Barcelona’s all-time greatest La Masia XI: Guardiola, Xavi, Messi…
Very few, if any, clubs in the world can boast a full academy graduate XI quite as good as Barcelona’s. It’s for good reason that La Masia is famed as the best talent factory in football.
Over the years, particularly during the club’s golden era in the early 2010s, the club’s production line of talent has been extraordinary. The list of truly world-class stars they’ve produced and developed is arguably unparalleled.
We’ve ended up going with a distinctly un-Barca 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond, just because we had to fit these four legendary midfielders in. Barcelona certainly know how to produce magicians in the centre of the park.
Honourable mentions: Guillermo Amor, Ivan De La Pena, Luis Milla, Marc Cucurella, Mikel Arteta, Cesc Fabregas, Sergi Roberto, Thiago Alcantara, Luis Garcia, Nayim, Thiago Motta, Sergi Barjuan, Marc Bartra, Adama Traore, Gerard Deulofeu, Gavi
GK: Victor Valdes
Born in the Catalan town of L’Hospitalet, just south of Barcelona, Valdes first joined the club as a 10-year-old back in 1992.
Having progressed through the ranks, handed his debut by Louis Van Gaal in 2002, he went on to make over 500 appearances for his boyhood club. Valdes won six league titles and three Champions Leagues, standing between the sticks during the most successful period in the club’s history.
The Catalan ‘keeper also won the Zamora Trophy, for the fewest goals conceded in La Liga, a record five times.
RB: Albert Ferrer
Having been handed his debut by the legendary Johan Cruyff in 1990, the Barcelona-born-and-raised right-back won a record four successive La Liga titles during his first four years with the club.
Tough tackler Ferrer developed into a key player in Cruyff’s famous ‘Dream Team’ and started in a back three in the 1992 European Cup final victory over Sampdoria.
He later added two Copa del Rey, the Cup Winners Cup, two UEFA Super Cups and a fifth league title before departing for Chelsea in 1998.
CB: Carles Puyol
The epitome of leadership at Barcelona.
CB: Gerard Pique
“|I look back on the last 10 years of my career, and I’ve won the World Cup, the Champions League, La Liga, the Spanish Cup … I’ve won it all, as I like to remind my Madrid friends on WhatsApp,” Pique wrote in his Players’ Tribune article.
Unquestionably Barca through and through, and the most decorated defender in Barcelona’s history.
And a future club president to boot?
From La Masia to the first team. Gerard Pique. pic.twitter.com/VWw0vodIAs
— La Masia (@Youngcules) June 11, 2017
LB: Jordi Alba
Perhaps not the greatest example, given that Barcelona’s coaches decided to release Alba when he was 14 years old.
He then joined local club Cornella before joining Valencia and proving himself as one that got away as he broke through at Mestalla to become one of La Liga’s best left-backs.
While Alba was starring in Spain’s Euro 2012 triumph, Barcelona corrected their mistake and brought him back to Catalonia for a bargain €14million.
He’s been at the club for the past 11 years and has won everything there is to win. Never should’ve let him go in the first place.
DM: Sergio Busquets
Son of former Barcelona ‘keeper Carles Busquets, Barcelona is in the midfielder’s blood.
Having shown his potential in Barcelona B’s promotion-winning 2007-08 campaign, Busquets was called up to the first team when Guardiola was promoted to the top job.
He shone at the base of midfield as Barcelona won the treble in his debut season and he’s never looked back from there.
The 34-year-old has made over 700 appearances for his hometown club. Only Xavi and Lionel Messi have made more.
CM: Pep Guardiola
“In his first week at the club, Johan Cruyff turned up unannounced at the “Mini” stadium, a venue just down the road from Camp Nou used by the youth and B teams,” wrote Phil Ball in Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football.
“Just before half-time he wandered into the dug-out and asked Charly Rexach, the youth team manager at the time, the name of the young lad playing on the right side of midfield. ‘Guardiola — good lad’ came the reply.
“Cruyff ignored the comment and told Rexach to move him into the middle for the second half, to play as a pivot. It was a difficult position to adapt to and one not used by many teams in Spain at the time. Guardiola adjusted immediately, as Cruyff had suspected he would.”
The rest is history.
It’s perhaps overkill to have Busquets and Guardiola in this team. But he had to be included. You’re never winning the ball off this double pivot.
CM: Andres Iniesta
The midfielder was born and raised in Fuentealbilla, a small town in the province of Albacete. He arrived in Barcelona as a shy and slight 12-year-old, but he turned his lack of physical edge into an advantage.
“You learn to be sharper, cleverer,” he later explained.
“Small players learn to be intuitive, to anticipate, to protect the ball. A guy who weighs 90 kilos doesn’t move like one who weighs 60. In the playground, I always played against much bigger kids and I always wanted the ball. Without it, I feel lost.”
The current manager, arguably the greatest midfielder in the history of the game, credits La Masia for the player he became.
“I was 11 when I arrived, and the football philosophy of this club was drilled into me from the off,” Xavi told UEFA.
“The most important thing is a willingness to learn. The philosophy is that the result is not important.”
"He signifies our way of playing, the culture of La Masía, everything." – Pique
"I hope future players learn from him in the way that I learned from his love for the game." – Guardiola
Happy birthday to Barcelona legend, Xavi 🎂pic.twitter.com/ZPHMzwYsoa
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 25, 2019
FW: Lionel Messi
The quiet kid from Rosario who became Barcelona’s greatest-ever player.
“The first training session we had with Leo, I was playing a bit more of a defensive midfielder and we were doing this one-against-one exercise,” Fabregas later recalled in a BBC interview.
“In my head, I’m thinking that I’m going to get the ball easy from him, because I like to go on the floor and I like to tackle, but then I was seeing that the speed was not normal. I was already shocked, because I remember falling on the floor. I lost ability and he scored.”
Like Busquets, Pedro demonstrated his ability working under Guardiola for the B team before making the step up.
Having joined La Masia as a teenager from Tenerife, Pedro spent seven years in the first team and scored 99 goals. He also made them a healthy €26million profit when he was sold to Chelsea in 2015. Not bad going.