8 Barcelona Youngsters on the Verge of Stardom
Barcelona's La Masia academy has a world-renowned reputation, and with good reason. Year on year, the coaches of the Barca youth system seem to unearth gems with incredible regularity.
That has much to do with certain philosophies that Johan Cruyff insisted upon when he became manager of the club in the late 1980's.
For it was Cruyff who introduced a system whereby even the youngest boys at La Masia would play in the same way as the first team. No matter the individual strengths and weaknesses, every team would play the same way.
It has paid dividends in the best way possible.
Andy Mitten noted former La Masia graduate Pep Guardiola's words for The National:
Other youth academies in Spain are also doing a very good job but the difference is that we give our youth players a chance. But there are other key differences.
We teach the young kids that winning is not everything. First, they have to play fair, then play offensive, then they have to win. Winning is important but not before the first two are accomplished.
Players have to think quickly and to play with intelligence, always knowing the next pass. It is how we have all been taught and how the public expects us to play.
Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. What would they be worth collectively in today's market? £400 million?
Thanks to the studious tutelage at La Masia, not a single penny in transfer fees was needed to change hands.
Let's take a look at a few more players that are on the verge of big things at Barca.
At just 17 years of age, Barca B's Antonio Sanabria has already played at senior level for the Paraguayan national side.
He is a striker of note and has always stood out since the first time he stepped onto the pitch for Barcelona, however he believes he should already be playing in the first team at Barca and the club simply cannot give him that guarantee.
There is certainly no doubt about his talent as the video shows, and if rumours are true (per Simon Jones, Daily Mail), then Arsenal will beat a whole host of clubs to the player's signature in January.
Barca will do all they can to hold onto a natural talent who they believe will develop into a classic Blaugrana centre forward, however if the Londoners, or any other club for that matter, trigger his release clause in January, then the matter will be out of their hands.
Savi Marquez of Total Barca eloquently describes the dilemma that the club find themselves in.
Elohor Godswill is a name that won't be familiar to too many outside of Catalonia, but this young Nigerian is certainly destined for great things.
A right-back in the Barca mould, the 18-year-old offers much in both an attacking and defensive sense.
He's certainly not averse to getting forward as per Dani Alves, as the goal in the above video shows, but his maturity in defence is what marks him out as a special talent.
Currently playing in the Juvenil A side, it won't be long before Godswill finds a permanent residency in Eusebio Sacristan's Barca B side, with a view to making the first team in a year or two.
There is very little weakness in Pol Calvet's all-round game.
One of the most technically gifted players in Eusebio Sacristan's side, the central midfielder has added the necessary aggression and intensity to his game recently.
Calvet has a very pleasing-on-the-eye style, and a natural movement that leaves him very hard to mark in the central areas.
He is extremely comfortable in possession of the football and is not frightened of taking on players or having a shot at goal.
A real gem of a player with a big future in the game.
Anyone who saw Sergi Samper destroy Tottenham Hotspur's U19's in the NextGen Series tournament just over a year ago, would've known then what a player Barca have on their hands.
Samper absolutely ran the show that day and was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch.
A fabulous passing range and with bite in the tackle similar to Sergio Busquets, Samper is one of the most complete midfielders at La Masia.
Along with the likes of another Sergi—Roberto—Samper suffers from having Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in front of him—possibly the finest midfield trio in world football.
Samper is an easy pick for Eusebio Sacristan and is the conduit through which any good work from Barca B filters.
It won't be long before we see a lot more of Sergi Samper.
At 17 years and eight months old, Adama Traore is the eighth youngest player to make his debut for the first team.
Within the space of a week, Tata Martino saw fit to award the youngster both a La Liga and Champions League debut.
It doesn't come as a surprise to those who have been following the trajectory that Traore has taken since his introduction to La Masia.
The youngster is known to be very hardworking and disciplined and looks hungry to learn from his teammates and his coaches.
He possesses a huge amount of speed, enabling him to flourish in one-on-one situations and attacks from the wing. The Spanish youth international plays with his right foot on the right side of the pitch, allowing him to put in crosses.
This ability, combined with excellent dribbling skills and a great physique for a player his age makes him a force to be reckoned with.
Jean-Marie Dongou has been talked about for years. A strong, rampaging "English style" centre forward, Dongou is a real handful for any defender.
Sky Sports journalist and respected La Liga pundit Graham Hunter told Total Barca back in 2011 that he'd never seen a better 16-year-old than Dongou:
In the Juvenil team coach by Oscar Garcia, who I think potentially should be the next Barça coach after Pep, there is one guy who is the best I have ever seen.
I saw Messi at sixteen but Dongou from Cameroon is the best footballer at sixteen I’ve ever seen in my life. He is phenomenally quick, finishes brilliantly and works, he has been taught to work and press a lot.
Now 18, Dongou is banging on the door of the first team, despite spending the majority of his time in the B side this season.
It has often been reported that Barca are on the lookout for a natural centre forward, a different option. They have one right on their doorstep.
The Toffees will be keen to hang onto their most recent Spanish export but the likelihood is Deulofeu will want to return to Barcelona and continue his footballing education at the club he joined at just nine years of age.
As the 19-year-old matures in a footballing sense, we will see less of the "keep ball" which has been a feature of the youngster's game.
Far too often in his early Barcelona career, Deulofeu would beat his man but instead of playing the simple ball, he would have to beat the man again. And again. This often resulted in chances going to waste.
Thankfully, his move to Everton and tutelage under Roberto Martinez, seem to have removed this from his game.
We are still seeing the delightful and incisive runs, penetrating at the heart of the opposition defences, because Deulofeu has the skill set to leave even the most accomplished of defenders on the seat of their pants.
We should hope to see some more of this too. Where Barcelona are going to benefit is that the youngster is now seeing the bigger picture.
Simplicity is genius.
Alejandro Grimaldo will be a world class left back. At just 15 years and 349 days, Grimaldo already holds the record for being the youngest player ever to play in the Segunda division.
Grimaldo started for Barca B on September 4, 2011, in a 4-0 win over Cartagena and his star has been on the rise ever since.
He has already made his mark for the Spanish U21 side, and only a cruciate ligament injury at the beginning of 2013 has curtailed his meteoric progress.
As natural a footballer as you could ever wish to see, Grimaldo is a pleasure to watch. Despite his tender years, he is extremely comfortably in possession and rarely wastes a pass.
His football brain is light years ahead of his contemporaries and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that we have a future first team captain right here.
The 18-year-old has a long road back to fitness, but if he can come back anywhere near the level he was at before, we are in for a treat.