Things have been changing at FC Barcelona. Before, youth players like Bojan Krkic or Fontas would have found an opportunity to shine on the team, but now the coaching staff has decided to spend millions to sign non-youth system players who still have lots to prove on the international stage.
Alexis or Song, for example, cost more than a combined 70 million euros, and have yet to show their worth in the club.
For years, Sandro Rosell and the rest of the FC Barcelona directors had been proudly boasting their bet on the youth talent they have developed in their talent’s headquarters, dubbed La Masia. As recently as last season, the Catalan press and the club itself congratulated themselves because, after Dani Alves got injured in the league match against Levante, Martin Montoya came in and Barça played the rest of the game with 11 home-grown footballers.
This news spread quickly around the world, and the team that brought up 7 out of the 11 Spanish starters in the World Cup final of 2010 now had yet another feat to be proud of. Three of the best players in the sport in the last five years — Messi, Iniesta and Xavi — have grown up together in La Masia, while others like Cesc, Valdes, Pedro and Pique have become top players coming out of Barça’s youth systems and are now amongst the most coveted footballers in the sport.
During the last few golden years, FC Barcelona have happily regarded themselves as a club that always looks around the house before going to market. Their approach, of course, was always compared to Real Madrid’s love for spending the big bucks to sign the biggest and brightest stars. Barcelona’s marketing of their philosophy was so great that Barcelona managed to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic for upwards of 70 million euros, while still boasting about their preference to promote home-grown talent before spending cash on external assets.
FC Barcelona not sticking to their philosophy
Little by little, it became more obvious that Barcelona could talk the talk, but not truly walk the walk. And if there was any doubt about it, this summer seems like a clear example that the team has taken a very different direction.
In a move that shocked the entire market, Barcelona agreed to let go of probably the best talent to have come out of their Youth System — Thiago Alcantara — since Messi, for only 25 million euros.
Granted, there were some technicalities in his contract that actually enabled this situation, but the fact that the staff actually allowed for this to come about — and didn’t protect one of their best homegrown assets — clearly goes to show that the mindset has changed in Barcelona.
To add to this, signing Neymar for a reported 57 million euros, a purchase that fits more or less the profile of signings Real Madrid usually shoots for, has finally raised awareness about the change in youth system philosophy coming over the Cules.
Other young FC Barcelona stars that have left the club
But Thiago has not been the only home-grown talent to fly the nest this year. Jonathan Dos Santos, Fontas, Deulofeu and even potentially Tello and Montoya could end up leaving the first squad this summer, while the staff has already invested in Neymar and are looking into signing 19 year-old Brazilian Marquinhos.
While the new way to operate at Camp Nou seems more than apparent, the situation has been aggravated by Real Madrid’s strong bet on their youth system this summer.
Nacho, Morata, Jese and Casemiro will be promoted to the first squad at Bernabeu, and — for the first time in the last ten years — the number of youth system players moving up at Real Madrid will be higher than at Barcelona — where only Sergi Roberto will be getting a shot at the glory this season.
But is this the correct route for FC Barcelona?
While there is no doubt that Neymar and Messi will most likely rock La Liga together, having to put a mortgage on such a long-lasting tradition that betting on the home-grown talent has been at Barcelona seems like a huge price to pay.