It may defy belief, but there are those that must leave Barcelona Football Club to further their careers. Treble winners last season and the world’s best attacking trio at their disposal, many would believe the Catalan club to be the pinnacle of the footballing world, but a club with such an array of talent cannot house everyone. Barcelona are entering yet another era of sustained success and although many will argue that the previous era never ended, this is Barcelona, and a season without a trophy like that of 2013-14 is almost unimaginable for a side boasting perhaps the greatest player of all time amongst their ranks, Lionel Messi.
Luis Suarez and Neymar have joined Messi at the top of the game, and although 2 out of 3 of the club’s sensational attacking trio are imports, accounting for roughly an £125 million outlay, Barcelona have relied heavily upon a youth system they have become internationally renowned for, and the ‘La Masia’ academy has produced the finest players for a number of generations. Of the current crop of Barcelona stars, graduates include the likes of Messi, Sergio Busquets and Gerrard Pique, stars that have fulfilled destinies of lifting trophies for the club on countless occasions. Head coach, Luis Enrique, a graduate of the academy himself, will undoubtedly look to the academy and Barcelona’s ‘B’ team in an attempt to unearth the latest world class addition to his senior side, and the next generation of Barcelona stars are in abundance. However, Barcelona finds itself in a position of great difficulty, having encountered the enviable situation of possessing too many young stars in their ranks. Under league legislation, Barcelona ‘B’ may only register 23 players to their squad, and with 35 youngsters currently on the club’s books, this represents a significant problem. The Barcelona hierarchy have been dealt a cruel hand, and must now decide which of their hot prospects will be allowed to depart for pastures anew; tough decisions which may eventually come back to haunt the Catalan club. Barcelona have failed to keep their dilemma under wraps, and their circumstance has attracted the interest of the Premier League, with a number of clubs circling, waiting to see which young stars will be remaining in Catalonia, and which will be deemed surplus to requirements. We have already seen Stoke City manager, and former Barcelona player, Mark Hughes, plunder the Catalan club, with the Staffordshire side housing 4 former Barcelona stars in their ranks, and it may not be long before we see more plying their trade in England. Here we take a look at the best of the next generation, and what they could bring to the Premier League if a move abroad did in fact materialise.
Sergi Samper, 20
Having first signed to the club at the tender age of 6 years old, Samper has dedicated his life to football. Breaking into the senior ‘B’ side at the age of 17, the midfield enforcer has amassed an impressive 74 games for the second string, an excellent haul of appearances that will have provided the experience many of a similar age have failed to register. Excellent form in the Segunda Division with Barcelona ‘B’ secured the youngster a starting place in a Champions League tie against Cypriot side, APOEL Nicosia, a game which the player dominated proceedings, securing a WhoScored.com rating of 8.03. Samper’s only European outing to date, many expected the young star to be afforded a place in the Barcelona side in an attempt to excel his development, but with Barcelona pushing for honours on all fronts last season, another opportunity with the senior side failed to materialise. Samper typifies the philosophy of the football club, and having already spent 14 years with Barcelona , fans will surely desire to see their fellow Catalan break into the starting line-up, and perhaps go on to become another home grown legend with his own chapter in the history books of this great club. At this stage however, consistent first team opportunities would seem to be hindered by the form and reputation of another La Masia graduate. Fellow defensive midfielder, Sergio Busquets, is a fine example for Samper to follow, having breezed through the youth ranks and going on to become one of the finest holding midfielders on the planet. With Busquets at his peak, Samper will struggle to acquire the minutes at the top level he so desperately requires to continue his rapid development. After an impressive preseason on Barcelona’s tour of the US, Enrique will realise he has a natural successor to Busquets in his midst, and it looks unlikely the player will be allowed to leave on a permanent transfer. This opens the option of a loan move, and the Premier League will be the ideal stamping grounds for Samper to continue his growth. Operating in a position which requires an aura of presence and physicality, the rigorous demands of the Premier League are an ample opportunity to work on this aspect of his game. A number of English sides would benefit from Samper’s presence, and with Leicester City scouring the market for an Esteban Cambiasso shaped replacement, a move to the Midlands may well prove to be defining in the career of the Spanish youngster.
