Revisiting Barcelona’s 8 La Masia debutants from 2008-09
In 2008, Pep Guardiola took charge of Barcelona and promoted eight players from the B team he had managed the previous season – but where are they now?
In his first summer in charge, Guardiola was busy in the transfer market, selling the likes of Ronaldinho, Deco, Edmilson, Gianluca Zambrotta and Lilian Thuram, while bringing in future stars Dani Alves, Seydou Keita…and Alexander Hleb.
But it wasn’t just who Guardiola signed that helped shaped Barcelona into a side worthy of winning their first treble ever treble, it was his knowledge of the players in La Masia and the B team…
With Victor Valdes well established as Barça’s No.1, and newly-signed Jose Pinto and Jorquera also ahead of him, Oier was always going to struggle for game time.
His big chance arrived in the Copa Del Ray, where he deputised in a 2-2 home draw against CD Alcoyano, but his next and final appearance did not come until over a year later. Barca had already wrapped up the league title, as he kept goal in a 2-1 defeat at Mallorca.
Oier, once capped by Spain at Under-19 level, made 119 appearances for Barca B but left Catalonia for Granada in 2014. He was subsequently loaned out to Real Sociedad a year later and loaned out again in 2017 to Levante, who he went on to join permanently.
The 32-year-old is now back in Barcelona with city rivals Espanyol, but he’s very much a back-up at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat and rarely features.
Not only was Pique one of Guardiola’s summer signings, he was also a product of La Masia. And the transfer proved not only Guardiola’s astuteness in the transfer market but also his absolute faith that Barcelona could develop the best players in the world.
Pique had been with Barcelona since 1997, but before he could sign a professional contract with his boyhood club, Manchester United moved in to take the promising teenager away in 2004 with the promise of first-team football.
As it transpired, he made just 23 appearances in four seasons for United, in no small part due to the central defensive pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, and in the summer of 2008 he was allowed to move back to the Nou Camp for just £5million.
It proved a masterstroke as Pique played 45 games in his first season alone. Ironically, having not even made the bench for the 2008 Champions League final for United, Pique stared in the 2009 final as Barca beat his former club 2-0.
The defender has gone on to make over 600 appearances for the club, winning eight La Liga titles, seven Copa Del Rey, three Champions Leagues, six Supacopa de Espana, three UEFA Super Cups and three FIFA Club World Cups, not to mention over 100 Spain caps, a World Cup and a European Championship.
It’s safe to say he can be marked down as a success.
Botia had to wait until the final game of the 2008-09 season for his first-team chance. Three days after Barcelona had completed their historic treble, the side had to finish the season away at Deportivo La Coruna, where Botia came on as a late substitute for Pique in a 2-2 draw.
That game turned out to be the centre-back’s only appearance before a loan move to Sporting Gijon, which was made permanent in 2010.
He joined Sevilla in 2012, making 25 appearances in his first season, but he spent the next year on loan at Elche before moving to Olympiakos in 2014. Botia spent four years in Greece, winning three league titles, and then joined Al-Hilal in 2018. The 33-year-old remains in Saudi Arabia today, turning out for Al Wehda.
So highly rated was Botia earlier in his career that Luis Milla called him up to represent Spain at the 2012 Olympic games alongside Euro 2012 winners Juan Mata, Javi Martinez and Jordi Alba.
Spain were dumped out of the tournament at the group stage after losing to both Japan and Honduras, while only managing a 0-0 draw with Morocco. Luis Milla was sacked and Botia hasn’t appeared for Spain at any level since.
Despite being one of the 10 La Masia graduates in the matchday squad for the 2009 Champions League final, Muniesa’s Barcelona career didn’t go quite to plan.
He was just 17 years and 56 days old when he made his debut in the 2008-09 season against Osasuna, but it was of only four appearances for the club.
He represented Spain at U17 and U21 level, winning the 2013 Under-21 European Championship, and two weeks after that success he joined Premier League side Stoke City on a free transfer.
Muniesa was mostly used as a backup player, though, and made just 67 appearances in four seasons in England before joining newly-promoted La Liga side Girona for the 2017-18 season. He made his move permanent the following summer and is now turning out for Qatari club Al-Arabi.
Remarkably, after all that, he’s still only 30.
Day 23: Nah just kidding. Here’s Marc Muniesa vs. Burnley. I’m off for a cry. pic.twitter.com/6rrs0H0Fhd
— Wizards of Drivel (@wizardsofdrivel) April 10, 2018
Guardiola’s insistence on ball retention saw Sanchez, a central midfielder, promoted to the first team to fill in at right-back.
Like Oier, Sanchez made his first Barcelona appearance in a 2-2 draw with CD Alcoyano. He went on to make seven more appearances for the first team in the treble-winning season, but due to the emergence of Sergio Busquets and Thiago, he struggled to truly establish himself in the squad.
He spent the majority of the season with the B team, and spent the next two years on loan at before loans to Xerez and Getafe before cancelling his contract in 2011 to join Neuchatel Xamax in Switzerland. He spent only a year there before returning to Catalonia to join Espanyol, where he made 270 appearances in an eight-year spell.
Sanchez, 34, has also represented Catalonia three times, and he’s back there now, having signed for Girona earlier this year after a short stint in Australia with Western United.
Busquets had been a pivotal player for Guardiola when he was coaching the B side, helping them achieve promotion to the third division as champions.
And early into his first season in charge of the first team, on September 13, 2008, Guardiola handed Busquets his La Liga debut at the Nou Camp.
Despite a disappointing 1-1 draw with Racing Santander, such was his faith in the holding midfielder that Guardiola handed him 41 appearances in his debut campaign, including a start in the Champions League final victory over Manchester United.
Since then, Busquets has managed over 600 first-team appearances. Like Pique, he’s won it all – most of it several times over.
A member of Spain’s U17 European Championship-winning squad in 2008, Thiago was another of Guardiola’s successful La Masia graduates in the 2008-09 season.
He made his debut for the first team when still just 18 years of age, as a substitute in a 2-1 loss at Mallorca, and though it proved to be his only appearance of the season, Guardiola clearly saw a future for him.
However, despite his obvious quality, breaking up the trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta proved too big a task for Thiago at both club and international level, making only 101 appearances in five seasons for Barça and winning only four caps for Spain between 2011 and 2013, though he did win the U21 European Championship twice in that time.
In 2013, his lack of game-time at the Nou Camp saw Thiago depart to join Bayern Munich under their new coach – a certain Pep Guardiola.
In three seasons together in Germany, the pair won all three Bundesliga titles, with Thiago adding four more to his collection (plus a Champions League in a second treble of his career) since Guardiola’s departure, racking up more than 200 appearances for Bayern.
Nowadays he’s chasing the quadruple as a key member of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool squad. An absolute trophy fiend.
Torres had played under Guardiola for the B team and was handed his first-team debut at the end of Guardiola’s first season in charge, in that defeat to Mallorca, but he made only one more appearance before being sold to Malaga that summer.
He’s since had nomadic career, going on to play for Levante, Getafe, Betis, Sporting Gijon, Perth Glory, Elche, El-Arabi and – finally, phew – Segunda Division outfit CD Lugo.
By Chris O’Byrne