Barca – Total Football

Last Mondays El Classico was so one sided it was embarrassing.  Jose Mourinho and his multimillion ego driven squad simply didn't deserve to be on the same pitch as the slick Barca side.  4 years ago I had the pleasure of spending a week with FC Barcelona and I learnt back then the importance that they put into developing youth (you can read my report by clicking here).  So how many players came through the Academy that represented Barca on Monday?  What is the organisation and structure to their Academy and how does this affect their approach to games?  Read on...

My philosophy and coaching is all about developing young players that play with creativity and flair.  I encourage them to run at opponents and beat them with skill.  I also concentrate heavily on possession games.  I always use Barca as a great example of a team full of players that play with freedom, creativity and flair but at the same time are very disciplined.  When you watch Barcelona you will see triangles all over the pitch.  The player on the ball always has options.  They are such an exciting team to watch.

Against Real Madrid every player knew each other's game.  It wasn't a simple case of Barca having the best players in the world.  Every player instinctively knew where every other player was on the pitch at all times.  Out of Barcelona's 14 players involved against Real Madrid only 4 where not developed through the Academy (Abidal, Alves, Keita and David Villa).  This compared to Real Madrid only producing Casillas with the remainder being assembled to the tune of nearly $500 million!

While Real and a host of other top European Clubs spend millions on players hoping to buy success Barca continue to develop their own home-grown players.  Messi, Iniesta and Xavi all came through the Barca Academy and cost nothing.  Barcelona's youth Academy, which in Spanish goes by the name of 'La Cantera', meaning the quarry.

Other players to come through the Academy include Cesc Fabregas, who Arsenal took away at the age of 16,  Mikel Arteta from Everton and Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.  Barca manager, Pep Guardiola, also came through the Academy.  In his first season as manager he helped Barcelona win every competition they competed in, 6 in all, including the Spanish League title, World Club Cup and the Champions League against Manchester United.

Against United in the Champions League final, 7 of Barca's starting line up were all produced from the Academy.  Goalkeeper Valdes, defenders Puyol and Pique, midfielders Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and forward Messi.

When I visited Barcelona I loved the fact that the training complex was beside the Camp Nou.  The club has a boarding house that accommodates the older boys from the Academy.  Boys from the age of 13 or 14 that live outside the city are housed here so they don't have to worry about travelling to and from training.  Typically they will train for 6-8 hours per week along with playing a game.  The club insures they also develop their lifestyle and attitudes along with their football education, preaching the importance of healthy eating and early nights.

The boys live, sleep and eat together.  Each morning they are bussed to the best local schools.  Barcelona stresses the importance of finishing their education to the boys.  They return at 2pm for lunch and siesta, with training early evening.  They do their homework in a library with access to private tutors and have a games room with table football, pool and PlayStations.

The boys have 3 objectives when playing matches.  First, they must be the more sporting team, committing fewer fouls and being less aggressive.  Then they must try to win by playing very well, more creatively than the opposition, with attacking football.  Finally they need to win on the scoreboard.

Reina and Arteta were great friends at the Academy.  Although Arteta suffered from homesickness and cried himself to sleep many times.  Iniesta also had problems with homesickness after moving from central Spain to Barcelona at the age of 12.   Saying goodbye to his parents at the end of each weekend would become a mini-drama.  Although Iniesta only had to look out and see the Camp Nou to remind himself of his goal to play there.

Messi arrived at Barcelona from Argentina with his family at the age of 12.  He had a growth deformity and no club in Argentina would pay for the drugs he needed to treat it.  It is no surprise that Barcelona took on Messi unlike in England, where size, strength and the ability to throw your weight around is highly prized.

The model of Barcelona is that 50% of their team should be from the Academy, 35% should be the best players from Spain or Europe and then 15% from the top ten players in the world.  Although the Barcelona Academy is so successful it is also producing players who are among the top ten in the world.

The Academy has 12 boys' teams.  In the Academy each squad has 2 coaches and there are 23 or 24 players in each group.  At least half of the coaches have a UEFA Pro licence.  The club provides the budget, around 6 million Euros per year, and is fully responsible for the academy facilities and training programme.

The qualities that Barcelona look for in a young player is pace, technique and someone who looks like a player.  The speed of decision-making, the way he approaches the game, the vision to pick off a long pass - in other words, the mental qualities to go with the technical ability.  The emphasis is on speed.  When this speed is combined with top-quality technique, then they believe they have the ingredients.

From the age of 7 to 15 everything is about working with the football at the Barcelona Academy.  With the very small boys, the most important thing is to control the ball very well, to have the ability to run with the ball and to think very quickly and execute their passes very well.  They use the same playing system as the first team, so all the youth teams play 4-3-3 formation.  The development teams have to play attacking, attractive football.  Barcelona believe if they do everything well, the winning comes as a consequence.

They also like to keep an open mind and expose players to different playing roles as part of their education.  They work intensely on the individual skill, but also on group play, including each line of the team.  They train the Barca way which involves fast movement of the ball, player mobility, use of width, and a lot of fast, effective finishing.  They watch the passing movements of the first team as they provide the role model of the youth teams.

Another factor which helps continue the development of young players is that Barcelona have a 'B' team.  They play in the lower Spanish League. This helps the club continue to develop young players between the ages of 18 and 21 in a controlled environment.  In England the FA prevent Premier League clubs from having feeder teams in other domestic leagues.

The Barcelona model is based on a number of people providing specialist skills and all working in the same direction, with the same objective: to prepare players for the first team.

Based on last Mondays El Classico, the people behind Barcelona's youth Academy are certainly working in the same direction.

5 Responses to “Barca – Total Football”

  1. Simon says:

    Really informative post Tim, thanks for sharing and really looking forward to reading lots more about your coaching views and know-how.


  2. Ben Trinder says:

    A Great read and a very interesting insight into the Barca philosophy. The way the club is structured is something we really need to aim for over here.

    It works, so why not copy it with a little variation? Well written Tim!


  3. admin says:

    Cheers Ben, I think the powers that be are so head strong that they hate to be open minded & look outside their own little house.

    England haven’t got close to Bobby Robson’s 1990 World Cup performance…well maybe 96. But gone are the real exciting players of Gazza, Waddle & Beardsley. Who in the current set up comes close to these players?

    As for Northern Ireland…Worthington done nothing but take us backwards. All I hear is, ‘We need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down & keep fighting & battling away’…bloody hell…that will win us matches : (

  4. solomon alexander says:

    A well written piece which is very informative about philosophy and structure of arguably the best club team the world has ever known. It is quite evident that present successes of this club, was well planned and though of. I look forward to other interesting articles such as this one.

  5. 移動電源 says:

    Regards for this terrific publish, I am glad I found this site on yahoo.

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