalan farmhouse, the new one has the feel of a university residence.
The second and third floors have sleeping quarters for one, two or four players, while the ground floor has a kitchen, dining room, offices and classrooms with audiovisual equipment. It also has a large central hangout area that is many a teenage boy's dream come true.
The area is decorated with poster-sized images of Barca players, and decked out with a large screen TV with tiered seating, a space for video game consoles, a billiards table, and, of course, a fussball table pitting a blue-and-burgundy side against an all-white adversary.

But even though the facilities are modern, the club says it wants its academy to maintain its sense of tradition.
"What we have done is bring the spirit of the Masia to this new academy while improving the conditions for the children with more modern (facilities), more space and more light," Masia director Carles Folguera said. "The idea of the club is that the scouts continue working as they have until now with a lot of success."

La Masia produced seven of the starting 11 players in Barcelona's commanding 3-1 win over Manchester United in the Champions League final in May and nine of Spain's World Cup winning squad.

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