Blueprint for Football blog - linked by the Guardian - posted an interview with a journalist who had access into the cantera of Barcelona, covering his observations.
You can read the whole thing here:
I found these quotes the most interesting:
How are the players chosen? What skills do you want?
Technique, tactical intelligence and mental speed. These three traits are the ones that matter. Players with very good technique, who are able to understand the game (not just play, but also understand it) and speed of mind.
Is physical strength and height given much importance?
None. Barca does not care about the size of the player. The three parameters I mentioned are the only ones that matter. Not even if you stand out during a tournament. Indeed, Barcelona often signe kids that have gone unnoticed in a tournament, but have those three potential features.
Inevitably, there will be clubs that try to copy the what Barca have done, but in my opinion, few will succeed unless they have a philosophy of play of their own. You can take something that the club is doing and copy it, but you have to put in their own ingredients. Do you agree?
Absolutely. The basic aspects of Barca’s system was to have an idea of how to play the game, create a training model, find the type of player that adapts to it and spend many years and energies in this operation. But each club should put in the pot their own ingredients, no doubt.
There is the question about how far the academies in Canada and the rest of the MLS are going to follow this model. Also there is a mystification about Barcelona, about how well they do things, often forgetting how much money they also have at their disposal. While there are other clubs who might be richer, they might not see player development as the most important part of their 'business' (see RM's luxury UAE hotel/island fantasy land as an alternative business plan).
While a lot is made of how successful Barcelona's academy is, I'm wondering if there are not more accessible examples for clubs like TFC to follow? I'm impressed how Uruguayan clubs have managed to produce such a significant number of talented players from a very small population (3.3 million in the whole country, maybe half living in and around Montevideo). Yet there is a consistent flow of high-quality professional players. Granted 'football' is the culture; there is much less of anything else in terms of sport. But their clubs, nevertheless, seem to produce players on what must be very limited budgets. Outside of the two major clubs, Peñarol and Nacional, there is not a significant fan-base; yet second-tier clubs like Danubio, Defensor, Wanderers, Liverpool, amongst a few others have their youth-products on the national team.
Are there other 'hot spots' of academies in the world that might be interesting places to explore?
Andrew, New York City
They have spent significant amount of money on bringing Fabregas back and Mascherano from Liverpool. Alves comes from Brazil. But the point about money: the facilities of the academy cost a lot, some of the players were very expensive at the time (who could afford to support Messi's family while he received specialized medical treatment on the 'hope' he would turn out as he has?), and keeping a complete coaching staff away from poaching. All these things require lots of money. Also today's squad is, I think, second or third highest paid in all of football (I imagine Madrid is clear leader and ManCity is second). Money is important for keeping them 'together' to make the impression on the world that the academy has, while other models might actually be more effective/efficient from a realistic perspective - but do not get the world attention because they do not have a hundred million euro to keep the squad together for two decades.
As someone who gets to wander around the Barça academy by virtue of being a club member, I can say that the facility is new and that most of the so-called results can be attributed to 40 beds in an old stone farm house beside Camp Nou, with a half size practice field. The Masia started to get used in the 80s seriously, as a residence for kids from outside Barcelona who could not study away and train in the city. It was where most of the current crop spent their time, while the new academy facilities are for the next wave I'd say. Meaning the new investment has yet to play out, and so you can't say "it is costly and that is why it produces champions." The Masia was very inexpensive to run and produced early players from outside Barcelona like Milla and Amor, then Guardiola, and current players like Xavi and Puyol, Iniesta, Valdes, Cesc (remember he was world U-17 player of the tournament in Finland before Arsenal signed him), Pique and Pedro. And it was dead cheap and cosy and small.
Sure there are new stars coming up, but that has to do with how Barça signs, not the money in the academy, as you sign well and keep the talent and groom it. The other week I saw an u-14 friendly vs. Arsenal, and two of the hottest Barça players were Korean, one Lee, the other Jang. A good mid was a Greek who was raised in Germany, Yorgos Spanudakis. We were sitting beside some u-16s watching (Cornejo) and a young black player with a huge smile came by, this was Bobby, signed from Ajax, also thirteen. Incredible footwork, seen him on tv. Barça does indeed sign foreigners then, and lots of them, so they are not locals and when they come into the system they are already special. Has to be said. Then they have to learn the Barça system, but the talent is often already there.
Next is how Barça signs. More or less this is correct, football quality is key. Barça does evaluate quality in a tournament and quality in general, this word gets used a lot, "calidad", it is ambiguous but people understand it, Cruyff always uses it. Pedro was signed this way, they went to see Jeffren in a tournament in the Canary Is and saw Pedro, and he had quality. Barça seeks players with good control, a sure pass, a dribble, heads up play. Position on the pitch is almost irrelevant, except for keepers, so they do not even specifically look for a central defender profile, or a wing. Basically the closer a kid is to Xavi or Iniesta the better, and then, if he is taller and tenacious defending, might end up on the back line. You have to be fast thinking, yes, and have sharp technique, which is what Barça teaches above all and what makes it possible for players to stand in tight circles in key matches and do tiny passes to each other without the rival being able to take the ball away. Discipline and a focussed attitude. Almost all of Barça players are from very modest backgrounds, quite a few are in fact religious (Christian, Muslim), most have strong family backing. The other day I saw that Neymar bought a huge yacht and thought that is it, no way we'll sign you now. Right now the only Barça player from wealthy background outside of football is Pique, the only privileged players are Thiago, his dad being a great. And Busquets, for his dad, though the family is modest as hell. You sign attitude as well.
