The team that lined up to collect the Champions League winners' medals in Rome was special.
Special because of their scintillating performances throughout the season.
Special because never had they given up their philosophy of playing good, attacking football.
Special because they were the first Spanish team to do the treble.
But this team was special for another reason. It was the team with the maximum number of homegrown players, who were taught the beautiful game and nurtured into talents in an 18th century estate right next to the gigantic Camp Nou stadium.
The team was Barcelona, and it was special because of La Masia, the most legendary youth academy in the world.
La Masia, which means "estate" or "country house" in Catalan, was built in 1702. It was originally a country residence. When the Camp Nou was built right next to it in 1957, La Masia was remodelled into the club's social headquarters and inaugurated in 1966. In 1979, it became the residence of youth players who lived and plyed their trade at Barcelona.
It has become so legendary, that Barcelona's youth academy is now known simply as La Masia.
At La Masia, children are brought up to play the most beautiful version of the beautiful game. They are taught the skills that are necessary to make them into legends. And truly, many of these children are now household names in world football.
"The player who has passed through La Masia has something different to the rest, it's a plus that only comes from having competed in a Barcelona shirt from the time you were a child," says Pep Guardiola, Barcelona manager and La Masia graduate.
"[In the youth academy] you feel the colours, the club and its crest. Above all it's about values, not only in football but on a personal level. I think the fans feel more connected to the team because of all of the home-grown players," says Gerard Pique, another La Masia graduate.
Sporting director Txiki Begiristain sums up La Masia's importance by saying, "The kids here are brought up to demand victory even in friendly matches. Take a look at Lionel Messi, he's from Argentina but he comes with the stamp of La Masia; he was formed in our house."
Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Puyol, Pique, Busquets, and Valdes all started the Champions League final for Barcelona. They all had one thing in common—they were brought up and made into world class talents by La Masia. The substitute bench also had its fair share of La Masia graduates in Bojan, Muniesa, and Pedro.
By contrast, Manchester United had only three players in the entire squad who were from their youth academy: Paul Scholes, John O'Shea and Ryan Giggs. These statistics show the gulf in class between the two academies.
It is also interesting to note the number of quality players who have come through La Masia's ranks over the years. Josep Guardiola, Guillermo Amor, Barjuan Sergi, Cesc Fabregas, Fran Merida, Jose Reina, Ivan de la Pena, and Luis Garcia are just some of the names that form this list.
There are a few foreign players in Barcelona, agreed. Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto'o, Dani Alves, Seydou Keita, Yaya Toure and Gabi Milito being among them. But when you see the homegrown players to foreign players ratio, you begin to realise how good La Masia truly is.
The ratio is exactly 1:1, which means the team contains as many homegrown players as foreign players. No other Champions League team has such a high ratio of homegrown players.
I have heard many complaints from Barcelona's critics that they are successful because they have many superstars. It would be nice if they just sat back and realised that these stars have, in fact, been carefully nurtured, honed, and sharpened into the world class talents that they are by the legendary youth academy of La Masia.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!