The 20 Best Players to Have Graduated from Barcelona's La Masia Youth Academy

Jerrad PetersWorld Football Staff WriterApril 3, 2014

The 20 Best Players to Have Graduated from Barcelona's La Masia Youth Academy

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    Manu Fernandez

    Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu came out swinging, Thursday, accusing FIFA of being “aggressive” and “abusive” in its decision to penalise the club for alleged breaches of transfer regulations.

    “I would like to make it clear that Barca are in total agreement with FIFA’s rules regarding the protection of minors,” he said, adding that the Primera Division giants prided themselves on their youth academy, known as La Masia, as per Santi Gimenez of AS.

    In a FIFA ruling handed down on Wednesday, the governing body sentenced Barcelona to a transfer ban for what it described as “breaches relating to the international transfer and registration of players under the age of 18.”

    Bartomeu’s retort was that the La Masia model had been in place for 35 years and tended to offer better education than what its foreign youngsters could expect to receive in their own countries.

    “We are not prepared to forgo our educational model and we will defend all of the minors on our books,” he said. “The message we want to transmit is that La Masia cannot be touched.”

    La Masia, or “The Farmhouse,” has been in operation since 1979 and has graduated numerous footballers into Barcelona’s first team.

    Following is a look at its 20 most illustrious alumni.

20. Fernando Navarro

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    Barcelona-born, Fernando Navarro entered the club’s illustrious youth set-up as a 10-year-old, although he played parts of just three seasons at the Catalan giants.

    In 2006 he moved to Mallorca, and two years after that, he came to Sevilla as a transfer, where he blossomed into a dependable centre-back.

    Navarro has a Primera Division winner’s medal from the 2004-05 season, but in the spring of 2010, he helped Sevilla to reach the Copa del Rey.

19. Mikel Arteta

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    Mikel Arteta never played a single senior match for Barcelona.

    Instead, he was offloaded to Rangers in 2002 following a one-year loan at Paris Saint-Germain. A brief stop at Real Sociedad followed, but from 2005 until 2011, he made a name for himself as one of the Premier League’s better central midfielders while at Everton.

    In the summer of 2011, he transferred to Arsenal, where he is a regular starter in manager Arsene Wenger’s side.

18. Nayim

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    Nayim entered La Masia when he was 12, although, after graduating to the first team, he played only part of a single season at Camp Nou.

    The midfielder’s best football was played at Tottenham Hotspur, for whom he scored a hat-trick in an FA Cup quarter-final at Manchester City, and he was also part of the Real Zaragoza team that beat Arsenal in the final of the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

17. Luis Garcia Sanz

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    Few of La Masia’s graduates have been as well-liked as Luis Garcia.

    After leaving the club for Liverpool in 2004, he helped the Reds to a fifth European Cup and scored the infamous “ghost goal” that knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League.

    He was named to the UEFA Team of the Year for those heroics, and the following season he picked up an FA Cup winner’s medal after Liverpool beat West Ham in the final.

16. Cesc Fabregas

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    A youth player at Barcelona from 1997 to 2003, Cesc Fabregas spent eight seasons at Arsenal before being repatriated to the Catalan capital in 2011.

    An FA Cup winner with the Gunners, Fabregas added his first league title to his trophy cabinet last spring and also has a pair of European Championships and a World Cup triumph to his credit.

    As longtime midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta continue to get older, Fabregas' role at Barcelona will only become more prominent.

15. Pedro Rodriguez

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    He’s still only 26 years old, but already Pedro Rodriguez has won four La Liga titles and a pair of European Cups with Barcelona as well as both the World Cup and Euro 2012 with Spain.

    He’s one of the top goal-scorers to have ever graduated from La Masia, and in both 2009-10 and 2010-11, he managed more than 20 goals.

    He has 18 in all competitions so far this season.

14. Victor Valdes

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    It would be a shame if Victor Valdes’ final act for Barcelona was being carried off on a stretcher after suffering a cruciate ligament injury against Celta Vigo.

    A Barcelona player since the age of 10, the goalkeeper has never represented another club, and in a 12-year professional career, he has so far amassed six La Liga titles and three Champions League crowns.

    One of the effects of the FIFA ban is the likelihood that he’ll remain at Camp Nou another season, despite being out of contract in June.

13. Sergi Barjuan

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    Presently the manager of Recreativo Huelva, left-back Sergi Barjuan entered La Masia in 1988 and made his professional debut in 1993.

    Before retiring as an Atletico Madrid player in 2005, he won three league titles with the Blaugrana as well as the 1997 Cup Winners’ Cup and back-to-back Copa del Rey trophies in 1997 and 1998.

12. Thiago Motta

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    Born in Brazil, Thiago Motta arrived at La Masia as a 17-year-old in 1999, and two years later he made his senior debut against Mallorca.

    Largely a bit-player at Camp Nou, he nevertheless won both La Liga and the Champions League with Barcelona in 2006 before joining Atletico Madrid the following year.

