For years, Barcelona has been a club marked by a very clear approach to the game of football, defined by an academy program that has produced some of the best players in the world over the last 15 years.
But on Sunday, Barcelona’s starting XI away to Leganes contained only one Spanish born player (Sergi Roberto), for the first time in their 118-year history.
What happened to the famed La Masia’s production line that produced the likes of Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi?
One reason for the lack of La Masia graduates in the first team squad is that in recent years, many of them have left the club because they could not get in the first team. A generation of local talent like Marc Bartra, Sergi Samper, Thiago Alcantara, Munir El Haddadi, Sandro Ramirez, and Isaac Cuenca have all been sold or loaned out.
The other reason for the lack of homegrown players in the first team squad is that the pipeline has suddenly gone dry. There is nobody at the academy level who is ready to break into the squad. Carles Alena has made the leap to the first-team intermittently with Nili Perdomo, technically the club’s only fit alternative at right-back, and Marlon occasionally involved but both coming to the Camp Nou via other academies.
What is remarkable is how quickly this change took place at Barcelona. It was just a little over four years ago that Barcelona played Levante and at one point had 11 players on the pitch who had all came through La Masia.
And at that point, the team was: Valdés, Montoya, Piqué, Puyol, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Pedro, Messi.
Now, little more than four years later, the game against Leganes on Sunday at Camp Nou saw a line up comprising of one German, three French players, a Croat, a Portuguese, two Brazilians, an Argentine, a Uruguayan and just one Catalan.
It may be a one off,, there were six Spanish players on the bench (five who had played for Barça B or the youth teams at the club), but it’s data which strengthens the theory that the Barça DNA is being lost.
Some will blame Luis Enrique for lacking trust in the academy players, but there is a genuine drop-off in the La Masia production line.
That lack of production has forced a change in playing style over the last couple of seasons, taking the club away from the philosophies that made them the best side in the world.