Barcelona have one of the greatest – if not the greatest – academies in the world.
La Masia has produced the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and, of course, Lionel Messi. And, although it hasn’t produced players of the same quality for some time, the Barcelona youth setup has undeniably been neglected by the club in recent years.
La Bluagrana have often opted to splash the cash on players who never manage to recreate previous form, stamp their mark or cement themselves in the hearts of Barcelona fans. Paulinho, Arturo Vidal and Arda Turan, for example, will all be – or have already become – forgotten men of Camp Nou.
There is a lesson to be learnt here and, while many may have grasped it a while ago, the club have been determined to make one of these transfers work.
But could that be changing?
Last summer, a fee of around €60m was agreed for Miralem Pjanic who, since his arrival, has been unable to earn a first-team spot from Sergio Busquets or Pedri (who is not a La Masia product but, at 18, is very much an investment for the future).
And, while Georginio Wijnaldum has been linked with a move to Camp Nou ever since Ronald Koeman took the reins, it has recently been reported that the club could promote 18-year-old Ilaix Moriba instead.
Of course, this may have a little something to do with Barcelona’s truly frightening financial situation, but it is also a big step in La Masia providing for the first team once again.
Koeman has already shown his trust in young players. Pedri and Oscar Mingueza are now established starters for La Blaugrana, while Riqui Puig continues to shine when given opportunities – even if they are sporadic. Moriba has also proven he’s capable of mixing it with the best.
The 18-year old is unlike a typical La Masia product. He has previously drawn comparisons to Paul Pogba for his strong, combative yet skilful style of play. His powerful and athletic build has allowed him to stand out during his progression through the club’s youth set up.
He is also a versatile option, which could be crucial to his manager. While the likes of Pedri and Puig provide creative, forward-thinking options in the centre of the field, the issue of Busquets’ long-term replacement is one that has gone unnoticed for some time. The 32-year old is enjoying a good season, but will need to be backed up by a solid alternative sooner rather than later, especially while Koeman continues to play two in midfield.
Moriba has the ability to play in any central midfield role. He has the strength and defensive awareness to fill a deep-lying spot, the energy, pace and power to play as a box-box midfielder, and the vision and creative nous to play as a number ten. While creativity is certainly not lacking in this Barcelona side, an energetic, defensively capable solution to partner the side’s flair could be integral to the future of Koeman’s Barcelona.
Excitingly, the future could be now. Moriba has already featured nine times for La Blaugrana this season, making six appearances in La Liga. In those six, the Spaniard has contributed three assists and even bagged his first senior goal in style during a 2-0 win over Osasuna. Not bad, not bad at all.
Wijnaldum, a regular at Liverpool, is obviously more experienced and established. The Dutchman may bring to the midfield an abundance of quality, but is it worth the risk to see if that lasts? Barcelona’s transfer policy of recent years should answer that question.
Moriba represents a much more economically-viable, long-term option for the club. He has proven his quality, not only in La Blaugrana’s youth teams, but on the senior stage alongside his fellow youngsters – whom Koeman has thoroughly trusted. He can, no doubt, be part of Barcelona’s up-and-coming generation – who visibly play with enthusiasm, determination and passion for the club – and is exactly the kind of player Barça’s fans can get behind.