[dropcap]B[/dropcap]arcelona’s La Masia youth academy is arguably the most prestigious place in the world to learn how to play the beautiful game, with the Catalan club nurturing and developing some of the sport’s best players in the past.
Following in the footsteps of the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta is not a given for every youngster who progresses through the Camp Nou youth ranks, with elevation into the Barca first-team squad a major achievement in itself.
With the afore-mentioned triumvirate finishing first, second and third in the 2010 Ballon d’Or listings – the first time a trio has been recognised from a single club – it shows just how high the bar is set in Catalunya.
Over recent years there have been a fair share of success stories and notable cases of players failing to make the grade and having to try to further their career in less venerable surroundings.
Some, such as Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué, have left their boyhood club at a young age to thrive elsewhere and return at a later date.
Others, like Thiago Alcântara, have shown they are good enough for Barca but choose to move elsewhere in a bid to assure more regular action.
The likes of loan star Gerard Deulofeu has had to leave Camp Nou on loan deals to pursue regular first-team football elsewhere, with the hope that returning to the mothership a year later as an improved player will impress the powers that be in Catalunya.
Of the current crop, Rafael Alcântara, Sergi Roberto and Munir El Haddadi are in the mix for first-team places, but in reality make up the numbers in the background – getting to the levels of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta et al seems like another new journey for these La Masia graduates.
Of those to have emerged from the Barcelona youth academy in recent years, three players are of keen interest and showcase the contrasting fortunes associated with the brave decision of leaving the Spanish giants to try and excel elsewhere.
Cristian Tello, Oriol Romeu and Mauro Icardi have all come through the ranks at the Catalan institution over recent years, but have seen their careers head in different directions after a Camp Nou exit.
He initially headed to Sampdoria on loan and had little trepidation about making his stint in Italy permanent once the allure of senior football took hold.
The Argentine hotshot has since earned himself a move to Inter and is one of world football’s most promising young strikers today as a result of leaving Barcelona early.
Not everyone has as much luck as Icardi.
Romeu was being touted as a player capable of replacing potential one-club man Xavi at Camp Nou and the latest prodigious and technically astute midfielder to emerge in Catalunya.
Like Icardi he saw his route to first-team football blocked and was snapped up by Premier League heavyweights Chelsea.
Despite a promising start to life in West London, Romeu was frozen out at Stamford Bridge and has endured underwhelming loan stints at Valencia and Stuttgart since.
With little chance of reintroduction at Chelsea, the playmaker’s search for the best club environment in which to prosper is set to continue.
Finally, Cristian Tello is currently on loan at Porto after recent big-money arrivals of Neymar and Luis Suárez blocked his first-team path.
Initially introduced to the fold and trusted by Pep Guardiola, the 23-year-old was only afforded two La Liga starts last season in a fringe role.
The Spaniard is starting to catch the eye at the Estádio do Dragão, with four goals in his last two games, including a memorable hat-trick against Sporting Lisbon last week.
In reality, Tello faces an unenviable challenge of ousting one of Barcelona’s current superstar forwards to get gametime at Camp Nou and as such has a critical decision to make.
If he was to make his switch to Portugal permanent, first-team football and a challenge for domestic honours at Porto seem assured.
However, a return to the club that he calls home will see him battle with a host of other young talents to be Barcelona’s first-choice back-up option – a misnomer in itself.
The example of Pedro is key; an international-quality player that has not played anywhere near as much football as he ought to due to competition for places at Camp Nou.
In conclusion, Icardi’s case shows that whether at Barcelona or elsewhere, if you are good enough you will make it.
That said, taking the step of turning your back on FC Barcelona after a wholehearted indoctrination at La Masia must be difficult to say the least.
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