IN 1979, Barcelona decided they wanted a steady stream of homegrown talents to one day blossom in their first team.
They launched their now famed La Masia (Catalan for ‘The Farmhouse’), a state-of-the-art academy designed to train youngsters the Barça way, and has since produced a slew of top-class footballers.
Lionel Messi (in the mask), Cesc Fabregas (back row, second right) and Gerard Pique (back row, third left) are Barcelona youth productsCredit: PA:Press Association
They were schooled at Barcelona’s famous La Masia AcademyCredit: Simon Jones – The Sun
Many have gone on to become legends at the club, while others have slipped away and grown at pastures new.
Here are their best 25 best academy trainees.
25. ALEX GRIMALDO
The Spanish left-back is one of the most sought-after defenders in world football at the moment.
Currently starring at Benfica, he has been linked with a move to Tottenham.
Barcelona let him go for £1.5million in 2015, without playing a game in the first team.
Originally, he was plucked from Valence in 2008 – spending four years with the Catalans until he was sold.
Alex Grimaldo has made his name at BenficaCredit: Getty Images – Getty
24. DANI OLMO
Olmo is the most recent promising youngster that left Spain for a new challenge.
The Spanish 21-year-old midfielder, who moved in January 2020 to Bundesliga club RB Leipzig, arrived at La Masia aged just nine.
But in a surprising move, Olmo decided to leave Barça when he turned 16 and signed for Dinamo Zagreb.
Barcelona were rumoured to be looking at bringing him back to Catalonia before he moved to Germany.
He has since starred in the Bundesliga and is a regular in the Spain squad.
Dani Olmo gambled with his career leaving Barcelona aged 16 for Dinamo ZagrebCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Arsenal fans won’t want to be reminded of Nayim’s most famous moment in his career.
But before he was lobbing David Seaman from the halfway line, he was a young hopeful at La Masia.
He joined Barcelona aged 12 – leaving his hometown Cueta.
But his chances were limited in a team that was managed by Terry Venables.
He later joined the former Three Lions boss at Spurs.
Former La Masia product Nayim scored the winner the Cup Winners’ Cup final against ArsenalCredit: PA:Empics Sport
22. LUIS GARCIA
The former Liverpool midfielder had two spells with Barcelona.
First as a 12-year-old youth player, where he starred in their reserve team.
But having failed to break into the first team, he was sold to Atletico Madrid in 2002.
However, after impressing with Atletico, Barcelona exercised a clause in Garcia’s contract to buy him back a season later.
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez moved for the playmaker in 2004 – having had him at Tenerife on loan in 2000-01.
Luis Garcia had two spells at Barcelona but never made the gradeCredit: PA:Empics Sport
21. ANDRE ONANA
Another surprise, in-demand Ajax keeper Andre Onana had a spell at Barcelona from 2010-15.
He joined the club after starting out at the Samuel Eto’o Academy, but failed to make the grade there.
Five years ago he signed for the Dutch giants, and has since become their No1.
He is currently suspended for 12 months for a doping violation.
In-demand Andre Onana had five years at La Masia before moving to AjaxCredit: Getty Images – Getty
20. ALBERT FERRER
It was right-back Ferrer’s dream to play for Barcelona – having grown up in the city.
And he appeared in 221 La Liga games during nine seasons with his boyhood club, after he was signed as a 13-year-old.
In 1998 he moved to Premier League with Chelsea in a £2.2m deal, where he retired aged 33.
Albert Ferrer was a local lad who got to represent his boyhood clubCredit: PA:Empics Sport
19. PEPE REINA
The son of former Barcelona goalkeeper Miguel Reina, Pepe was always destined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
He joined La Masia in 1995, and from 1999 he was playing for their reserve side in the third tier of the Spanish football pyramid.
Reina was never more than an understudy at the Camp Nou, and was told he could leave in 2002.
Pepe Reina was surplus to requirements to Barcelona in 2002 after being an understudy for yearsCredit: Getty Images – Getty
18. GUILLERMO AMOR
Benidorm-born Amor became one of Barcelona’s most important players under Cruyff in the 1990s.
He joined La Masia in 1980 – winning five league titles and a European Cup.
With Barcelona in his blood, it is unsurprising he is now responsible for the club’s youth system.
