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La Masia

La Masía Talents: Aleix Garrido – Episode 22

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A close look at La Masía talented interior Aleix Garrido. An analysis of his profile, style of play and what to expect from him for the long-term.


“Guardiola remained a lanky teenager with little muscle mass, the opposite of the ideal footballer’s stature. But great art is always born of frustration and since he lacked the pace and strength to overcome the opposition, he substituted physical power with the power of the mind: instinctively developing a sense of spatial awareness that was second to none. He was capable of leaving behind three players with one pass, widening or narrowing the field at will, so that the ball always travelled more than the player. Usually, when children start to play football, they want to learn to dribble. Guardiola didn’t: he learnt how to pass the ball”

This is a quote from Guillem Balagué on his book Pep Guardiola: Another way of winning. In it, he explained how Pep Guardiola was one of the first to experience the switch in mentality and ideology caused by Cruyff’s principles. Johan used to say that small footballers have more chances of making a difference once they reach the elite as, for many years, they have had to find imaginative solutions to survive in football’s lower categories.

Since this revolution led by Johan Cruyff, La Masía has become a factory of shaping players, regardless of their stature, and developing their cognitive abilities to fly the flag of the so-called positional play or Juego de Posición. Midfielders not only have to be technical but also extremely intelligent, as that’s the key to controlling and dominating games through the search of numerical and positional superiorities to progress in any zone of the pitch. At Barcelona’s academy, the main representative of this Juego de Posición may well be Sergi Milà’s Cadete A. Not only is the 2004 generation undoubtedly one of the most promising in the blaugranas‘ youth system, but they also execute this specific and demanding style to perfection.

In the past, we analysed Diego Almeida, Ilias Akhomach and Gavi, but they are not the only gems in this outstanding crop of talent. They symbolise the pure positional play, where the focus is not placed on the boxes or the goals, but on the ball. In particular, Cadete A’s midfield is packed with magnificent – and in general tiny – interpreters of this methodology. But, while last week’s episode of the La Masía Talents was dedicated to the figure and leader of this generation in Pablo Páez Gavi, it is now time to discuss its captain and thermometer from the centre of the park: Aleix Garrido.

Profile

Aleix Garrido Cañizares was born on 22 February 2004 in Ripoll, a town in the Catalan province of Girona. He began training at his hometown club EF Ripollès with only 3 years, despite, as he wrote in his later goodbye later, ‘no one wanted me because I was too small’. There he showed some innate qualities but also a strong willingness to work and improve. In 2012, though, he received the call from Barça. FC Barcelona had to make an exception with the boy that, by that time, was only 8 years old, as the azulgranas don’t tend to recruit any youngster from outside the Barcelona Metropolitan Area before reaching the Alevín age (11). Nevertheless, Aleix Garrido showed so much promise that he moved to La Masía and joined the culés‘ Benjamín C ahead of the 2012/13 campaign.

Aleix Garrido Barcelona La Masía

Aleix Garrido, second from the right in the bottom corner, is part of a very promising generation at La Masía | Photo by FC Barcelona

Despite his shy look, his personality hid a very strong character and determination, as well as an admirable maturity and obviously superb quality. In the second year after his arrival, Aleix was promoted to the Benjamín A, where he joined Adrià Capdevila, who had been playing in the Benjamín D in the previous course. That year they became inseparable colleagues, both on and off the pitch. A midfield double that probably made more than one dream of another legendary duo from Barcelona. As if this were not enough, in the 15/16 term Pablo Páez Gavi joined them from Betis to complete a stellar trio at the centre of the park. Adrià was the 6, Aleix the 8 and Pablo the 10. They complemented, and keep complementing, each other wonderfully, with very fitting profiles and a brilliant understanding on the field.

SPORT described them as the ‘tiny madmen’, for their crazy talent and also their small stature. A stellar trio to defy all prejudices related to physique in football. Now, while other delicious midfielders like Toni Caravaca or Biel Vicens have been added to the mix, they all continue to shine under Sergi Milà at the Cadete A.

Playing style

The Cadete A exhibits an incredible fluid and free-flowing brand of football, but all of this lies within the framework of positional play. Everyone has to understand which role he has, which zones he must occupy, which distances he must keep with others, and what moves he needs to execute in accordance with the teammates’ activity. Therefore, this means that every single player must have a remarkable positional sense and reading of the game, which they all acquire and polish at La Masía during their development stage. And, if something defines Aleix Garrido, that is his intelligence.

His decision making is lightning fast and he rapidly adjusts his choices to the situation of his colleagues and rivals. His body orientation always is the best one to scan his surroundings, have a full picture of the pitch, and gain an advantage over his enemies. Aleix’s close control allows him to evade the press from his opponents, and thus it is common to see him make fast turns or use a single touch when others would need two. This provides him more time and space, which are both indispensable in football.

Apart from his intellect, smartness and mental agility, he is very creative and has a delightful technique. He is very composed, never hides away when asking for the ball, and has great timing in his arrivals into the box. He has an eye for a line-breaking and accurate pass which few others see, and he can arrive into the penalty box and score too. He has 6 goals in the league, a proof of his contribution to the attacking phase and of his pinpoint shots from any distance. Wise, imaginative and gifted. An interior made in La Masía.

What does the future hold for Aleix Garrido?

With this in mind, if there’s an extra reason that makes of Aleix Garrido a more reliable bet for the future, that’s his dedication and professionalism. Like Adrià Capdevila or Pablo Páez themselves, it is very clear that they are only worried about playing, nothing else. No egos nor individualism, but a strong desire to make the collective succeed and sacrifice the individual for the group’s gains.

While he may not be as special and unique as Gavi, Aleix is incredibly talented and smart. His quick feet and mind, and his marvellous vision, convert Garrido into the prototype Barcelona central midfielder. As a hybrid between a number 6 and number 8, he reunites all the qualities to dominate from midfield. Now, what he needs is to continue growing at the steady pace in which he has progressed in the past years.


As someone once said, football is the most important of the least important things in life. Football, though, is a passion lived 24 hours, 7 days a week. My life could not be understood without Barça. Having always lived in Barcelona, the deep love for this club was transmitted to me from before I can remember. With an affection that can be found in my most profound roots, my goal now is to share this admiration with other football enthusiasts.

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La Masia

Best starting XI of ex-La Masía players

Jan-Michael Marshall

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Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

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. 

Eric Garcia ex-La Masía

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. 

Thiago Alcantara Barcelona ex-La Masía

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.

Adama Traore Barcelona ex-La Masía

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. 

Closing Thoughts

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.

ex-La Masía players best XI

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.

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