Alen Halilovic, 19
The youngest ever Croatian national team debutant, Barcelona fought off the interest of a number of European clubs to secure the signing of the Eastern European starlet. Like Samper, Halilovic has not yet been deemed ready for the first team, with the Croatian restricted to the ‘B’ side, in which he made 30 appearances last season, scoring 4 times. With minimal first team outings, fans are yet to see what the Croat is capable of, and having just turned 19, Halilovic has a long way to go before he is replicating the form of first team compatriot, Ivan Rakitic. With the abundance of talent in the ‘B’ side, readers may be surprised to learn that the team were in fact relegated to the third tier of Spanish football, and Halilovic has publicly stated his disillusion about life so far down the football pyramid. Dubbed the new Luka Modric, ironically a star midfielder of great rivals, Real Madrid, Barcelona will not be looking to let the playmaker leave, and with Halilovic unwilling to play for the second team next season, a loan move looks increasingly likely. In recent days, West Ham United have been strongly linked with the player, and with the youngster possessing an arsenal of creativity at his disposal, the Hammers midfield will benefit from the raw talent Halilovic undoubtedly possesses. Having lost key assist maker, Stewart Downing, West Ham boss Slaven Bilic will be looking to bolster his creative outlets, and young Alen fits the bill perfectly. Despite international experience, it must be noted that Halilovic has only seen action in the Croatian top flight, and the second tier of Spanish football, and with all due respect to the divisions, neither come close to the quality on offer in England. Halilovic will have a lot to prove should a move to East London materialise, but a season working under compatriot Bilic, could be the perfect move for the player, and like Samper who may be afforded the opportunity to further understand the demands of his position in a physical league, Halilovic will be forced to utilise his creativity in a fast paced division, and with little time on the ball, the midfielder will have no choice but to improve his speed and decision making. The Premier League is beckoning for the young Croatian, and a successful campaign may propel the Dubrovnik born creator into the mould required to continue his nation’s fine tradition of producing world class, string pulling midfielders.
Adama Traore, 19
Born in Catalonia to Malian parents, Adama Traore joined La Masia at the age of 8, and has opted to represent his parent’s homeland at international level. 63 appearances and 8 goals over several seasons in the ‘B’ side, Traore was another who failed to step up last season and keep Barcelona’s second team from dropping down a division. His form in the Segunda Division was enough to earn a call up to the senior squad however, and a goal in this year’s Copa Del Rey saw the winger lift his first trophy with the Catalan club. Like Samper, Traore has dedicated his childhood years to the famed Barcelona academy, but unlike the Spaniard, it would appear the Malian’s time at the club has run its course. The first team squad has been assembled so effectively that the front 3 of Messi, Neymar and Suarez leave little room for the likes of youngsters such as Traore to establish themselves, and with the success of the trio astronomical, Traore has little to no chance of becoming a success at the Nou Camp. A number of Premier League clubs are seeking to take advantage of the situation, with Manchester United and Stoke City registering an interest, but if recent reports are to be believed, it is Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side that are leading the charge for the youngster. Adama is believed to have flown to the city for a medical, and a switch to Merseyside seems to be edging closer by the minute. Having lost Raheem Sterling to Manchester City, Liverpool have been making moves to fill the void left by the winger, and Rodgers will hope that the signing of Traore will go a long way towards achieving this, and provide the service new signings Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke will need to fire the Anfield club towards the top 4. Unlike Sterling, who had consistently proven his worth for several Premier League seasons, the Malian’s experience is very much restricted to Spain’s second tier, and like his fellow Barca youngsters, the step up to the Premier League will be an extremely difficult challenge. Traore’s move will more than likely be permanent, so the winger will have to quickly prove to the Liverpool manager that he has what it takes, or find himself cast aside like outcast Mario Balotelli, who’s underwhelming debut season has seen him frozen out of Brendan Rodgers’ plans.
La Masia has produced hundreds of aspiring footballers, and despite some graduates making the natural progression to the Barcelona first team, others haven’t quite shown enough potential to take the next step. Rejection after dedicating years to your boyhood club is a devastating outcome for many young stars, but despite not making the exceptionally high grade expected to succeed at Barcelona, many depart the Spanish East coast bursting with talent; talent other teams are itching to acquire. The latest crop of Barcelona’s departed are no exception to this, and those associated with the greatest academy in the world will have an endless line of suitors. Stepping up from Spain’s second tier to the demands of the English Premier League will be difficult, but with talent emanating from these youngsters, the ability to adapt and forge a successful career shouldn’t be a problem for this exciting trio.