BARCELONA

Barcelona: Ten years since La Masia proudest moment

On Sunday it will be a decade since Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi occupied all three places on the podium in the Ballon d'Or.

Barcelona: Ten years since La Masia proudest moment
ALBERT GEA REUTERS

On 10 January 2011, Barça celebrated one of their most important achievements - the fruit of almost 20 years of hard work in the club's youth academy. The club had pinned its hopes on a football model and style of play based on the tactical concepts of Laureano Ruiz, and developed by anonymous men such as Oriol Tort, Joan Vilà and Albert Benaiges, before being given its definitive push with the arrival of Johan Cruyff and later honed and perfected by Guardiola. Ten years ago tomorrow, three players who had been groomed in La Masia were recognised by world football's governing body - three players who epitomised the club's model and understanding of the game. At the Kongresshaus in Zurich, Messi, Iniesta and Xavi occupied all three places on the podium in the Ballon d'Or - a feat which also rewarded the hard work done by dozens of coaches and their staff at the blaugrana youth academy.

Three players who, at first sight, seem to have very little in common. An Argentinean who arrived in Barcelona aged 13 to join a particularly talented youth team. The generation of '87 included players like Cesc Fàbregas, Gerard Piqué and Víctor Vázquez as stars. After just 10 minutes of watching the young Argentine kid who Charly Rexach had brought along to training, coach Àlex García was totally convinced that the player had to stay, his only concern was where to play him... After that first training session, Messi was an undisputed first choice in the team.

Andrés Iniesta arrived from Albacete on the recommendation of scout Germán Vaya, Mani, who had been captivated watching him play in Plasencia. He told Albert Benaiges who went to went to see the youngster take part in the 1995 Brunete tournament. He was so impressed that he told the boy's parents that there was no need for him to take part in a trial, he would enter the youth academy directly. Andrés, who was just 11 years old, has his doubts, but took the next step and after a lot of heartache, tears and effort went on to become a football legend.

It was the legendary Oriol Tort who spotted Xavi - as he had done years earlier when other, emerging talents like Guardiola, De la Peña, Puyol and Sergi had caught his eye. He had also wanted to bring Raúl and Michel Salgado to Barcelona. "I'll take the No.6 to Barça right now," Tort told Joaquim Hernández, the coach of the team where Xavi played. "That's my son," came back the reply. From that moment, he embarked on a path which Barça will never forget.