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La Masia

La Masía Talents: Brian Peña – Episode 18

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A profound analysis of La Masía magician Brian Peña. A review of his profile, style of play and what to expect from him for the future.


Barcelona’s football, and the one practised in its academy, has always been based around possession, on-ball quality and a proper execution. Midfielders are the embodiment of this style, even though the azulgranas have never stood out for having extravagant attacking midfielders, but academic interiors. However, from time to time some of these unconventional wizards emerge, characterised by their imagination and brutal talent. La Masía 17-year-old Brian Peña, the protagonist of this weekly analysis, has plenty of this.

Profile

Brian Peña Pérez-Vico was born on 20 June 2002 in the Catalan city of Vilafranca del Penedès. That’s where he started to play football, aged 4. Despite his shyness, having the ball at his feet relaxed and calmed him, and made his forget about everything else. When he was 6 years old, he attended a football camp organised by Barça, and that opened him the doors of the blaugranas. He did not join the club, though, but the FCB Escola. This school is not directly connected to La Masía, but they share the same methods. That’s where he started to develop his qualities, even if, five years after joining, he moved to CF Damm.

Brian Peña Barcelona La Masía

Brian Peña left Barça to later return stronger | Photo by FC Barcelona

He had a standout season at Damm, following on with what he had learnt at the Escola. After his sensational year there, the youngster had offers from many big clubs, including Real Madrid, Valencia, Villarreal or Espanyol…yet his dream was to play for Barcelona one day. Therefore, Brian Peña chose Espanyol, conscious that he would have more chances of moving to La Masía in the future if he impressed with the Periquitos – as has happened in countless occasions with many other prospects.

He was right. He spent three years with Espanyol, attracting attention from Barcelona itself through great performances, including in the derbies. After having been monitoring his progression, it was in 2018 when Franc Artiga, who had just been named manager of the Juvenil B, insisted on signing him. The technical secretary of the club obeyed him and, in July 2018, Brian Peña joined La Masía. He was added to the squad of Artiga’s Juvenil B, coming from the Cadete A of Espanyol and having been international with Catalonia’s youth teams and the Spanish U-16. He scored his first goal for Barça in September 2018, in a 0–2 victory over Sant Andreu. Now 17 years old, he’s still playing with the Juvenil B, but being one of their main players and hoping to get promoted to the U-19 A next term.

Playing style

Brian Peña is a right-footed attacking midfielder or also left winger. In his first campaign with Franc Artiga, he played in midfield and in front of Marc Doménech and Álex Rico, who could both act as holding midfielders. Notwithstanding, for Barcelona’s first team in the future, there may be no place for a number 10, so in a 4–3–3 he has mostly been employed as a left winger. For his position and style of play, he has often been compared to Philippe Coutinho.

He has that Brazilian flair in spite of being Spanish, with an undeniable technical quality and an admirable self-confidence to cut inside and take on defenders. He’s vertical and a very forward-thinking player, as well as one of the best dribblers in the academy. He has an extensive repertoire of technical actions, as he carry the ball and imbalance the opposing defences with any surface of his foot: the inside, the outside, the sole or the top of the foot. Therefore, he has a wide range of options to give curve, accuracy or power to his deliveries and shots.

Brian Peña Barcelona La Masía

Brian Peña’s dribbles are sharp and electric | Photo by FC Barcelona

He’s an associative footballer that reads the game well too, as he’s a wonderful creator that can pull the strings for his team. That said, Brian Peña is not characterised for being a passing maestro, but at La Masía he is more renowned for his personality, expertise in one-versus-ones and goalscoring instinct. He can either make surprise arrivals into the box or, more frequently, get inside the area after having drifted inside and beaten his mark. He has a great facility to create his own space to shoot and rapidly unleash a strike. Less than two weeks ago, on January 19, Brian scored a hat-trick against Damm in a 2–4 victory from the Juvenil B. That was his seventh goal of the season, being only two away from the nine he registered in the previous course.

If there’s something that Brian Peña must look to improve in his time at La Masía is his positional awareness. Curiously enough, it is a similar problem to the one Coutinho had at Barcelona, as he struggled to find his ideal spot in the side and was too attack-minded to be a pure interior. Peña also belongs to this endangered species of attacking midfielders, and as a winger he may not get his entire potential exploited. He tends to perform better when the games become more frenetic and open than when he is required to dominate positionally, wait and remain static. He can be a ball-hog at times and overuse his shooting, but, if he matures and develops nicely, he may have the gift to be a world-beater one day.

What does the future hold for Brian Peña?

At the Juvenil B there are very few differential talents that may be considered for the future or even the next Juvenil A. Brian Peña, though, is certainly one of these. For his vision, rhythm, acceleration, unpredictable dribbling and lethal shots, he has a very high ceiling in terms of his individual quality. At the same time, he’s one of those footballers whose evolution will really determine whether he has the potential to play at the Camp Nou in the long-term, or if he will fall short.

As often as he is compared to Coutinho, let us hope that he grabs the virtues from Philippe and not the flaws that made him disappoint at Catalonia. If he can successfully transform himself into an interior, and acquires all the tactical and cognitive concepts a Barcelona midfielder requires, then he definitely has the talent and imagination to be a true difference-maker. The future of Brian Peña will surely depend on his progression at La Masía.


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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