As Barcelona need to rejuvenate their squad, plenty of La Masía youngsters are ready to assume big responsibilities in the future and even present. Here are three of these prepared gems.
Despite all the criticism in recent times, FC Barcelona’s youth academy, La Masía, is at the top of all training academies across Europe because of the talents and legends it has produced in the past. Lionel Messi himself, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Gerard Piqué, and the list just goes on.
Recent players from La Masía are of no comparison to the past. But, with the current team requiring a significant overhaul, energetic phenomenal youngsters are needed to step up and hold the club banner high. Here are three Barcelona prospects to seriously watch out for in the future, but who are ready to make an impact at present already:
Pretty sure that Ansu Fati needs no introduction. Then-16-year-old Ansu proved to be the shining light when Barça had a slow start to the 2019/20 season. Bagging five goals and an assist, the teenager has already broken footballing records in being the youngest Champions League scorer in history and becoming the youngest La Liga and Barcelona player to score and assist in the same game. The latter took him no more than 10 minutes.
Breaking records at a dizzying rate, Ansu Fati is the shining symbol of La Masía at present | Photo by Iván Arlandis via Imago
Ansu has a natural position on the left flank, but can play in the right side as well, when needed. It would be fair to say that it is rare to see such a young football talent thrive in such a tough and competitive environment. Fati’s future with the blaugranas is obviously scintillating, even if comparisons with other premature stars – say, Lionel Messi – should be avoided. Having said that, Ansu has a long road ahead of him and a lot of nurturing is still required for him to become a world-class footballer.
In 2011, Barcelona were arguably the best team in the world and much of it was thanks to the midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta. After both of them closed the curtains on their Barcelona career, the Catalans’ midfield has never been the same. However, La Masía does possess plenty of midfield promise in its ranks, and 22-year-old Carles Aleñá, currently on loan at Betis, is one of them.
Aleñá has a rather impressive vision much like Xavi, and his passing perfectly fits into the Cruyff model of what Barça should have. Standing at 186 centimetres tall, Carles has a well-built physique and uses that large presence in his high-press approach. He can outwit opponents in any given situation and can dribble past defenders with relative ease. Additionally, he expertly shields the ball and blocks passing lanes beautifully. His first touch and understanding of the game is quite fantabulous too.
The ability to adapt into any position at any given time is what makes Aleñá the complete package. A natural number 10 or number 8, he even played as a false 9 with Barça B, and has successfully developed into a central midfielder. Even though a lot of his skills are yet to be honed, great things can be expected from Aleñá in the not-so-distant future.
Riqui Puig has been making headlines ever since the appointment of manager Quique Setién. Although not properly promoted to the first team, Riqui is still one of the very popular names not only among the culés. The upside of Setién’s arrival apparently was to see Puig being included in the midfield plans for Barça. But, while that hasn’t happened much so far, he certainly will have a big role in the senior side in the upcoming months and years.
Riqui Puig has a playing style that somewhat combines that of Xavi and Iniesta, making quick and accurate passes through the lines and maintaining the tempo of the attack. Furthermore, he has the ability to pick passes and to figure out when is the correct time to do so. In a midfield in its decline, overbooked, and with Rakitić on the cusp of leaving due to constant criticism from the fans, Puig could be the knight in shining armour for the team.
At 20 years of age, Riqui Puig is ready for the step up | Photo by Imago
Nevertheless, as said in the case of Aleñá, he still needs to polish many aspects of his game. After all of that, will Riqui be able to rise to the pedestal and reach unimaginable heights with the azulgranas. Equalling or surpassing Xavi and Iniesta is a next-to-impossible mission. But Riqui is here to build his own legacy. How far will he reach, only time will tell.
With the first team stars ageing and starting to near retirement, it would be unwise for the club to let go of these hidden gems. Even though there are players like Álex Collado, Monchu, Jandro Orellana and countless more being brewed, these young blades are still in the making and need to be sharpened till they have that cutting edge. It is fair to say that the youth coaches and scouts have been doing a superb job and Barcelona shall hopefully have a squad with a structure based on La Masía. Like in the good old times.