From the book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, Chapter 9 “The Breeding Ground” by Graham Hunter
I have been reading this book and, while the entire book is wonderful, Chapter 9 is brilliant for my interests. Hunter gets inside La Masia and details what kind of player they look for, at what age, and how they teach the Barca way. I am including some excerpts here.
“Barca’s youth academy is nicknamed ‘La Masia’ because the old stone farmhouse building next to Camp Nou is where the talented kids who needed a residence in order to train with Barcelona have stayed since 1979.” Barca have teams from 7 year old all the way to the top squad. If you are in the system, you are referred to as a cantera. While Barca look to find Catalan players and talented players worldwide at ages 7-8. they also recruit talented 16-19 year olds too. Here are some of the things that they look for:
1) Kids who love to have the ball at their feet (size is not as important as a love of the ball).
2) How is the first touch? This is of paramount importance.
3) Can he retain possession?
4) Can a winger play with either foot?
5) How quickly can he read situations and how is his decision-making under pressure?
6) Does he press when his team does not have the ball?
7) Does a center back have the technical ability to start attacks? Can he dribble out of the back?
(Hunter, page 328)
“If a kid gets into the futbol base system at Barcelona around the age of 10 and makes his debut for the first team aged 20, he should have amassed something upwards of 2300 training sessions. Vast chunks of those 3070 hours will be spent on routines which train possession retention. . . At many clubs, the youth training will start with the physical, the development of power and stamina, followed by the tactical and then the technical. At Barcelona, it is quite the reverse. Almost everything will focus on technique to start with, tactics follow soon after. Only at 15 or 16 will there be increased emphasis on physique, stamina, and power.” (Hunter, 333)
Hunter quotes Xavi: “We are always looking to out-number our opponents, two against one, so if Puyol is on his own with the ball, I’ll say ‘Bring it up, bring it up!’ He’ll bring it up to the point where the guy marking me is forced to break away and press him, so now we have two of us against one and I’ll shout, ‘Puyi! Puyi! Puyi!” (Hunter, 335) I love this because of how he describes combo play – it is a math problem. If there is only 1 defender, then 2v1. If there are 2 defenders, then Barca need more players in close proximity to outnumber the defenders in the space. So often, in soccer over here, when your teammate has the ball, everyone runs away from him whether he is under pressure or not. I hate seeing that. If your teammate is in trouble, go to him!
Xavi again: “In Barcelona there are many concepts we discuss at training sessions. ‘Keep your head up’ is one. The ball is at your feet, but you need to keep your head high. If not, you’re watching the game. Another saying is ‘look before you receive the ball.’ That’s a really important one for shaping your stance to control first time and then knowing what move you have to make to release the ball quickly to the next guy.” (Hunter, 338-39)
These are just a few of the wonderful excerpts from Hunter. There is also some great dialogue on the difference or similarity between competitiveness and winning. We will cover that next time.