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Sergio García: The proud Catalan that should be a Barcelona hero, but is idolised by Espanyol

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]eeling pride in fielding homegrown players is something that has seemingly dissipated in modern football, with fewer and fewer examples of top-level stars that feel an affinity to the history, geography and make-up of the club they play for.

Arguably the main exception at the top level to buck the trend is at Barcelona, where a generation of La Masia graduates with Catalan heritage have made the Camp Nou side the most successful European team of the last decade.

The core group of homegrown heroes, including Víctor Valdés, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodríguez, have proven themselves as some of the most elite performers in the global game.

Their string of Champions League and La Liga titles have been accompanied by international honours, with a Catalan core to the Spain side that was triumphant at Euro 2008 and 2012 and that was crowned world champions in South Africa in 2010.

As has been proven over time, not every player to graduate from La Masia will become a Blaugrana icon, with many facing tough choices over whether to stay and fight for a place in a star-studded team or take their chances elsewhere.

However, one man that is edging towards the end of his career that is idolised in Barcelona, but not by Barcelona fans, probably could and should have had his name on the afore-mentioned list of Catalan heroes.

Sergio García has ended a five-year affiliation with Barcelona’s other team, Espanyol, this summer and joins Blaugrana legend Xavi by playing out his swansong in Qatar.

The new Al Rayyan forward was a firm fans favourite at the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, with his skill, goals and supreme footballing intelligence for the Cornellà de Llobregat side catching the imagination since 2010.

But, like most of the brightest young footballers in Barcelona, García’s tutelage came at La Masia.

He spent seven years being taught football indoctrination that money can’t buy at the fabled youth academy, featuring in Blaugrana youth teams at the same time as the likes of Iniesta and Valdés.

Sergio García playing against boyhood club Barcelona and club legend XaviThe versatile forward spent his first campaign in senior football in the Barcelona C side, before two subsequent seasons in the reserves, finishing the three-year spell with a goal-to-game ratio of better than one strike every other match.

García was afforded a handful of games for the senior side as a fresh-faced youngster in 2003-04 under Frank Rijkaard, but had the likes of Ronaldinho in his pomp, Patrick Kluivert and Javier Saviola ahead of him in the pecking order.

A loan spell at Levante and subsequent permanent exit to join Real Zaragoza all happened quickly and before the gifted attacker could show the Camp Nou faithful just how good he was.

In total he started only two La Liga games for his boyhood club, made two more appearances from the bench, played a total of 207 minutes and departed without ever fulfilling his dream of scoring a goal for Barcelona.

Over the years García has displayed sublime footballing abilities for Levante, Zaragoza and Real Betis, but found a place to be adored and valued back in Barcelona – but with Espanyol.

So often Los Periquitos’ talisman, top goal scorer, captain and creative spirit, García has left Espanyol after netting 14 times in La Liga last season and will be sorely missed by the club’s fans.

Unlike all his fellow La Masia graduates, he leaves Spanish football having never won a piece of silverware.

García did score at the Camp Nou once however in December 2014, giving Espanyol a 1-0 lead against his boyhood club. Lionel Messi then entered the fray with a hat-trick, with the hosts winning 5-1.

The striker was part of Spain’s Euro 2008 squad but only featured in one game; the attacker’s international tenure was over within 12 months having only gained two caps for La Roja.

However, for the non-affiliated Catalonia national side, García has been an ever-present for years.

He is La Selecció’s highest-ever goalscorer with eight strikes from 12 games and is currently the Catalan national captain.

García is entering the twilight of his career and will delight onlookers in the Arabian Gulf with his undoubted class for Al Rayyan.

However, just how this superbly gifted, proudly Catalan, La Masia-trained star is not a Barcelona hero is something of a mystery.

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