Throughout the years, Barça have developed a handful of youngsters, and some of them are stars in today’s world. Let’s see who are the best La Masia players in their respective positions.
The youngsters’ market has become crazy these days, and clubs are now trying to produce youth players for a profit and not their own squads.
Last decade, teams like Lyon spent hours developing some of the best youngsters in France and Europe only to sell them for a hefty sum in the following summer.
La Masía’s popularity comes from the success their graduates have has in the last decade, playing for the best clubs in Europe and some of them plying their trade for Barça to this day.
An eleven of the current La Masía graduates still playing would prove the fact the academy is one of Europe’s best.
Goalkeeper: André Onana
Victor Valdés retiring in 2017 means André Onana is the next best thing in terms of keepers. The Cameroonian international left for Ajax in 2015 and has been their number one ever since Jasper swapped Ajax’s red and white for Barcelona’s blue and red.
He was part of the Ajax side that came back on top of Dutch football and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2019. His performances with his hands and his feet have been outstanding, and it’s clear he’s made in La Masía. The Ajax number one is rumoured to come back at Camp Nou this summer to be Ter Stegen’s deputy.
Centre-Back: Gérard Piqué
Piqué is one of the most decorated defenders in history. The La Masía graduate has played a pivotal role in the Culés’ success since returning from Old Trafford in 2008. The Centre-Back is a defender of the highest quality and his ability with his feet complements his game to perfection to make him one of the most complete defenders in world football and has been a regular fixture at the back in the Blaugrana outfit for the past decade. A successful player at all levels, the businessman deserves to be in this eleven.
Centre-Back: Marc Bartra
Marc Bartra never had the most success at Camp Nou but was nothing short of a fan-favourite in the time he spent as a Blaugrana player. The defender is also a complete La Masía product, and his mental attributes are as strong as his physical attributes.
In 2017, before the Monaco quarter-final he was supposed to play with Borussia Dortmund, a terrorist attack sent the current Real Bétis man to the hospital with a wrist injury. He was also a regular fixture in Quique Setién’s exciting Bétis side, finishing sixth in La Liga and achieving Bétis’ first European qualification in years even if the defence was shaky. Bartra is also an automatic addition to this side.
Left-Back: Jordi Alba
Jordi Alba is another player that left the club early to climb through the ranks to achieve Barça stardom. He left for Valencia in his teenage years and returned to the Camp Nou in 2012 following a superb Euro 2012 display, especially in the final where he netted a goal against Gianluigi Buffon’s Italy. His trophy haul resembles Piqué’s as they have played together for several number of years and they have enjoyed success for Barça and Spain on multiple occasions.
Being Barça’s starting left-back for eight years is hard enough, and Alba has shown great character to stay in the team, developing a friendship with Leo Messi that translates to the pitch, with the two of them fonding each other so many times.
Right-Back: Sergi Roberto
Sergi Roberto is a fan-favourite at Camp Nou, and he has cemented his place as Barcelona’s right back since 2015 and that emphatic 4-0 at the Bernabeu, in which he played a significant part. The midfielder turned defender has been a regular at Barça thanks to his versatility and is now the fourth captain along with Messi, Busquets and Piqué.
His best moment at Barcelona is undoubtedly his goal in the Remontada in 2017 that made him enter the Barcelona hall of fame. Highly rated by Ernesto Valverde, who felt the La Masía graduate was an essential part of his team at Camp Nou, the defender hasn’t had the chance to prove himself under Setién due to injuries but is set to compete with Nelson Semedo for that starting spot.
Defensive Midfielder: Sergio Busquets
Sergio Busquets was part of Pep Guardiola’s dream team, and the trio he formed with Xavi and Andrés Iniesta was truly phenomenal. The holding midfielder is capable of winning midfield battles on his own and plays one of the calmest footballs on Earth. One of Setién’s favourite players, he shows his tremendous ability week in week out and never fails to amaze the crowd.
He is another decorated player in the squad, and he never left Barça, much like Sergi Roberto. Now a Blaugrana captain, he shows his leadership on and off the pitch.
Midfielder: Cesc Fabregas
Cesc Fabregas was never one of the favourite players at Barça. One of Messi’s best friend, he left his boyhood club for Arsenal in his teenage years and developed a ton under Wenger before returning after the 2010 World Cup.
