This is the third part of our series on the decline of FC Barcelona’s famous La Masia.
1. A brain drain? No, rather something else…
Many places you can read that La Masia’s decline is due to the firing of masters who built the academy – why the club was more competent once. In the approval or denial of this myth, many people are involved – so let’s go through the story of La Masia and its people chronologically for the sake of clarity. Then we can see if a pattern will appear.
1979: La Masia founded
In 1979 La Masia was established by president Josep Lluís Núñez at the request of Johan Cruyff. A man named Oriol Tort, who had been a youth coach in the club since 1958, became the chief scout who found La Masia’s first players. He did so until his death in 1999. He found players like Iniesta, Xavi, Guardiola, Amor, Ferrer, Vilanova and Puyol and he, together with coaches like Laureano Ruiz and Joan Martínez Vilaseca, created an identity around the academy that ranked the intelligent football player above the strong one. Oriol Tort died in 1999. In 2011 the new academy facility was named after him: Centro de Formación Oriol Tort.
Joan Vilà (born 1954) came to Barça as a 16-year-old boy and played in the club until 1980 – along with Johan Cruyff. However, he clearly had his greatest influence on Barça from the day he became a youth coach in the club at the age of 32. From there he implemented “The Barça Way” in all of La Masia’s players. The ideology that believes in the intellectual player, in total football and in the tiki-taka. A philosophy brought to the first team in the 70s by the Dutchman Rinus Michels and later developed by Johan Cruyff before it was finally perfected by Pep Guardiola.
He eventually had a big influence on many players. Xavi is known to say, “I owe Guardiola, Aragonés (Spanish national coach from 2004-2008) and Joan Vilà for who I am as a football player and person”. Likewise, Carles Puyol once said this about Vilà: “I regret not asking Vilà for advice earlier in my career. I came to La Masia late at age 17 but didn’t ask Vilà for help before I was 30 years old. I had never learned to defend until I became 30.” Vilà had great importance for La Masia but stopped in 2001. However, he came back in 2014, which I will talk about later.
1990: Johan Cruff hires a coach named Albert Benaiges for his Dream Team
Benaiges was hired for the first team, but Cruyff quickly realised that Benaiges was supposed to be a youth coach. Albert Benaiges, who was born in 1950, worked in the youth academy for two decades starting in 1990. Like Vilà, he became an icon in the teaching of Barça’s philosophy. Xavi said in 2011 about Benaiges: “I pass and then move, I look up, I create space. Whoever has the ball is the master of the game. It is the school of … Albert Benaiges. ”
Benaiges works at the moment in the Academy of Vissel Kobe – the same club where Iniesta plays. Iniesta and Benaiges have always been very close. Benaiges was like a father for Iniesta when he came to La Masia as a 12-year-old.
Rodolfo Borrell starts as a youth coach, where he stays until 2009. He became very respected and known for being the man who found Cesc Fábregas and the developer of Leo Messi. He will have an impact on the story later on. Borrell is the assistant of Pep Guardiola today at Manchester City.
– Alex García was employed as a youth coach first at U17 level and later at U19 (Juvenil A). He also became highly respected and has trained many of the current first-team players.
– The same year, Joan Vilà resigned as a coach at the club, as he was not allowed to take over the B team and he protested.
2003: Joan Laporta becomes president
Laporta trusted the duo José Ramon Alexanko and Albert Benaiges to lead La Masia. José Ramon Alexanko is a former legend at Barça’s first team and he could show tradition, create respect and be an admiration. Albert Benaiges was the specialist with huge knowledge of youth development – you already know him.
Alexanko (born in 1956) came to Barça as an adult, where he played 13 years from 1980 to 1993 and was part of Cruyff’s “Dream Team”. Alexanko and Benaiges formed a strong partnership and it was under their guidance that La Masia was recognized as the world’s best football academy. They improved many parts of the academy and made sure more players reached the B- and first team.
Albert Capellas is chosen to join Alexanko and Benaiges in the coordination of La Masia after being the assistant coach at the B team since 1999. We will return to him later.
2005: The most famous resignation in Barca’s history?
In 2005, Laporta’s vice president resigned due to a personal conflict with Laporta. The name is Sandro Rosell – the man who got Ronaldinho to Barça. Laporta’s leadership was often very doubted and his presidency was characterised by mistrust and dismissal. Sandro Rosell then wrote the book “Welcome to the reality,” which described everything he was dissatisfied about Laporta’s leadership. Sandro Rosell and Laporta became two contradictions that still divides FC Barcelona. This will be very important later.