Former youth product Amor now manages Barcelona’s youth set-upCredit: PA:Empics Sport
17. HECTOR BELLERIN
The Arsenal full-back might speak like a cockney, but he’s Barcelona through and through.
Bellerin was also eight when he joined the club – but after eight years at La Masia he moved to the Gunners.
Now vice-captain of the Premier League giants, Bellerin has been linked with a move back to Spain.
Could he follow in the footsteps of Cesc Fabregas before him and return to the club where it all began?
Hector Bellerin left Barcelona for Arsenal and has played against his old side several timesCredit: PA:Press Association
The marauding Spanish left-back joined Barcelona in 1988, and went on to become a club legend – appearing 382 times and winning three league titles.
He was handed his Barça debut by Cruyff in a heated Champions League match away at Galatasaray
From then on, he became a mainstay before he was sold to Atletico Madrid. He hadn’t lost that nastiness that made him a tricky player to play against either – earning 33 yellow cards in his three seasons there.
Sergi won three La Liga titles after coming through La MasiaCredit: Icon Sport – Getty
15. THIAGO MOTTA
Barcelona never really saw the best of Motta.
Like Pedro, he was signed late – aged 17 from local side Clube Atlético Juventus – and was assigned to the B side.
He made his debut in 2001, but his time at Barcelona was robbed from him by a serious knee injury.
Eventually, he found himself at Inter Milan, where Jose Mourinho got the best out of him – winning the Champions League in 2010.
Thiago Motta never fulfilled his potential at BarçaCredit: Getty Images – Getty
14. IVAN DE LA PENA
The hype around De La Pena, nicknamed “Little Buddha”, was immense when he was a teen.
The child prodigy joined La Masia in 1991 from Racing Santander and initially looked to have a big future at the club.
But fallouts with Cruyff and Van Gaal, who were frustrated with his work-rate, saw his progress curtailed and he had more success with city rivals Espanyol.
De La Pena had fallouts with Johan Cruyff and Louis Van GaalCredit: PA:Empics Sport
13. ADAMA TRAORE
Last season, Wolves winger Traore has finally shown the potential Barcelona youth managers believed he had.
He joined the Spanish champions aged just eight, making his debut aged 17, but failed to break into the first team under managers Gerard Martino and Luis Enrique.
The speedy winger then moved to England, and had an ill-fated spell at Aston Villa before rediscovering his potential at Middlesbrough.
Adama Traore moved to England to get first team footballCredit: Getty Images – Getty
12. MIKEL ARTETA
The Arsenal manager is best known for his time in the Premier League playing for both the Gunners and Everton.
But before he made it in England, Arteta dreamt of becoming pro in San Sebastian playing football on the beaches with childhood friend Xabi Alonso.
He joined Barcelona aged 15, but struggled to break into the first team – joining PSG on loan before starring at Glasgow Rangers and returning to play for Real Sociedad with Alonso.
Mikel Arteta struggled to break into the Barcelona first team
11. VICTOR VALDES
Valdes is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the club’s history – having played 535 games and winning 21 major titles, including La Liga six times and three Champions League’s.
But it looked like his time at the club had come to an end in 1995 when his family moved to Tenerife.
However, Barça re-signed him and quickly progressed through the youth teams – making his debut aged 20.
Victor Valdes left La Masia academy only to return three years laterCredit: Getty Images – Getty
The ex-Chelsea winger was a late-comer when it came to joining La Masia.
Pedro arrived from Canary Islands team CD San Isidro aged 17 in 2004.
But soon, he became a key member of the first team once he was promoted by Pep Guardiola.
In the 2018-19 season Pedro became the first player to score in six different club competitions during a single season and in the same year.
Pedro was a late-comer to La Masia, joining aged 17Credit: PA:Empics Sport
9. MAURO ICARDI
Argentina striker Icardi had a spell at La Masia from 2008-11, after rejecting overtures from Real Madrid, Arsenal and Liverpool.
But the goal poacher failed to show his class in Spain and was shipped out on loan to Sampdoria in 2011, which became a permanent move six months later for just £400,000.
He has since become one of the most sought-after strikers in European football, boasting a remarkable goalscoring record.
Icardi always stood by his decision to leave Barça, because it ultimately benefitted his career.
Super poacher Mauro Icardi failed to impress at La MasiaCredit: FC Barcelona
8. GERARD PIQUE
Another one that got away, but returned to become a hero.