His first few years at Barça were encouraging, but the fans grew tired of him, and even though he delivered on the pitch more often than not, he was sold in 2014 to Chelsea, instantly making an impact by winning the league twice in 2015 and 2017 before leaving for Monaco. He is a great midfielder and a deserved entry in this side.
Midfielder: Thiago Alcantara
Possibly the Culés’ biggest regret, Thiago is an all-round midfielder that has been plying his trade for Bayern ever since Pep stole him from Camp Nou. Despite suffering from injury proneness, much like his brother Rafinha, the Spanish international is highly thought of in world football.In Germany, he has been tearing it up for seven years now and has shown his perfect footwork made in La Masía. Playing for Bayern also means he has filled up his trophy cabinet and he is a decorated individual in this eleven.
Another fan-favourite at Camp Nou, Pedro on his day is a superb left-winger who is lethal in front of goal and accurate with his passes. However, his runs in behind the defence helped the Catalans in so many awkward moments. Always giving his all for the club of his heart, his farewell was more painful as he scored the winner against Sevilla in the European Super Cup before leaving for Stamford Bridge in 2016 after a plethora of awards. He’s one of La Masía brightest players and a return to the Camp Nou is on the cards next summer.
Left-Winger: Ansu Fati
Perhaps the brightest prospect to come through La Masía in recent years, Ansu Fati has got a long way to go to achieve what his predecessors have achieved at Camp Nou. Heavily used this season due to injury, Ansu has shown some bright spots, and his performances have been rewarded with game time. The seventeen-year-old will set the world on fire shortly, and his importance will be palpable at Camp Nou.
Striker: Leo Messi
There is no doubt here, Leo Messi is not only of the best La Masia players ever; he is Barcelona’s greatest ever, and it’s crazy to think he came through La Masía. The Argentinean suffered from growth hormone deficiency in his early life, and the Culés took a punt on him, allowing him to develop and he has repaid the Catalans by being a genius at what he does.
Now a six-time Ballon d’Or winner, he showed his footballing skills at the highest level by winning uncountable accolades for his side and is now the world’s best player along with Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably.
Best starting XI of ex-La Masía players
With the once-glorious academy ignored in the last few years, Barça Universal attempts to put together a starting XI of the best ex-La Masia players in the world, based on their ability and form.
FC Barcelona’s fabled La Masía is often regarded as one of the best academies in world football. Having produced players like Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, and Xavi Hernández, to name a few, it’s no question why.
The Blaugrana are in a fortunate spot where they can integrate promising youngsters from their youth teams into their senior squad; however, in recent years, there has been a divergence from this approach. Consequently, Barça have seen their fair share of homegrown starlets slip through the cracks.
In this piece, we at Barça Universal will be forming a starting eleven of the best active ex-La Masía players in the world. Based on their quality and recent performances, these are the best eleven players who either left the Catalan club at a young age or never cemented a place in the first team. We have decided to go through with a 4-2-3-1 formation for the team.
GK: André Onana
Between the sticks, there are few better than André Onana. The Cameroonian international left Barça at 19, and has not looked back since. He’s developed into a premier goalkeeper and has been linked with a move to big clubs all across Europe.
“I think André [Onana] is fantastic. He came to Ajax aged 18 or 19 and the way he developed, and the natural attributes that he already had, his speed, his reaction… I think he set himself as a great goalkeeper.”Edwin van der Sar, 2018
Onana has decisive command of his box, quick reflexes, and is a great shot-stopper. Across 31 appearances last season, he had 11 clean sheets and a formidable 75.5% save percentage. He has also led the Champions League in the last two campaigns with post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed, a stat that measures how well a keeper fares against shots that are expected to go in. He achieved a mark of +4.5, meaning he prevented Ajax from conceding almost five extra goals.
The Catalans would surely regret letting him go if they did not have Marc-André ter Stegen taking charge of the gloves.
RB: Héctor Bellerín
Héctor Bellerín is a clear choice at right-back, edging out the only other realistic option, Real Betis’ Martín Montoya. The Spaniard left Barça in 2011 for Arsenal, after spending 8 years at the club. Although injuries have derailed his recent progress, he’s become a key asset for the Gunners.
