No academy in world football has a reputation quite like Barcelona’s La Masia – and for good reason with the likes of Gavi and Alejandro Balde starring for Xavi’s La Liga champions today.
That inevitably means that amateur scouts are looking at the youth team players emerging, keen to declare they’ve found the next Gerard Pique or Sergio Busquets before they’ve even made their first-team debuts.
There have been numerous examples of teenagers that have garnered plenty of hype that they couldn’t possibly live up to. Here are nine Barcelona wonderkids that were predicted to make it at the very highest but have since been forgotten.
Pep Guardiola is one of La Masia’s most famous sons and during his legendary stint as Barcelona manager he handed debuts to academy graduates like Sergio Busquets and Thiago Alcantara – but not every youngster he gave opportunities turned out to be a world-beater.
“Just like Busi is the best man at defensive midfield for Barcelona because of his smarts and not his physical prowess, Cuenca could plow through the ranks as he understands just how to play winger like no other (not even Pedro or Villa) in Pep Guardiola’s system,” the Bleacher Report declared as Cuenca emerged in the 2011-12 campaign.
But the winger never quite made it at Barcelona. He made 16 La Liga appearances for the senior team and was loaned out to Ajax before terminating his contract in 2014 and moving to Deportivo La Coruna on a free.
He has since represented a further six clubs, but hasn’t played since 2021 after suffering a knee meniscus injury at Japanese club Vegalta Sendai.
Having joined from local club Girona, Fontas went on to make 72 appearances for the reserves during the Guardiola era.
The centre-back impressed for Barca B and was rewarded with 16 first-team appearances, the majority of which came in the cups.
Some regarded him as a future regular, but those hopes never materialised. After making a solitary appearance in 2011-12, Fontas was loaned out to Mallorca and subsequently sold for €1million to Celta Vigo.
He made over 100 appearances for the Galician outfit and continues playing today at the age of 33, having departed Celta for MLS club Sporting Kansas City in 2018.
Jean Marie Dongou
Former Cameroon Under-20 international Dongou arrived as a highly-rated prospect from Samuel Eto’o’s academy back in 2008.
The forward scored 29 goals in 132 appearances for Barca B and scored on his senior debut in the Copa del Rey but only mustered a further two appearances.
Dongou subsequently spent time in the lower reaches of the Spanish football pyramid before turning out in Finland (Honka), Greece (Anagennisi Karditsa) and his current team, FC Osaka in Japan.
Born in Guinea-Bissau, le followed in Cristiano Ronaldo’s footsteps by joining Sporting Lisbon’s esteemed academy as a teenager.
The full-back subsequently spent three years on Barcelona’s books but only made one appearance for the first team after developing in the B team.
He later played for Belenenses and Lille and even earned a solitary cap for Portugal back in 2017. The 29-year-old is currently turning out for Turkish Super Lig club Istanbul Basaksehir.
Like Dongou, Kaptoum joined Barcelona from the Samuel Eto’o Academy as a youngster in 2008.
The midfielder went on to represent Cameroon’s Under-20s and featured regularly for Barcelona B in 2015-16, the same season in which he scored in one of his two appearances for the first team – a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Gary Neville’s Valencia (Barca had won the first leg 7-0).
Kaptoum left for Real Betis in 2018 and has since played for Almeria and MLS side New England Revolution. He returned to Spain in January and helped Las Palmas win promotion to La Liga, but is currently unattached.
“To debut in the Camp Nou in the Champions League is never easy,” Luis Enrique said after handing Samper his bow in a 1-0 win over Apoel Nicosia in September 2014.
“Samper has a lot of quality and I think he played well.”
Many believed that would be the first appearance of many, but the Barcelona-born midfielder was yet another that struggled to make that transition from the reserves to the first team.
The midfielder made just one La Liga appearance for La Blaugrana and in 2019 left to join up with Andres Iniesta at Vissel Kobe. Samper spent four years in Japan, making over 100 appearances for the J League club, before moving to FC Andorra this summer.
Alena broke through to play more games for Barca than most academy graduates – 44 – but he could never quite nail down a regular spot in the best XI.
He joined Getafe in 2021 and has since played week in week out in La Liga, while he very much remains a fan of his boyhood club.
“Getafe want to win and if it also helps my former teammates and friends, let’s see if we can,” the midfielder told Marca ahead of a clash with Real Madrid in April 2022.
“Barcelona are playing at a spectacular level, for me they’re the team that’s in best shape in La Liga.
“It’s not certain that I would have played with Xavi Hernandez, I don’t think like that. If I thought about that all the time I’d go crazy. But I would have liked it; he’s been my idol since I was little and I think he’s going to be the best coach in the world.”
Remember the name: Carles Aleñá.
The 20 year-old with an outrageously composed finish, latching onto a typical perfect pass from old Lionel. Game over. pic.twitter.com/Na91Dp9JNk
— On The Continent (@otcpod) December 2, 2018
Talked up as Barcelona’s answer to Martin Odegaard because Halilovic was signed as a prodigiously-talented teenager, Halilovic hasn’t quite gone on to fulfil his potential quite like Arsenal’s skipper.
The Croatian midfielder never made a La Liga appearance for Barcelona and was sold to Hamburg after two years. Stints at AC Milan, Birmingham and Reading have followed.
Halilovic is still only 27 and is currently playing for Eredivisie side Fortuna Sittard.
The winger, once nicknamed the “Korean Messi”, joined Barcelona after shining in the 2010 Danone Nations Cup and scored 39 goals in 29 appearances in his first season in their youth ranks.
Banned from making his senior debut until his 18th birthday due to transfer regulations, Lee turned out for the B team but moved on to join Italian club Hellas Verona in 2017.
He featured for South Korea at the 2018 World Cup but hasn’t been capped since 2019 and last year returned to the country, signing for Suwon FC.