Barçelona's youth system is unique, not only in the standard of player it produces, but also in the methods of training and education used when grooming the game's next generation of stars.
Six players who went through the famous Barçelona youth system played in Gelsekirchen against Shalke 04 on Tuesday night, continuing Barçelona's long tradition of successfully bringing young players from its lower ranks.
Victor Valdés, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Bojan Krkic were all in the starting 11 against the German team, with Giovani dos Santos coming on in the second half.
This is all the more impressive when you consider the number of other teams playing with products of their youth system in the same round of the Champions League, Europe's most prestigious competition, was only two.
It is also the more special considering many of these young players come from Catalonia, where they have been schooled in the proud history of the club and the culture.
In the global market game that is world football, it is ever important and unique that Barçelona can put out a team with such strong Catalan roots, players such as Oleguer, Xavi, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, and Bojan Krkic.
When you also include players like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Giovani dos Santos, each of whom has risen through the Barçelona academy, you then have a group of players who passionately know what it means to represent their club.
Due to their education and development from such a young age, the players understand and respect Barçelona's history, routes, and culture. However, this is not to say they ignore other areas of Spain or indeed the wider world. For example, Andres Iniesta was plucked from Albacete when he was only 12 years of age.
The coach at Barçelona's training cantera—the term used in Spain to refer to youth academies—is Jose Ramon Alexanco, captain of Barçelona's European Cup team that won the trophy at Wembley Stadium in 1992.
Barçelona's cantera consists of 290 players, 15 teams, and 110 employees. Of the current first team squad, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Oleguer, Giovanni Dos Santos, Leo Messi, Bojan Krkic, and Albert Jorquera have all come up through the ranks at the Camp Nou.
Barçelona's youth system, it is worth noting, has also produced successful players who are no longer at the club, but were brought through and educated at their cantera, such as Cesc Fabregas who is at Arsenal, Pepe Reina of Liverpool, Mikel Arteta of Everton, and Gerard Pique of Manchester United.
One of the world's best and most exciting young players, Leo Messi, believes the education he received at cantera was vital and of extreme importance in his education.
"The Barcelona youth programme is one of the best in the world," Messi said. "As a kid they teach you not to play to win, but to grow in ability as a player. At Barca, we trained every day with the ball, and I hardly ever ran without a ball at my feet. It was a form of training aimed very clearly at developing your skills."
Barçelona are unique in many ways, as is their approach and success in the ability to groom and develop young players, which is no easy task. Although they also spend money on the transfer market, unlike many of their peers the club has its routes firmly in its youth system, quite simply a cantera to be proud of.
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