20 Barcelona Youngsters Who Never Stepped Up
Barcelona's famed academy is probably the best known throughout the world.
La Masia—literal translation "The Farmhouse"—has been an integral part of the Barca model since Laureano Ruiz took the reins in the early 1970s.
Johan Cruyff is often credited as the architect of the Barca way of playing that we see today, and his insistence that all Barca teams play the same way, from the youngest to the first team, has certainly paid dividends.
"Tiki-taka," as Cruyff's style has come to be known, is copied worldwide, but never bettered, and some of the best exponents of the style have grown up in La Masia.
But what of those for whom great things were predicted but never quite materialised?
Let's take a look at 20 youngsters that didn't make the grade at Camp Nou.
Cristobal who? Cristobal Parralo was a right-back of some renown in Barcelona's youth ranks in the late 1980s.
Just as comfortable in the centre of defence, Parralo should've been a mainstay of the senior side, but after a decent spell in Barca's B side he was shipped out to Real Oviedo after just 20 first-team appearances.
Continued excellence in Oviedo and next club Logrones saw the player make his way back to Camp Nou in 1991 but any joy was short-lived as he was sent back to Oviedo after just one season.
Mauro Icardi signed to Barca after scoring over 500 goals in the youth ranks at Vecindario.
Bizarrely, the Blaugrana barely used him in the U17 and U19 sides during his three seasons at the club and he was sold to Sampdoria before even reaching reserve-team level.
It's fair to suggest that more was expected of Oriol Riera during his time in Blaugrana.
Six successful years in the youth teams saw a natural progression for the 6'1" striker in the Barca C then B sides, but just 16 goals over two-and-a-half years was a poor return. It left the club with no option but to let him go.
Currently at Osasuna, Riera's tenure at five clubs in six years since leaving Barca speaks for itself.
Jonathan Soriano was as prolific a striker as Barcelona B have seen.
In 84 appearances over two-and-a-half years, Soriano found the net on 59 occasions, including 32 in his second season, a Liga Adelante record.
Such prowess should have seen a spot on the first-team squad, but instead the player was deemed surplus to requirement and left for Red Bull Salzburg, where he has gone on to score 43 goals in 56 games!
Alberto Botia is a 6'2" central defender of the type Barca have been crying out for over the years.
Great in the air, quick over the ground and with good feet, Botia can rightly be compared to Gerard Pique in the style stakes.
Unfortunately, those in charge at La Masia never made the connection.
After seven years at the academy, Botia was allowed to leave after a single substitute appearance for the senior team in May 2009, ironically for Pique.
Still just 25 years of age, it's fair to assume that the player has his best years ahead of him.
With Barca still struggling in central defence, they might well regret allowing a ready-made replacement to leave before having a chance to properly establish himself.
Oriol Romeu joined Barca from local rivals Espanyol in 2004, where he had played at youth level for three years.
After seven years in Blaugrana, Romeu might reasonably have expected to have more than a single senior appearance under his belt.
Twenty-two appearances in two years for the Blues was a marginally better return, but a serious knee injury curtailed any further progress at the London club.
Fifty-nine appearances in two years for the B side promised much, but after Pep Guardiola gave him his senior bow in May 2009, after Barca had already been crowned La Liga champions, he went on to play just one more game in Blaugrana.
Fernando Navarro was another player who spent his entire youth at La Masia, only to fall short when being promoted to the first team.
Eight years spent at the academy was followed by five in the senior set up, but on only 21 occasions during that time did the defender make it onto the pitch.
Loans to Albacete and Mallorca followed, as did a permanent transfer to the latter in 2006.
Cristian Lobato was an important part of Eusebio Sacristan's Barca B side for two seasons, making 57 appearances and scoring eight goals.
Along with Gerard Deulofeu and Luis Alberto, Lobato terrorised the defences of the Liga Adelante.
His important contributions earned him a spot in Pep Guardiola's 2011 pre-season squad and a debut in July against Hadjuk Split, but that would be the only time he troubled the senior team's selectors.
Released in the summer of 2013, a proposed five-year deal with Real Zaragoza collapsed after Lobato failed his medical.
After recovering from the knee injury that put paid to his transfer, the player signed a short-term six-month deal with Osasuna in January 2014.
Fourteen years spent in Barca's youth ranks did nothing to enhance Victor Vazquez's claims for a first-team berth.
The attacking midfielder only managed a single La Liga appearance (in April 2008) and two in the Champions league spaced two years apart.
With confidence waning and nowhere to go at Barca, a move was inevitable. Club Brugge secured the player in April 2011 where he remains.
Marc Muniesa's debut against Osasuna in May 2009 was an eventful one, but not in the way he would've hoped.
Becoming the second-youngest player to make his debut for the first team at 17 years and 57 days, within 10 minutes Muniesa's obvious joy was quashed, a mistimed tackle earning him a straight red card.
Only four more appearances over the next four years followed, mainly as a sub in "dead rubber" Champions League group games.
A transfer to Premier League side Stoke City was the best outcome for all parties, although at this juncture, he has just half a dozen games under his belt for the Potters.
Marc Crosas is another of the '87 generation that just wasn't up to the job.
From 2002-2007 he was a mainstay in Barca's C and B teams, but like so many others in this list, he could not transfer that form to senior level.
The winning penalty in the 2007 Copa Catalunya final against Espanyol was as good as it got in the first team for Crosas.
It remains one of only four goals he has scored in 12 years of football.
