Tuesday, May 20, 2008

the future is bright

As things have gone from bad to worse recently, Barcelona fans have increasingly focused our hopes on young players coming out of the club's much praised youth system. In fact, most of the best and most consistent performers in the past two seasons have been new cantera graduates - Messi, Iniesta and Bojan in addition to those who have been stalwarts for a while like Xavi and Puyol.

Unfortunately, Barcelona's reserve side, Barca B (who will be changing their name back to Barca Athletic as of next season) were relegated from the Third Division (or Second B, as they call it in Spain) at the end of last season. They were directionless, unmotivated, and relying on a few star names (mainly Giovani Dos Santos and Bojan Krkic) to carry them through - is this starting to sound familiar to anyone?

Fortunately, the board bought back playing legend Pep Guardiola to coach the B team in June of last year. Since then, he's done a great job restoring discipline, morale and a sense of identity to a squad with no ideas, no direction who had been stripped of their brightest stars.

They've now won their group of the league and go into the promotion play-offs in a very favourable position for the semis as they'll be facing a team who finished fourth in their group and they'll have the second leg at home.

Congratulations to them.

And well done to Pep for this achievement (make no mistake, getting Barca B back in shape was a mission, no matter which division they were playing in). El Pais has a brilliant article on his coaching methods, hinting at what his approach to the first team will be like next season. It's well worth reading even through the muddle of Google Translate.

the kids are alright (and scarily talented)

There were 7 Barca players in the Spain squad that just won the European U17 title, beating France 4-0 in the final. (It would have been 8 or 9, but a couple of them got injured before the tournament - it seems the injury curse even affects the youth teams.)

They were: Alejandro 'Alex' Sánchez (GK), Carles Planas, Martín Montoya (DF), Oriol Romeu, Adriá Carmona, Thiago Alcántara (MF), Rubén Rochina (FW)

is a very promising fullback, which is nice as we haven't produced one in a while. Ruben the striker's not bad either - although he is, in the way that young players tend to be, a bit of a lone ranger. The big star amongst that group though is Thiago, who is the son of former Brazilian international Mazinho. He's a creative midfielder who has been compared in style to Deco.

(Ruben also deserves a special mention for scoring a brace for the Juvenil A team to win their Clasico against Real right after coming back from the tournament.)

And I haven't even mentioned Gai Assulin, the Israeli who has already made his debut with the national team at the age of 16, and who has made quite a splash in the B side this past season already.

At a time when the first team's reliance on the youth system is greater than ever, despite the increasing spending on big names, it's reassuring that we've got so much to look forward to.

(I am slowly and painfully writing my tribute to Frank Rijkaard, as well as an ode to the tridente (R-E-M) which was the most feared forward line in Europe for approximately one glorious year.)

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