Pique played in the same youth teams as Messi and Fabregas from 1997, although he was deployed as a defensive midfielder in his early years.
Manchester United snapped him up in 2004 on a pro-contract, without having to pay a fee.
In 2008, he returned to Catalonia for a fee of £5million and has gone on to play 531 times for the club, as well as bag a celebrity wife in Shakira.
Pique returned to Barcelona after a spell at Man Utd and bagged a celebrity missus in ShakiraCredit: Getty Images – Getty
7. SERGIO BUSQUETS
One-club man Busquets has become one of the greatest defensive midfielders of his generation.
At youth level though he bounced around a few teams playing for the likes of Badia, Barbera Andalucia, Lleida, and Jàbac Terrassa, before settling at Barcelona in 2005,
Guardiola promoted Busquets to his first team in 2008, but it’s his former international manager Vincente Del Bosque who provided this accurate quote about his abilities.
He said: “If you watch the whole game, you won’t see Busquets – but watch Busquets, and you will see the whole game.”
Sergio Busquets has established himself as the best defensive midfielder of his generationCredit: PA:Empics Sport
6. CESC FABREGAS
Fabregas trained at La Masia for six years before making the bold move to Arsenal in 2003, believing his chances would be limited at the Nou Camp.
With the Gunners he soon established himself into one of the Europe’s most promising players – replacing Patrick Vieira in the heart of their midfield, before eventually being named captain.
In 2011 he returned to Barcelona for £35m, and in three seasons played 96 times for them before moving to Chelsea for £30m in 2014.
Cesc won the World Cup and the Euros twice, and has been capped 110 times by Spain.
Fabregas returned to Barcelona after making his name at ArsenalCredit: Action Images – Reuters
5. PEP GUARDIOLA
Johan Cruyff called him one of the best midfielders of his generation, and it’s hard to argue with that seeing he was a major influence in playing style of the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.
Guardiola joined La Masia at 13, and within six years the deep-lying playmaker made his debut against Cadiz.
In 1998 Louis van Gaal made him captain, but in 2001 he left for Serie A side Brescia after years of injury problems with a troublesome calf.
Pep Guardiola became Barcelona captain after making it through their youth ranksCredit: Getty Images – Getty
4. CARLES PUYOL
Arguably the most un-Barcelona-like player.
But Puyol became a cult hero as an inspirational captain with his uncompromising style of defending.
He joined La Masia in 1995, playing as a defensive midfielder before converting to full-back and then centre-half.
But Puyol almost left the club three years later when Barça accepted an offer from Malaga after deeming him surplus to requirements.
However, seeing Xavi getting a chance in the first team encouraged Puyol to stay, and the rest is history.
Puyol became a cult figure at Barcelona but nearly left the clubCredit: PA:Empics Sport
3. ANDRES INIESTA
Plucked from Albacete at the age of 12, Iniesta never looked back.
He steadily climbed up the youth ranks, making his debut aged 18 in 2002.
Iniesta would go on to become the most decorated Spanish footballer in history – winning 35 trophies, including nine LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues.
Famously, he helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup – scoring the winner against Holland.
Iniesta joined La Masia as a 12-year-oldCredit: Rex Features
The greatest playmaker of his generation, and the embodiment of their tiki-taka passing style, Xavi joined La Masia at 10.
At that age though it wasn’t Michael Laudrup he idolised, but in fact British-based stars like John Barnes, Paul Gascoigne, and Matt Le Tissier.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be brought up on the Barcelona ethos,” he once revealed.
“Which has taught me the value of being part of a team. ‘Today for you, tomorrow for me.’ Those qualities are essential for life in general.”
Xavi idolised Paul Gascoigne, Matt Le Tissier and John Barnes growing upCredit: PA:Empics Sport
1. LIONEL MESSI
Without doubt the best youngster to come from Barcelona’s youth set-up, and the best to ever play for the club.
Messi joined the LaLiga giants in 2001 from Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, who he had trained with since the age of six.
Realising they had such a prodigious talent on their hands, Barcelona agreed to pay for his treatment after he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency.
However, this season might be his last – with Manchester City desperate to bring Messi to the Premier League.
Messi graduated from La Masia to become Barcelona’s greatest ever playerCredit: Getty Images – Getty
‘Lionel Messi can leave Barcelona for free at the end of the season’ says ESPN’s Sid Lowe More