Bellerín is quite talented, consistently blistering down the right-hand side with his pace and influencing all aspects of the game. He’s finding his footing after being in and out of the lineup for the last few seasons but already has two assists this campaign. He also earned his first national team call-up since 2016; a positive sign of things to come, maybe.
CB: Eric García
Whether due to his ability or the fact that he left La Masía for a Manchester club, Eric García has been dubbed by some to be the next Gerard Piqué. He spent nine successful years in Barcelona’s academy before joining Manchester City in 2017.
Pep Guardiola wooed Eric Garcia away from Barcelona, and the teenager has proved him right. (Photo via Getty)
Despite being only 19 years old, García plays with poise and composure beyond his years. As a ball-playing defender, he’s comfortable in possession and sharp with his passing, averaging a 96% completion rate last season and 93.8% this season. His high tactical awareness and high-grade positioning make up for lack of aerial prowess.
“He’s so smart, so intelligent. His physicality is not so, so strong, but he resolves the situation by thinking. I like to work with smart people, intelligent people. He is one of them. I can count on him.”Pep Guardiola, 2019
In recent months, García has been linked with a move back to his boyhood club, a testament to his abilities and a sign that Barça repent letting him go. His quality and high-ceiling make him an unquestioned choice at centre-back for this list.
CB: Marc Bartra
The other player in the heart of the defence is Marc Bartra. The 29-year-old could never quite cement a spot in Barça’s first team and was often a backup for Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, and Javier Mascherano. Consequently, he left the club in 2016 for Borussia Dortmund, after making over 100 appearances for the first team and winning 13 trophies.
Like most La Masía-bred defenders, Bartra is lauded for his passing ability. He adds to that with his top-notch aerial ability and solid tackling.
He now finds himself playing in the La Liga with Real Betis, where he’s a key member of their squad, and one of the first names in the list for the Seville outfit. Admittedly, there aren’t a lot of centre-backs to choose from, but Bartra still deserves his spot on this list.
LB: Álex Grimaldo
Rounding out the defence is Álex Grimaldo. He was revered as a youngster, making over 100 appearances for Barça’s B-team, but ended up leaving for Benfica in 2016 in search of more playing time, when that spot became Jordi Alba’s to lose.
Grimaldo is quick, intelligent, a great dribbler, and is a persistent threat going forward, fitting perfectly into Benfica’s expansive, attacking side. Since the 2018-19 season, he has 23 assists and eight goals across all competitions.
“For me, Grimaldo is one of the best five left-backs in Europe. Many Benfica players are ready to, someday, play in a world-class team. Grimaldo is good enough to play for any side right now.”Tiago Pinto (Benfica Sporting Director), 2020
The left-back has quietly developed into one of the best in the world at his position and is certainly someone Barça should wish they could have right now. He’s one of the best players in this list, and his inclusion goes with little to no fuss.
CM: Thiago Alcântara
Thiago: the one that got away. Despite his immense talent, he was unlucky in his first few years at Barça having to find a spot in the first team midfield that was dominated by the likes of prime Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. A certain Cesc Fabregas was left as an outcast in this team; there was only so much Thiago could do. As a result, he left the Catalan giants in the summer of 2013 for Bayern Munich, where he would cement his status as one of the best midfielders in the world.
One that keeps the Barça administration and fans up at night all the same. (Photo via Imago)
The Spanish international is lauded for his technical prowess and intelligence. He’s a great passer, averaging over 89% completion rate for the past four seasons, has fantastic vision and is a treat to the eyes on the ball. He’s not only an ideal Barça midfielder but a world-beater by any metric.
Thiago was a key part of Bayern’s treble-winning side last season and now finds himself at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield. He’s a player Barça should have tried to sign back and will be remembered as one of the best La Masia graduates of the last decade.
CM: Oriol Romeu
Oriol Romeu may not be a familiar name to most, nor is he someone fans are clamouring to have back, but his performances this season for an impressive Southampton have earned him a spot in this XI.
Romeu left the Catalan side in 2011 for Chelsea but struggled to settle anywhere before moving to Southampton in 2015.
The Saints are currently sitting fourth in the Premier League heading into the international break, in no small part thanks to Romeu. He’s played in all eight league games this season and is third in total minutes played for his side. The Spaniard is an anchor in the midfield, aggressive in tackles and inept at stopping plays. He’s leading the Premier League in tackles this season, averaging 4.42 tackles plus interceptions per game.
