5 Barcelona Youth Players Destined for the Starting XI
Barcelona's youth academy, or La Masia as it is more commonly known, is surely the elite site for the development of young players in world football.
Recent notable alumni include the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi—some of the greatest to have played the game.
With close to 300 players currently on the books, the majority of whom are either schoolboys or teenagers, it is a reliable production line for the club's future superstars.
The newest batch of fledgling talent includes some exceptionally gifted youngsters, but here are just five who have the potential to one day play and star for the Blaugrana first team.
Left-back Alejandro Grimaldo made his debut for the Barcelona B team aged only 15—the youngest player to have ever done so.
Grimaldo was snared from the Valencia setup in his preteen schoolboy years, his raw talent evident to Barca scouts even then.
Quick and a real attacking threat going forward, he initially started life as a winger before being converted to the full-back role he now inhabits.
Off the pitch, he possesses a tough, determined mentality—exactly the kind of personality needed to trouble Jordi Alba for his place in the team in the coming seasons.
Jean Marie Dongou
To this day, Samuel Eto'o's influence in Catalonia is still felt, with bulky forward Jean Marie Dongou set to perhaps one day follow in the trail blazed by his fellow Cameroonian.
Dongou possesses amazing strength and tenacity for a 17-year-old, but can also outrun just about anyone in the Segunda Division.
The unique physical specimen is a humble individual off the pitch. He works hard and dedicates himself to development in training.
His former youth team coach, Oscar Garcia, has said of him (via FootballThatsAll.com): "The kid has no limits, no ceiling, so long as he continues his development the way he is."
Quite possibly the jewel in the La Masia crown, Gerard Deulofeu has already made his long awaited debut for the first team, but greater days lie ahead.
Lightning-quick with unbelievable skill, the 18-year-old Spanish winger is capable of beating retreating defenders with ease.
He has starred for the Spanish Under-19 team in the past, compared by some to one Lionel Messi in enterprising creativity.
Deulofeu's passing and vision should not go unappreciated. He has a real knack at racking up the assists for whichever team he plays for.
Billed as a more attacking version of his older brother, Thiago, Rafa Alcantara (also known as Rafinha) is yet another Barcelona youngster waiting patiently in the wings for a chance with the first team.
The 19-year-old sensation possesses excellent technical ability and is comfortable on the ball in any situation.
Rapidly improving tactically, Rafinha has the potential to one day even eclipse his brother in terms of ability.
Descended from the Brazilian 1994 World Cup-winning Mazinho, he has football in his blood.
Last but certainly not least, Sergi Samper is a young and technical genius with a footballing intelligence way beyond those in his age bracket.
He has been compared by some to Cesc Fabregas, but fellow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and La Liga expert Michael Cerna describes him as "a deeper lying playmaker who can be the next Busquets or even Xavi."
His passing range is extraordinary, his vision superb. Samper is one talent destined to star for Barcelona's first team.
What do you think of Barcelona's current crop of youngsters? Who else at La Masia will one day star for the club?