Barcelona: LaLiga club's youth academy isn't what it was
The recent additions of Jeison Murillo and Moussa Wagué to Barcelona's threadbare defence have sparked debate and dissent. They've even brought about a somewhat brusque response from Ernesto Valverde, a man always so measured and circumspect in his comments. Many are urging Barça's coach to give in-house talent a chance, at least to plug gaps like these. There's a longing for the heady days when La Masia accounted for three quarters of Pep Guardiola's fabulous side, not to mention almost half the Spain team and a complete Ballon d'Or podium. There are only a few of those players left now, and fresh blood is not coming through to replace them - or if it is, and I'm looking at the likes of Sergi Roberto, Carles Aleñá and Sergi Samper, they're not as dazzling. Roberto is a utility man; the other two are subs.
It was even feared Barcelona had definitive winning formula
Maybe we were slightly kidding ourselves when that sensational generation of Barça youth products was strutting its stuff. Indeed, it was out of fear that the Blaugrana had found a definitive winning formula that Florentino Pérez and many Real Madrid fans pinned all their hopes on José Mourinho as a kind of surly hired gun. However, the passing years have shorn Barça of almost all of their homegrown stars (only Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi are still going strong), and nothing has come through that has been able to touch them. That's also not entirely surprising. La Masia isn't what it was. Those who ran it got offers from elsewhere and, clearly believing that good players grow on trees, the club let them go. They took with them a philosophy, a way of doing things, a commitment to a set of basic principles.
Something similar also happened at Real Madrid
In the hope that another Messi would fall into their laps, Barça began to fill up their academy with youngsters from far and wide. That and the odd top Espanyol prospect poached from across town. Aside from the problem of talent crops always being wildly variable - and it being rare for so many fine players to graduate together as they did - the fact is that good work makes its presence, and absence, felt. Something similar happened at Madrid, where the framework put in place by Vicente del Bosque was dismantled long ago. When Pérez arrived, Los Blancos had a generation led by Iker Casillas, Raúl and Guti in their first team. 18 years later, only Dani Carvajal and now, hopefully, Marcos Llorente have made it. Barça did not heed that lesson, have gone the same way, and now find themselves in the situation they're in.