Barcelona opens new academy for youth players

Barcelona has risen to the top of European soccer on the

strength of its highly productive academy.

Now, it’s looking to expand its stock of homegrown talent

through a new school building to develop even more young

players.

The new facility was presented to the media on Friday and has

the name of the Catalan club’s emblematic old residence, La Masia.

But by increasing its capacity from 60 to 83 players, Barca hopes

to produce more stars such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc

Fabregas.

”We have visited several facilities of our competitors (Milan,

Bilbao and Arsenal, among others) to get ideas,” Jordi Moix,

Barcelona’s economic and strategy director, told The Associated

Press. ”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 here they just have to step outside 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 soccer 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 $15.5 million it cost as 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 college residence hall with the

occasional splash of a Barca souvenir shop.

The second and third floors have sleeping quarters for one, two

or four players, while a ground floor has a kitchen, dining room,

offices and classrooms with audiovisual equipment.

It also has a large central hangout area that is simply 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 and

a billiards table.

But even though the facilities are modern, the club says it

wants its academy to continue in its tradition that has made it an

international reference and bedeviled rivals such as Real Madrid,

which struggles to introduce young players into its first team.

”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.

But is the club worried that leaving the old La Masia farmhouse

could jinx its namesake?

”No, no, no, the Masia is still there. So every year we can

touch it a little bit so we can get its good vibrations,” Moix

said. ”And we have the picture downstairs.”