The Barça midfielder sat down to chat with AS in Marbella and spoke about La Masia: "People are in a hurry to see home-grown players succeed..."
Carles Aleñá is enjoying the best moments of his career so far. He's gaining integrity with Barcelona's first team and Luis de la Fuente has called him up for international duty with Spain's Under-21s. Competition for the midfielders' position with La Rojita is as fierce as it is with the senior side and Aleñá and his generation of players are dreaming of earning a place ahead of next year's Euro 2020. The Barça player sat down to chat with AS in Marbella, where Spain's Under-21s are preparing for the upcoming friendlies against Romania (Thursday) and Austria (Monday).
It's the first time you've been called up by De la Fuente. Were you expecting it?
With so many good players, it's very complicated but you always have hope - and that's what keeps you going and you work towards getting a call-up for the national side. You try to get as much playing time with your club so that you are in with a chance of being called up. I'm very happy to be called up but no, it wasn't something I was expecting.
Championships kick off in June
The Under-21 European Championships are just a few months away. Does that give you extra motivation?
Yes, definitely. During these games we will be playing over the next few days, our minds will be on the Euros, which isn't that far off. Being in the squad now is very important for me. I've been working hard and I plan to give the best of myself so that the coach has a difficult job when the time comes to draw up the list for the tournament.
Spain's tournament kicks off on 16 June against Italy, the host and one of the favourites to win the trophy. It is a good thing or a bad thing to start off by taking on one of the strongest teams?
I think it's good because you start by playing one of the favourites so it's going to be very demanding and that's better for is. In the final stage of any European tournament there are never any easy games - all of them are going to incredibly difficult. I'd prefer to begin by meeting a team with a high level.
The reward will be a place at the Olympic Games for the top four teams. What would that mean for a player?
Playing at the Olympic Games is a dream for any player. For me it's a dream, it's something a little different - and special, an event which is a celebration of sport. But first we have to make sure we do well at the Europeans, and right now that's what we are focused on. If we play like we know how then I think we'll have our chances of going to the Olympics.
Spain's great tradition of midfielders
The midfielder position is the one where there is most competition for places. Does that mean you are forced to up your game?
Here with the national team, the demands on all of us couldn't be higher. There are players who play in my position and they are brilliant footballers. I watch them every week and I have the greatest admiration for them. And let's not forget we are without Rodrigo, Ceballos and Fabián... Imagine the level you'd need to have if they were with us! It's another demand placed on you and it does help you to bring out the best of yourself so that you make the list.
Do you think has the best midfield out of all the other countries in the Under-21 category?
It's difficult to find a midfield which is so good and so young, and playing for very demanding clubs. Italy also have great midfielders, but I think ours is very strong.
Business as usual at the Fed
You've passed through the different categories with Spain - Under-17, Under-19… and during the previous era at the Spanish Football Federation. Have you noticed any changes in the day-to-day running at the RFEF?
Everything's just the same as always, including the staff… I knew Luis de la Fuente from our time with the Under-19s. We're continuing with the same desire and hopes to be among the best teams, and in that, the national team hasn't changed at all.
Luis Enrique always includes an Under-21 player in his lists for the senior side...
Sure. Luis Enrique draws up his lists based around the players who are performing the best. He's a very daring coach, he's not afraid to call up a young player and he's shown that many times. I know him and know he's like that - he likes players who are hard-working. It's a great motivation for all of us with the Under-21s to see that we can get rewarded. It would be a great to play for the senior side in the future.
Given a chance by Luis Enrique
Luis Enrique handed you your first team debut with Barcelona. What has he meant for you during your career?
I've always said that he was the one who gave me my first opportunity in professional football, he gave me the chance to see for myself what it is like to play in Barça's first team. He handed me my debuts in a lot of different competitions and I will always be eternally grateful to him. I will never be able to thank him enough for what he did for me when I was still only very young.
Do you think Luis Enrique's philosophy can worj with the national team?
Of course. Barcelona's methods are very similar to the national teams - take control of the ball, press as soon as you lose possession… It's very similar. That's pretty much how the national team plays now.
Do you think a player can learn more by training with Messi every day than going out on loan?
It's difficult to say, you never really know with these things… A loan can either go well for you or badly. I can only speak from my own experience - I decided to stay at Barça and not go anywhere else. Training alongside the greatest player of all time and with other, superb players allows you to learn a lot. Of course you always want to play and compete more, but you can learn more in training than anywhere else. I don't regret staying.
Do you think Barça's youth academy, La Masia, is working as it should?
I've said many times that people are in a bit of a hurry to see the academy players succeed - some people think that the great generation of players who came through - Xavi, Busquets, Andrés, Leo… can be easily repeated and we have to realize that that generation will never be repeated - ever. It was a unique and unrepeatable generation. It's not that we've stopped believing in La Masia, but it just needs to produce players who are at the right level to play for the first team, at the best club in the world. Valverde might give youth team players an opportunity with the first team but it's clear we'll never see that golden generation ever again.
Messi, the greatest
What's it like to play and train with Leo Messi every day?
What more can we say about him? we've run out of adjectives to describe the player he is. He does whatever he wants to his rivals - and to us. He's the number one. He's a one-off - the likes of which we won't ever see again in football. We have to enjoy him and accept he's the best we will see in our lives. I'll tell my children that I played alongside him - that will be an amazing experience. I hope he continues the way he is for many, many more years.