FC Barcelona’s La Masia Celebrates its 40th Anniversary

La Masia translates to “the farmhouse” in Catalan. The name for FC Barcelona’s youth academy and Spain’s first soccer residence was chosen because a masia is the building tied closely to the land around it.

For the past 40 years, La Masia has served as the epicenter of FC Barcelona, not only pumping life into soccer, but also basketball, handball, roller hockey and futsal.

“For us, La Masia is one of the most important things we have in the club in our entire history,” said FC Barcelona board member Xavier Vilajoana, who oversees youth football. “It’s a very important aspect of the past, today and will be in the future.”

Soccer’s most famous and successful academy traces its roots to an old country cottage built in 1702.

Masia de Can Planes also served as a workshop for making models and as a work studio for architects and builders. La Masia’s future was in doubt by the time Camp Nou was inaugurated on September 24, 1957, but during Enric Llaudet’s club presidency from 1961-68, the building was remodelled and expanded to house the team’s operations, providing closer proximity to their home stadium.

On October 20, 1979, La Masia went back to its roots as a center for creation and production, opening its doors to 11 players becoming Spain’s first soccer residence.

Since then, La Masia has turned into hallowed grounds, helping develop some of the club’s and soccer’s biggest stars including Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Pep Guardiola, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Victor Valdes and Guillermo Amor. The seeds for Spain’s three consecutive major tournament victories from 2008-12 were cultivated at La Masia.

It’s also fitting that “the farmhouse” was where the GOAT, Lionel Messi, honed his other-worldly skills as he skyrocketed to stardom, including a record-tying five Ballon d’Or awards, more than 600 goals and a CVS receipt-length list of accolades for both club and country.

“It’s a reference for everyone who plays soccer,” said Konrad de la Fuente, a United States U-20 and FC Barcelona U-19 winger. “All the kids from like 6-18 that are playing would love to be here. They know it because of all the great players it’s produced throughout the years, and it will produce many more great players.”

La Masia eventually outgrew the country cottage, seeking new residency five miles south in the club’s Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper training complex at a 20,000-square-foot building opened on October 20, 2011. Officially known as the La Masia Oriol Tort Training Centre, the newest incarnation of La Masia, which cost approximately $12 million, is five stories and can house up to 83 athletes.

While La Masia has changed its location, size and appearance, one thing has remained the same: the club’s style of play, ethos and tactics.

The 300-plus soccer players who comprise 20 teams, including four girls sides, of FC Barcelona’s youth system are taught creative, attack-minded soccer based on playing the ball, combinations and possession. They are also taught about five club principal values known as HEART: humility, effort, ambition, respect and teamwork.

The club’s youth system underwent a major overhaul in the late 1980s thanks to former Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, who played for the club from 1973-78 before serving as first team manager from 1988-96.

“We have a specific way to play and we’re doing it from the youth up to the first team,” FC Barcelona director of youth football Patrick Kluivert said. “If the youth players are playing the same system, it’s easy to go to a higher level since they’re used to that system. It’s very fluid and I think that’s important.”

The Dutchman, who developed his talents at the similar Ajax academy, scored 145 goals in 308 games for Barça from 1998-2004. He returned in his new role in July 2019.

“When you talk about La Masia, it’s a holy ground, a holy youth department and we try to maximize everything possible to be the best in the world,” he said. “Of course when you see the history and the players FC Barcelona developed, you can say La Masia is an amazing youth system.

“We’re trying to be the first in innovation. I think we are ahead of a lot of big clubs and we’re trying to continue that philosophy.”

FC Barcelona has also instilled a philosophy of focusing on more than just sports. Introduced in October 2016, Masia 360 is an all-encompassing support system and program geared toward the 641 athletes in the youth academy, the coaching staff and families.

Athletes aren’t only supported on the field or court, they are also supported off it through a network of 17 tutors, 17 teachers and five psychologists. All La Masia athletes are provided emotional education, academic education, psychological care and retirement guidance. When athletes reach 16 years old, they are taught public speaking for press conferences and interviews, how to develop relationships with the media, finances and how to develop one’s personal brand.

Athletes’ families attend educational workshops regarding technology and social media, nutrition, time management and expectations they can share and understand with their child.

La Masia might have opened as Spain’s first soccer residence, but today it is a school for both life and sport.

“Personal growth is just as important as professional growth for our young players,” Vilajoana said. “We also don’t know what will happen in the future with a young athlete—maybe there’s an injury or they won’t reach the first team, so we have a responsibility to prepare them for life, whether it’s in sports or not.”

La Masia is certainly synonymous with soccer, but the youth system also includes four other sports. Out of the club’s 641 youth athletes, 348 are soccer players, 103 play handball, 78 basketball, 62 futsal and 50 roller hockey. Of La Masia’s 73 residents, 52 play soccer, 13 basketball, four handball, three futsal and one roller hockey.

As it has countless times before, La Masia has evolved with the times while remaining fidels a la nostra historia (true to our history), a slogan that was on 40th anniversary shirts worn by all 50 FC Barcelona teams competing this weekend.

The club’s youth system appears poised for another major change with the potential addition of female athletes residing on the grounds, a proposal set to be presented to the board in the next month by Vilajoana.

FC Barcelona’s women’s team, initially known as CF Barcelona, was founded in 1988. The team was officially incorporated into the club and rebranded as FC Barcelona Femení in 2002, and turned professional in 2015.

The club has expressed its intention to emulate its men’s side in both promotion and success. FC Barcelona Femení, which advanced to the 2019 UEFA Women’s Champions League Final, has won 19 trophies since its inception.

“We play the same way whether it’s the women’s team or men’s team,” Vilajoana said. “Currently there are no female residents at La Masia. If we want to grow our women’s team, we have to change that.”

NOTE: First appeared on Forbes SportsMoney

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