La Masia has produced some of the greatest talents of a generation, but Xavi will always remember one player who slipped through the net.
Barcelona’s academy has become shrouded by a cloud of mysticism over the past two decades, having produced a number of genius footballing hobbits, namely Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi – slightly-built rugrats who have terrorised the lumbering giants of world football with unparalleled success.
In an interview with French outlet So Foot in 2018, Xavi labelled Iniesta, his midfielder partner in crime for 13 years, a “special case”. “He has an unusual talent, he could not fail, impossible,” he said.
That is not always the case at La Masia, however.
“There was another Iniesta at Barca,” Xavi added. “I will always remember his name: Mario Rosas. If you saw how he played at 15, 16 or 17, you would say, ‘When this guy makes the first team, the Camp Nou will hallucinate.’
“He was a mixture of Laudrup and Messi, for real. He played with two feet, dribbled, was competitive. He had it all, but he got lost. It shocked me. Maybe he was not professional enough or didn’t have a strong mentality, we will never know.”
If the fantasy of a Laudrup-Messi hybrid is almost too good to be true, the lack of footage of Rosas in action only makes the player’s promise more alluring. In your mind, the idea greatest album you’ve never heard is almost certainly more seductive than the reality of the greatest album you have heard.
Search for Mario Rosas on YouTube and you are only presented with numerous videos of a namesake who plays the accordion. Searching Twitter is equally fruitless. There are only a few pictures on Google of Rosas in the Barcelona academy, usually accompanied by Xavi.
So, with nothing in English written about Rosas online, here’s what we do know about the player, courtesy of some sketchy translations:
– The same age as Xavi, Rosas was born in Malaga and joined Barcelona in 1994, aged 14.
– At 5ft 5”, he was very much the prototype for the Spanish midfielder which has become so successful over the past 10 years. As well as Xavi and Iniesta, think Santi Cazorla, David Silva, Thiago Alcantara etc.
– On the last day of the 1997-98 season, at the age of 17, Rosas was handed his first-team debut by Louis van Gaal, lining up alongside the likes of Luis Figo with Barcelona already crowned champions. But his day was spoiled by another Portugal hero, Pauleta, who scored twice as visitors Salamanca triumphed 4-1. Rosas was subbed off at half-time.
– That proved to be his one and only appearance for Barcelona. The youngster failed to display the tactical discipline required by Van Gaal’s midfielders, while he had Figo, Rivaldo and Patrick Kluivert ahead of him in the pecking order for attacking roles.
– Two years after his debut, Rosas was released having failed to earn a contract extension. Moves to 11 separate clubs, mainly in the second division, followed, including two spells at Salamanca. In the second tier, his physical deficiencies were exacerbated and coaches were even less likely to indulge his talent.
Rosas himself is quick to take responsibility for failing to make the grade at Barcelona.
“It has nothing to do with luck or wrong coaches, it’s my own fault that I’m not in the Primera Division, and all Barca players are of the same type, very offensive, possessive and always full of attack,” he said.
“When I had to leave, I could not adapt to the new demands that came my way, I had to defend more and take on other tasks than I was used to doing at Barca.”
Likewise, he feels no resentment towards Xavi, who he remains friends with to this day: “Fate sometimes has other plans.”
Louis van Gaal poses with Barcelona's up-and-coming players, 1999. pic.twitter.com/yAdn0EOU0g
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) April 1, 2018
Fourteen years after leaving Barcelona, Rosas retired as a player but immediately set his sights on coaching, taking in spells at Malaga and as an advisor in Colombia. You suspect he has plenty of valuable lessons to pass on to young players.
In a sense, it’s a relief there is no readily-available footage of Rosas. It leaves more to the imagination. The languid grace of Laudrup combined with the otherworldly skill of Messi is too much for the brains of shitkickers like us to compute.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not may have changed my life, but Mario Rosas would have blown my mind.
By Rob Conlon
This article was originally published in March 2018.