Even by the very high standards of FC Barcelona's exceptional youth academy, the La Masia class of 1987 was truly special. In the beginning of the 00s, three exceptional young footballers born in 1987 led the greatest youth teams in La Masia history: Lionel Messi, Francesc Fabregas and Gerard Piqué.
“In my time in charge, I have never come across a group as ambitious and competitive. Not just in matches, either, but almost more so in practice. Sometimes, I had to apply the brakes. They treated practice sessions as if they were finals. And they were a brilliant squad,” recalls Alex Garcia, the long-serving coach of Barcelona's youth teams.
Led by Messi, Cesc, Piqué, this La Masia side used to routinely destroy their opponents. They often won games by eight, nine and even 10-0, they were that much better than the other youth teams. They were regarded as the future stars of the club, the ones who would take Barcelona to the top of club football.
Their careers took very different paths: Lionel Messi stayed at Barcelona, broke records, won several titles and became this generation's (and arguably any generation's) greatest player.
Gerard Piqué had a short unsuccessful stint at Manchester United and got back home in 2008 to become one of the finest center backs on the planet under Pep Guardiola.
Cesc Fabregas had been tipped by Pep Guardiola himself to one day wear the No. 4 jersey at Barcelona, but the club's state of disarray in the late Gaspart years made Cesc move to Arsenal FC. In hindsight, that was a terrible decision as he ended up missing on an era of all-time great football of his hometown club.
But the lure of home proved impossible to resist, and Cesc has finally returned to where he belongs, at FC Barcelona. Judging by his first match in the Super Cup, it's as if he had never left in the first place. Xavi Hernandez sums it up nicely: "Cesc totally understands the concepts and you don't have to explain him anything. It's as if he never left."
Eight years later, the class of 87 is together again. They all took different paths but inevitably ended up together at the only place they could possibly be. All three are 24, all three are just entering their peak years and all three are among the best player in the world at their respective positions.
Once the likes of Xavi and Puyol retire/decline, the class of 87 (plus Pedro, also born in 87, but who joined La Masia later), might very well be the spine of a new great FC Barcelona side (along with players like Iniesta and Busquets).
Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué and Cesc Fabregas were once touted as the brilliant future of Barcelona. Now that Cesc is back, it's time to fulfill their destiny, starting next season and for many, many years ahead... The future of the club couldn't be in better hands, as the class of 87 promises to take the football world by storm as they did at the youth level a decade ago.
You can follow me on Twitter @Manueltraquete.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!