    A treble winner at Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in 2010, he is presently playing some of the best football of his career for Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain.

11. Luis Milla

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    CESAR RANGEL

    It’s perhaps ironic that a player trained by Barcelona spent his best footballing years wearing the shirt of Real Madrid.

    After making his debut for the Blaugrana in the 1984-85 season during a players’ strike, Luis Milla completed six campaigns for the club that yielded a league title, a Cup Winners’ Cup and the Copa del Rey.

    But at Real Madrid he won a pair of championships, and in 1999 he added a fourth domestic title while at Valencia.

10. Gerard Pique

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    After entering La Masia in 1997, Gerard Pique spent seven years in the Barcelona youth set-up before moving to Manchester United in 2004.

    The central defender made 28 appearances for the Red Devils in 2007-08 and the following spring was part of the side that claimed a Premier League and Champions League double.

    But he was promptly returned to Barcelona, where from 2008 until the present he has won four La Liga titles and two European Cups.

9. Ivan De La Pena

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    Few Spanish footballers of recent times carry the same cult status as Ivan de la Pena.

    Immensely talented, the diminutive midfielder joined La Masia as a 15-year-old, and two years later he made his senior debut.

    A Primera Division champion in 1998, he never got on with manager Louis van Gaal, and later that summer he was sold to Serie A side Lazio.

    In 2011 he wrapped up his career at Espanyol, where he picked up a Copa del Rey winner’s medal in 2006.

8. Sergio Busquets

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    Sergio Busquets has shielded the Barcelona defense since breaking into the senior team in 2008.

    Renowned for his hard-tackling style, the 25-year-old is also a masterful passer of the ball and already has four league titles and two Champions League crowns to his name.

7. Albert Ferrer

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    Now the manager of Cordoba, Albert Ferrer was Barcelona’s first-choice right-back during much of the 1990s and helped the Blaugrana to five Primera Division titles and the 1992 European Cup.

    In total Ferrer won 15 trophies while at Camp Nou, and after moving to Chelsea in 1998, he helped the Blues to the 2000 FA Cup.

    Ferrer also won 36 caps for Spain during an eight-year international career.

6. Guillermo Amor

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    Guillermo spent eight years in the Barcelona youth set-up before making his senior debut in 1988.

    Over a decade with the Catalan giants, the elegant midfielder won 17 trophies, including five La Liga titles and the European Cup.

    His best season was the 1993-94 campaign, when he made 53 appearances for Barcelona and scored 11 goals en route to the title.

5. Carles Puyol

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    The club captain of the modern Barcelona team, Carles Puyol arrived at La Masia as a 17-year-old before becoming one of the finest central defenders in the club’s history.

    Over 15 years with the first team, the now-35-year-old has amassed six La Liga titles and three European Cups, and he also has two European Championships and a World Cup to his name for Spain.

    Earlier this season Puyol announced he’d be leaving Barcelona at the end of the season, and when he does, he’ll leave a legacy almost unmatched at Camp Nou.

4. Pep Guardiola

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    Speaking of legacy, Pep Guardiola has left quite an imprint at Barcelona—both as a player and manager.

    Turned into a central midfielder by former boss Johan Cruyff, Guardiola became one of the best players at his position during 11 years with the senior Barcelona side after promotion from the youth set-up in 1990.

    A seven-time league winner and European champion as a player, Guardiola went on to win three Primera Division titles and two Champions Leagues during a glorious four-year run as club manager.

3. Andres Iniesta

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    If he didn’t play in the same team as Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta would be viewed as the finest Barcelona player of his generation.

    Although, third out of those three is nothing to sneeze at.

    A playmaker who can operate both in the centre of the park and to the left of the attack, the 29-year-old has been integral to the latest period of Barcelona success and also scored the 2010 World Cup-winning goal for Spain in South Africa.

2. Xavi Hernandez

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    Xavi Hernandez will go down as one of the best distributors of a football of all time.

    After entering La Masia as a 10-year-old, Xavi spent six years in the club’s youth set-up before making his senior debut in 1998.

    He has since won seven La Liga titles, three European Cups, the World Cup and a pair of European Championships.

    Twice voted to third place on the Ballon d’Or ballot, he would almost certainly have claimed the award at least once if it weren’t for the duopoly of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

1. Lionel Messi

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    By now, Lionel Messi’s story is well-known.

    In 2000, the then-Newell’s Old Boys youngster moved to Barcelona after the club offered to pay for his growth-hormone treatment.

    The rest, as they say, is history.

    After spending four years at La Masia, Messi burst onto the scene in 2004, and by 2009 he was widely regarded as world football’s best player.

    The 26-year-old has already won the Ballon d’Or on four occasions, and in addition to numerous domestic and European titles, he has also scored more than 50 goals in a season on three occasions, hitting a high point of 73 in 2011-12.