Then, Barça has downsized with the new facility. There is more space and better facilities, but less academy players. Barça used to have a C team, no more. There used to be three or even four each teams at the U-14, U-16 and U-19 levels, now only two of each. This means a smaller coaching staff, easier coordination, less logistics, and a smaller player pool above all. Better facilities and less kids coming up. So you sort of put all your eggs in the baskets you have and go from there.
Another comment: Barça does not have the best youth program in Spain, all it has is a board of directors and coaching staff that believe in promoting kids from the academy to play in the first team. It is brave and unique, but that does not mean the material is better. As strong academies as Barcelona in Spain: Madrid, Bilbao, Espanyol, Gijon, Betis, to name just a few.
Finally, i do not see how most of this could be applied to Canadian development. A club has to decide it wants to play a certain way first, and that all the academy will do so, be it the academy of a pro team or a small amateur club. And that usually means having a director and the key people in the coaching staff in agreement. The club style has to be part of the strategic planning of the academy, the coaches and board and then parents have to be on board. So few academies can get anywhere near to this, they simply do not have the know-how. Adn if they did....
The second problem in Canada is that we do not compete at soccer. In Spain you do, as you do in Mexico, or in Colombia, or Turkey. We don't. In Barcelona it is very competitive, from the lowest to the highest tiers, starting basically at age 6-7. By age 11-12 even the modest clubs are screening players to improve the overall quality of their teams, there are tryouts. Kids change clubs to find a better level or coaching, and do so only pending approval of the Catalan federation, it is actually similar to the pros. If you do not compete, if kids are not into it mentally, if there is no incentive, you have no way of knowing how good you are or how tough it really can be out there. So you can imitate the Barça method all you want, but if there is no place to test your real level, there is no point.
"Also in the side was an unnamed trialist"
Temple of Saints News Archive, Oct. 3, 2000
There is a club in BC that appears to have taken on the Barcelona "plan". It's an amateur club with it's senior men's and women's teams playing in the Pacific Coast Soccer League, Vancouver Metro Soccer League (men and women), BC Soccer Premier League (youth) and on down the ladder. They are Coquitlam Metro Ford. Every team appears to play a very similar style, that adapts somewhat to suit the players at their disposal. It works VERY well for CMF. Another club at the youth level here I've seen who is somewhat similar in this regard is Richmond Youth, and to a degree, Burnaby Selects....otherwise it's largely a mish-mash from team to team, club to club. Victoria Highlanders appear to promote a "club style" but I've only ever seen one of their teams play and it wasn't the PDL team.
Folks often wonder what club style may mean. At my kid's club they say they play 4-4-2. I don't know why, and I think that it is not a style, it is a tactical option. Perhaps it is a way of managing coaches. For me this is not a style.
Style is not letting everyone play or being fair or not screaming at the kids from the bench. Or that no coach can smoke in front of kids. That is simply a club policy.
Style could be that you always try to play out from the keeper and not kick out unless all options are covered. This is hard to learn, few youth clubs in Spain even do it, as you tend to lose the ball and the other team scores easy goals on you. Until you learn the system. In my kid's league only one team plays this way always, and they happen to be leader. So all power to them. If you do this across the board by the second year you do it better and so forth. But it means being good passing. So you work on the skills that enable you to play a style.
Likewise, another style would be to play very wide when you have the ball and pressure up high and very tight when you do not. This is a Barça trademark too, and I think it makes sense. It means you have to sign wing material or groom it. And you need conditioning defending. I think it is great for kids as they do two very different things with and without the ball, have to make those transitions and it means total team play.
If any club in Canada is working on a distinct style that means more technique and not less, then all power to them. The more the merrier. And if they are successful great, because then opposing team players and parents say "Why can't we play like that?" and put the pressure on their clubs to be more ambitious about football skills.
"Also in the side was an unnamed trialist"
Temple of Saints News Archive, Oct. 3, 2000
It definitely is the problem with talking about formations, many people think that formation = style, rather than recognizing that the 'style' of play should dictate what is a team's base form.
In developing a 'style' there still the need to recognize the basic skills: passing, ball control, positioning, proper kicking, tackling, etc. These skills need to be developed generally, as well as specifically to the 'style'. At so many levels there is very little work on basic skills and basic characteristics of players. Young players are in formation, whether they turn out to be an all out battler or whether they are more caution and more concerned about position are part personality, part training. Different playing styles will depend on varying sets of skills and characters.