Within a season, Crosas realised what a mistake he had made and hopped on the plane to Mexico, where he plays for Santos Laguna in the Liga Bancomer MX.
Marc Valiente joined Barca's youth ranks at age 10 and in a team replete with the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, was the captain throughout their progression to the senior levels of the club.
Whilst his contemporaries have gone on to dominate world football in the first team, Valiente made only one appearance in a Copa del Rey tie against Badalona in 2008.
A transfer to Sevilla was hastily arranged amidst much confusion, and Valiente was gone.
Only three senior appearances in three years for the Andalusians saw him transferred again, this time to Real Valladolid, where he remains.
Defensive midfielder Victor Sanchez had a Barca career to forget.
Making his way up through the youth ranks for three years before making his debut in 2008, he suffered a remarkable fall from grace due to the exceptional form of Sergio Busquets.
Unable to make his mark in the first team with just eight games in the season, Sanchez was loaned to Xerez for the entire 2009-10 campaign and to Getafe for 2010-11.
Both player and club agreed to terminate his contract by mutual consent in June 2011, whereupon he joined Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax.
Just a season later, Sanchez returned to Catalonia and to Barca's local rivals Espanyol, where he has become an important first-team staff member.
There is no doubting what the highlight of Jeffren Suarez's Barcelona career was.
On November 29, 2010, the youngster came off of the bench to score the fifth goal in Barcelona's epic 5-0 win over Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid.
It was one of only three goals scored for the senior team in three seasons.
A star for Barca's B and C teams, his move up to the first team was a step too far.
After just 22 appearances, he was sold to Sporting in Portugal.
Jonathan Dos Santos
Still currently a Barcelona player, charting the career of Jonathan dos Santos is excruciatingly painful.
A one-club man since 2002 and captain of the club's Juvenil A (U18) side in 2008, Luis Enrique saw enough in him to integrate him into the Barca B side in 2009.
Not long afterwards Pep Guardiola would have him as part of the first-team picture.
Yet, in the five years since his debut against Cultural Leonesa in October 2009, dos Santos has only managed a paltry 14 appearances, mostly as substitute.
He is destined to become one of Barca's forgotten men, despite having a contract at the club until 2015.
Only the most optimistic person would expect that the player will get anywhere near a regular first-team starting berth in the future.
Giovani Dos Santos
When Giovani dos Santos broke through into Barca's first team in 2007 after five successful years in the youth teams, it's fair to suggest that there was a "buzz" about the player.
Yet by May 17, 2008 we had seen the Mexican's final performance in a Barca shirt. Eight months from hero to zero.
Another who suffered from the great weight of expectation of being a Barcelona first-teamer.
In danger of becoming a journeyman professional, dos Santos' wares were hawked around Europe via spells at Tottenham Hotspur, Ipswich Town, Galatasaray, Racing Santander and Mallorca in the space of four years.
Now settled at Villarreal, he has finally started to find somewhere near his best form again.
Isaac Cuenca had two spells at La Masia punctuated by time spent at Espanyol, CF Damm and Reus, before signing on with Barca B in 2010.
Only six games in, he was loaned out to Sabadell to get games under his belt, and he returned in 2011 to make his debut for the Barcelona first team.
Since then, Cuenca has only made a further 15 appearances for the Blaugrana in a senior career blighted by serious injury.
Loaned to Ajax on the final day of the January 2013 transfer window, by March of the same year the youngster suffered another serious knee injury and is only now starting to get anywhere close to full match fitness.
It's debatable he will have a future at Camp Nou, given that in his preferred wide positions he has the likes of Neymar, Pedro Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez and Cristian Tello ahead of him.
Not to mention a returning Gerard Deulofeu once his Everton loan deal expires.
Bojan Krkic's scoring record at La Masia is legendary.
Joining as a nine-year-old, he proceeded to become the highest scorer in academy history with over 900 goals (per Pete Jensen of the Independent) in his eight years there, before graduating to the first team.
In one season alone he scored over 200 goals!
The problem for Bojan, as we soon discovered, was that he had not had any real competition during those academy years. He was the man.
Once an initial burst onto the first-team stage had fizzled out, Bojan had no answers and he became a bit-part player.
Stronger, more adept defenders were easily able to out-muscle and out-think the lightweight Krkic. The dip in his confidence was marked and he never recovered.
Loan moves to Roma and AC Milan garnered limited success and with no real prospect of forcing his way back into the first-team picture, he was loaned out again at the beginning of the 2013-14 season to Dutch champions Ajax.
Gai Assulin didn't stand a chance.
Dubbed "the new Messi" almost immediately, it was obvious that anyone with such a moniker was always going to suffer in the spotlight. So it was with the gifted Assulin.
It started well for the young Israeli. After graduating to Barca B at 16 in 2007, he was offered a three-year deal with a €20 million buy-out clause.
Sixty-seven appearances in three seasons were also peppered with fleeting glimpses in the first-team picture.
Assulin never really recovered from missing almost the entire 2008-09 season through injury, and he was far from the player whom Barca expected him to become.
Nevertheless, he was offered a contract renewal in 2010, which was refused on the basis it still wouldn't guarantee him first-team football.
It was the player's biggest mistake.
A move to Manchester City ended when a similar situation to that which he had experienced at Barca occurred, Assulin only considered good enough for the Elite Development Squad.
Still only 22, Assulin now plies his trade on loan at lowly Hercules. Hardly the destination that the "new Messi" would've envisaged ending up at just seven short years ago.