The Blaugrana may be on the verge of bankruptcy, but a new president promises to rescue the club by enlisting the assistance of the club’s illustrious youth academy. Ilaix Moriba couldn’t believe what he’d just seen.
Lionel Messi jumped into his arms to congratulate the 18-year-old after he scored his first career goal for Barcelona on his weaker left foot.
After a 2-0 victory over Osasuna on March 6, a clearly shocked Moriba told Barca TV,
“I WILL NEVER FORGET THIS.” “I’LL TAKE IT TO THE GRAVE WITH ME!”
This was not only a remarkable day for Moriba; it was also a watershed moment for Barcelona.
Moriba and Messi’s joyful embrace represented the Blaugrana’s history, current, and future; it was a visceral manifestation of a club brought together once more by La Masia.
It brought back memories of what Barcelona used to be like. And what they will become once more.
Joan Laporta was elected president of Barcelona for the second time, just 24 hours after Moriba’s beautifully symbolic strike in Pamplona. He previously held the job between 2003 and 2010.
After a decade of decadence in which the club’s prestige had been destroyed and every part of its culture had been compromised, he had achieved by pledging to revive the club’s traditional principles.
A €150 million (£130 million/$180 million) contract with the Qatar Foundation directly replaced a non-profit shirt sponsorship arrangement with UNICEF (the United Nations organisation responsible for delivering humanitarian and developmental assistance to children worldwide).
Meanwhile, Neymar’s notorious move from Santos triggered legal action and Sandro Rosell’s resignation as president in 2014. Barca was slapped with a transfer ban later that year due to the movement of under-age players.
Josep Maria Bartomeu, Rosell’s replacement, was pushed out last year and later arrested amid hearings into ‘Barcagate,’ a controversy involving a PR agency reportedly employed to criticise players and coaches – past and current – on social media sites.
The entire incident best encapsulated Barca’s self-inflicted spiritual and financial decay; this was a club that was eating itself alive.
Laporta has promised to return to his roots. The core values of his second term, as he told Goal on the campaign trail, would be the same as his first:
“Cruyff, La Masia, Catalunya, UNICEF, and a competent organization.”
In what turned out to be a landslide victory, championing the youth academy was especially important. There is, of course, a degree of necessity involved.
Barcelona clearly do not have the funds to make large transfer market purchases despite being bankrupted by Bartomeu’s rash decision to invest almost €400 million (£340 million/$480 million) on the three most valuable players in the club’s history: Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, and Antoine Griezmann.
As a result, relying on La Masia is critical. Laporta, on the other hand, must have included the cantera (‘quarry’) in his plans regardless.
Note that he was the one who recruited Pep Guardiola as coach in 2008, one of the most critical decisions taken at Camp Nou.
At the moment, the B team’s coach was just 37 years old and had no previous experience coaching at the highest level. Perhaps, most importantly, he embodied the club’s values. He was the face of La Masia, the company’s first success storey.
Guardiola was shaped by an academy that followed the philosophies of Johan Cruyff, who introduced the ideals of ‘Complete Football’ to Camp Nou in the 1970s as a player.
In 1988, when the Dutchman returned as first-team coach, he was almost immediately faced with the embodiment of his football philosophy.
Cruyff showed up unannounced for a B team game during his first week back at the club and was fascinated by the flawless technique and unflappable demeanour of a 17-year-old played on the right side of midfield, according to Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football.
He inquired about his identity. “Guardiola is a nice lad,” said coach Charly Rexach. Cruyff insisted that the youngster be transferred to a position in front of the defence right away.
Guardiola would become the pivot of Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ just two years back.
When Messi joined Barca as a 13-year-old, his team-mates nicknamed him ‘Dwarf’. “I was 1.70 metres tall at the age of 12,”
During that time, Barca were more interested in a player’s technique than his physique. However, their priorities changed during Bartomeu’s reign.
“What you hear in the trials at La Masia now is ‘What a shame! He’s so small.’ These days they look for strong players, not talented ones.
“We taught players to compete, to respect fair play and, finally, to win. Cruyff always asked how we had played. He never asked about the result.
“But Barca B play to win and they do so with footballers who aren’t at the age of players in development, and that is effectively cheating the youngsters.”
“Hector Bellerin and Jon Toral went to Arsenal two years before [I left],” he told Target. “They are two years my senior, but we used to live in La Masia together, so we were friends.”
“I was like, ‘Wow!’ when I saw them go.” You remember, it’s proper football. If you join Arsenal or Liverpool, you won’t have to play in the U17s, 18s, 19s, Barca B, or the first team.
“It the Barcelona pathway is too long.” It’s too long unless you’re incredible and hit three goals per weekend.”
It only grew longer as Barca began to see the academy as a means to make money by selling young talent rather than as a place to develop future superstars for the first team.
“They speak a lot about the cantera at Barca but, in the end, they do the reverse,” Carles Perez told Mundo Deportivo when he was sold to Roma in 2020.
As a result, there was an immense talent loss, with some young players (such as Xavi Simons) being wasted and others being thrown away (Adama Traore).
For the first time in 16 years, Barcelona played a starting 11 without a single player from La Masia on April 17, 2018.
Barcelona’s identity crisis was complete, and the message was clear: first-team chances for the academy’s best players were no longer available at Camp Nou.
“We need to bring through players with talent. And there is talent at youth level at Barca. There is.”
He was not wrong. Despite the drastic policy shift at the boardroom level and La Masia, Barca did indeed have several gifted players on their books; they just needed patience and opportunities.
Alex Collado will be promoted to the senior squad next season. He will be joined there sooner or later by Ilias Akhomach, Alejandro Balde, Gavi and Angel Alarcon.
These are genuine rays of light in arguably the darkest period in Barcelona’s history.
Cruyff always believed that “every disadvantage has its advantage” and the great positive here is that the Catalans’ economic problems have made La Masia more important than ever before.
In a bid to build a brighter future, the Catalans must return to their past; to their origins; to their academy.
The sight of Messi and Moriba arm in arm underlined that the link has not been broken. The natural order of things at Barcelona can still be restored.
“The model is the same, but changed,” Laporta told Goal in January.
If it produces similar results, Barcelona will be back on top in no time, led by Fati and Moriba, and with a squad full of homegrown heroes.