Barcelona have agreed to open a series of football schools in the United States as they attempt to find the "American Lionel Messi."
According to Jonny Boyle of Talking Baws, the Blaugrana have already established an FCBEscola campus in Florida—a school dedicated to replicating their famed La Masia academy and expanding their global youth recruitment network.
They will be opening 19 more in the U.S. in the coming five months, in the hope of stumbling across emerging talent.
Barca released the news in a statement via their official website on Monday following a meeting of their board of directors. In it the club confirmed the schools will be spread out throughout the country, and they will also be expanding their operations in Japan:
The Board has approved two agreements for the creation of FCBEscola campuses in the United States and Japan. For the United States, it is an agreement that will 20 campuses across the nation including Orlando, Miami, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Kansas, between March and August this year. Regarding Japan, eleven campuses will be set up between May this year and April of next year.
Children between six and 14 are invited to come and train at the schools, where they will be instilled with Barca's philosophy of attractive, technically accomplished attacking football.
Football journalist Rafael Hernandez might prefer Barca focus on their youth development closer to home, as he attributes a stall in Sergi Samper's development to poor management of their young players:
Samper already halfway through the “He was never good enough for Barcelona anyway” journey. That’s what atrocious youth management does.— Rafael Hernández (@RafaelH117) February 11, 2016
As the level of wealth in the game continues to increase, clubs often need to use any measure at their disposal to find an edge over their opponents. Now, European clubs frequently head to the USA on pre-season tours and have the resources to tap into new markets in North America and Asia.
Football is growing in stature and popularity in America thanks to the success of both their men's and women's national teams and the improving standard of play in Major League Soccer with more and more top European-based players heading there, admittedly often in the twilight of their careers.
Barca's expansion of operations is therefore a logical move, and one they could reap the rewards from down the line.
Their reputation will ensure their schools attract plenty of interest, and they will no doubt have a leg up on the competition in terms of scouting the best youth prospects in the country, they'll also have ready-made players who are ingrained with the philosophy of the club.
The Catalan giants are already a powerhouse of Spanish and European football, but they're showing great ambition not to rest on their laurels and look likely to remain a dominant force for years to come.