He’s not what you could call the idea player for Barça or one the club necessarily laments selling, but he has been truly incredible this season and deserves recognition all the same.
RW: Adama Traoré
Adama Traoré followed the path of many before him, leaving the Camp Nou for greener grass. He made his first-team debut at only 17 years old and managed to grab one goal in four appearances, but the front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez would see him get little-to-no playing time.
Culés still remember Adama Traore’s fantastic solo goal in the Copa del Rey. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP)
Traoré settled in at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2018 and has realised his potential there. He had a breakout season last year, with 6 goals and 10 assists, as well as an astounding 5.22 successful dribbles per game — one of the highest in Europe. This season, the Spanish International is leading the Premier League in terms of the number of players dribbled past — 30 in eight matches.
The 24-year-old is a magnificent player. His physical attributes stand out, being one of the strongest and fastest players in the world, and unstoppable at his best; but he’s much more than that. His technical ability and close control are excellent, and that coupled with his physical gifts make him a sight to behold on the pitch.
The Spaniard’s inclusion in this list is fairly straightforward. He’s on a meteoric rise and is the type of squad option Barça wish they could have right now.
CAM: Dani Olmo
Filling in behind the striker is Dani Olmo, yet another starlet Barça that slipped through the cracks. He spent seven years at La Masía before a shocking move to Dinamo Zagreb in 2014, but the decision has fared well for him. He dominated his spell with the Croatian side, tallying 34 goals and 28 assists in 124 appearances.
The 22-year-old is now a squad member at RB Leipzig, where he’s dazzling the Bundesliga with his dribbling, creativity, and vision. He has three assists in seven Bundesliga appearances this season and is only getting better.
Olmo is one of the brightest young Spaniards in the world and is currently in their squad for the international break.
LW: Marc Cucurella
Marc Cucurella never had a chance to prove himself at Barça, and he’s now excelling at Getafe. He was developed as a left-back but has now been successfully converted into a wide midfielder, playing on the left of a 4-4-2, since making a permanent move to the Madrid outfit in July this year.
Cucurella is a work-horse on both sides of the ball. Defensively, he’s a pest who consistently tracks the ball and fights for it, making up for any lack of physical prowess. He’s also great at pressing and tackling for a physical Getafe side, averaging 3.38 tackles and interceptions per game last season.
Offensively, he darts down the left-hand side and utilizes his pace and stamina along with his noteworthy off the ball movement. He had five assists last campaign and will be looking to improve upon that.
Cucurella may not be the flashiest name here, but much like Oriel Romeu, his recent performances are commendable, thus earning him this spot at left-mid.
ST: Mauro Icardi
Rounding out the team is Mauro Icardi, a name some might not recognize as an ex-La Masía player. Although he has off-the-field issues, his sheer talent alone sanctions his spot in this draft. Not to mention, his prolific goalscoring record as well.
The Argentine left the Catalans in 2011 after a brief 3-year stint. After a few seasons in Sampdoria, he moved to Internazionale Milan, where he broke out, gathering 124 goals and 28 assists in 219 appearances. In his current club PSG, the goals have continued raining in as he has scored 22 times in only 38 appearances.
The 2018 Serie A Player of the Year is a classic #9 who prefers to do all his damage in the penalty box. As a forward, he’s lethal in front of goal and always makes the right movements to get into scoring positions.
“In my opinion, Icardi is the second-best striker in the penalty box who I’ve ever marked.”Giorgio Chiellini, 2018
Icardi may not be a player Barça would desperately want to return, give his multiple tantrums or one that fits their style, but he’s the best ex-La Masía striker in the world, and that stands almost without question.
If this starting eleven indicates anything, it’s that Barça should be diverting more attention to La Masía and the gems they produce. Promising youngsters like Grimaldo, Olmo, and Traoré should have never departed without being given ample time to prove themselves, and the club should hope that history doesn’t repeat itself with prospects like Riqui Puig.
There are plenty of good players – Munir El Haddadi, Rafinha Alcântara, Cristian Tello, for instance –who didn’t make this list due to positional constraints or being edged-out by better options, and they serve as a further example of how much talent Barça has let slip through the cracks in recent memory. This is not to say that all La Masía graduates will grow up to reach the heights of Messi or Xavi, but they should all at least have the chance to stake their claim in the first team.