Barcelona Youth Team in 1999 with Gerard Pique second from left back row and Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal) bottom left. “Notice only 7v7 at the younger age”
John Napier Reports on Barcelona's Approach to Youth Development.
John Napier: I came across this very informative article recently. It was written by Mike Woitalla, it really takes us into the everyday scene at the Barcelona Academy headquarters. Mike has been around many years writing about American Soccer. It is a great article on the youth development of the best soccer club in the world.
Mike Woitalla: A few years ago, while visiting Spain, I looked into to its approach to youth development. Since then, Spain has won the 2008 European Championship and Barcelona won the 2009 UEFA Champions League.
John Napier: Since then, Spain has won the most recent FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2010 in South Africa, and the team is considered the most technically gifted in world soccer. Many of the Barcelona players play on the Spanish National team. All their teams won their titles playing attractive, attack-minded soccer in an era dominated by cautious, defensive play. As coaches have become ever more obsessed with strength and size, Barcelona and Spain's star players are notable for their skill and small stature.
| Pep Guardiola
Among those Mike spoke to were Jose Ramon Alexanco, the director of Barcelona's youth program, and Pep Guardiola, who at the time had just been named coach of Barcelona's reserve team. Guardiola, one of Barca's all-time great players, had come through the Barcelona youth system, which he joined in 1984 at age 13. Guardiola has been the head coach since 2008, and proceeded to guide Barcelona to La Liga titles and the Champions League crown, the team is dominated by several products of Barcelona's youth program, the cantera, including Lionel Messi, Victor Valdes, Carlos Puyol, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
"Our aim is to help young players to understand the game," said Guardiola. "Of course, there is the emphasis on the technical, which is where it all starts. But we want the players to learn how to think fast. We want them to learn how to run little, but run smart." He echoed Johan Cruyff, the Dutchman who coached the great Barcelona teams that won the 1992 European Cup and four straight La Liga titles with Guardiola in midfield. Johan Cruyff said, "All coaches talk too much about running a lot. I say it's not necessary to run so much. Soccer is a game that's played with the brain. You need to be in the right place at the right time, not too early, not too late."
John Napier: We are really behind in this area of the soccer game; quickness of mind is just as important as the quickness of feet, if you have both at an early age, you have a “big advantage”. It is very hard to teach this concept of the game to young players.
Mike Woltalla: Barcelona style soccer is intelligent soccer. Alexanco provided me with details on how Barcelona ran its youth teams.
"We don't demand that the youth teams win," said Alexanco. "We demand that they play good soccer. We don't use the word, 'winning.' Not until after the players reach age 16 is there fitness training and that is also the age that we start to concentrate on the technical, tactical and physical requirements they need for the first team," Alexanco said. "Before that age, we mainly play soccer. Everything is with the ball. We work on skills and some tactics."
John Napier: This is a very interesting comment, as most of our youth clubs have very demanding fitness programs from an early age, maybe one of the reasons we have very good athletics and less technical players, too much running, not enough technical work. The Barcelona program fields teams from age 10 up. The 10-year olds - the begamins - practice four days a week, in 45 minutes sessions, and play 7 v 7 games on the weekend. All of the older age groups play 11 v 11.
John Napier: 7-v-7, at the younger ages, is something U.S. soccer has been talking about for quite a while. I am certainly all for the same format, with more touches on the ball; forcing the players to make quicker and better technical decisions with the ball. Interesting how Barcelona doesn't mention U8 or U9 teams.
says, "They play the same system, in the 4-3-3 formation, used by first team. The developmental teams have to reflect the personality of the first team. That also means playing attacking, attractive soccer. That's what our fans demand and what we want to give them."
Through age 17, Barcelona fields two teams at each age group. Each player plays at least 45 percent of the games.
Choosing the right players for its youth program is the key to its success. Barcelona does not hold tryouts. "They don't work," says Alexanco. Charged with finding the talents are the ojeadores, the scouts. The players they pick come in for trials before they are invited to join the cantera.
Barcelona employs 25 scouts throughout Spain, with at least one in each province. They convene twice a year at Barcelona, where the bosses reiterate the criteria and quality they're seeking in players.
Barcelona also works with about 30 youth clubs throughout Catalonia, with the aim of finding players from the province it prides itself on representing, and it uses contacts throughout the world to find players.
"You have to have eyes everywhere," Alexanco says. "You need to see the kids who are playing soccer on the playground.
"We're looking for players who have technique and speed, and who look like players. And we're looking for players who offer something different."
John Napier: For many years now Barcelona program has been the model of consistency and admired through out the world, their brand of soccer makes them unique and most times unstoppable. When they travel to play in any country, the stadiums are always full; people want to see the beautiful game played by the most talented group of players assembled on one team, which is probably one of the best ever. To look at this team and you see that most players have come through their youth system, makes it even more remarkable.
Girls 95 ODP Head Coach