The Mini Estadi: The Jewel in Barcelona’s Crown

by Ollie Jackson

In 1982 the Mini Estadi, a stadium with a capacity of more than 15,000 opened its doors and has been the home of Barcelona’s prestigious youth system ever since, with the Barcelona B team playing their home fixtures at the ground that is located just next door to the infamous Camp Nou. Over the years Barcelona’s grass roots philosophy for nurturing young talent has seen them produced some of the finest footballers to have ever of graced the modern game.

Carlos Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Andreas Iniesta, Victor Valdez, Pedro Rodriguez and Lionel Messi are all products of Barcelona’s youth system. Current Barcelona Head Coach Pep Guardiola, also a product of the youth system back in 1990, has the luxury of effectively cherry picking the select few from his B team whom he believes are capable of making the step up. Prior to Barcelona’s second leg tie against Arsenal in the Champions League back in March, Guardiola mentioned that whilst he admired Jack Wilshire’s talent, his B team possess several players who are of similar if not greater ability than the promising young English starlet. Such a statement may be considered an exaggeration of the truth, but in this instance Guardiola’s comments are completely accurate, as week in week out, Barcelona’s B team produce performances that are capable of emulating the brilliance of the first team.

Nowadays it is a rarity for clubs to acquire so many national players that have the ability to secure a place in the first team. Of the 28 players currently included in Barcelona’s B squad, 27 are home grown, Spanish players. Mexican midfielder Jonathan dos Santos, the younger brother of Tottenhams’s Giovani is the only foreign player currently a part of the B team. With a youth system that is dominated by up and coming Spanish players, is it any wonder Spain are at the top of the FIFA World Rankings? Perhaps it is time English Football attempted to replicate the success of Barcelona’s philosophy in order to begin producing English players that have the required talent to reach the peak of European Football. After England’s dismal World Cup performance against a German side littered with young talent, the FA needed to make decisions that would define the future success or failure at grass roots level.

During the 1990’s Manchester United’s produced some of the finest British talent. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt were all products of the Manchester United Academy. Since arriving at Manchester United in 1993, David Beckham has gone on to be one of the wealthiest and most recognised footballers in the world. Whilst Giggs and Scholes are continuing to shape the success of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, despite being aged 37 and 35 respectively.

So why is that modern football academies are more concerned with scouring Europe and beyond in order to seek out talent rather than looking a little closer to home? It is our apparent loss of faith in our national prospects that has seen a decline in proportion of home grown players breaking into established Premier League sides.

Respective clubs academies hold the key to ensuring the future development of national players. The league structure in Spain is such that B teams, that are in effect the equivalent to English Reserve teams, are able to participate in the same league system to that of their First team. Both Barcelona and Villareal have B team’s competing in the Segunda Divisiom, which is the second tier in Spanish football. B teams are unable to be promoted to the Liga BBVA because they cannot compete in the same league to that of the first team. In addition to this, several B teams, including that of Real Madrid’s currently reside in the third tier of Spanish Football, the Segunda Division B. This system allows youth team players to gain credible experiences in a highly competitive field, thus preparing themselves for the step up.

Were this scenario to be replicated in English football, it would allow the top reserves clubs such as Manchester United, Aston Villa and Liverpool to perhaps compete in League Two and League One. By removing the North/South Divide that exists in the Premier Reserve League it could potentially pave the way for a whole new crop of players that have acquired the necessary experience in which to impart upon the first team.

It may be considered an option that is just not viable, but I think it is worthy considering given the current state of English football’s youth system. You only need to take a glance at Barcelona’s B team to recognise just how valuable playing at a higher level can be, Guardiola effectively has a reserve team that is a factory line producing talented young players who are seeking to surpass the current level of Barcelona’s irrepressible first team.

4 Responses

  1. Rob Durie says:

    Interesting article, but aren’t the English academies scouring the world because of the restrictions placed on them. Manchester United are only allowed to recruit young British players who live within some relatively short distance of Manchester. Presuambly this was done to allow small clubs to have some chance of getting local talent – pity the small clubs in the NW with Liverpool, Everton, United, City etc trawling the ground! As a result, to be competitive with Barcelona, United and other big English clubs are forced to look overseas for young talent. Yet another example of well intended regulations having unintended consequences.

    I bet Barcelona have the best young players from all over Spain (not to mention Argentina with Messi being considered a local).

    1. Michael says:

      I have to agree with you that the 90 mile restriction (I think it is roughly that) is far too much of a hinderance on teams, if the scouts are good enough to have found a player outwith the distance why shouldn’t a team be able to sign said player.

      On the topic of Barcelona players such as Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Busquets, Xavi, Pedro and Bojan are all born in Catalunya, granted it is more thn 90 miles but it is still very much in the Barcelona area. The only Barcelona first team player who came through the youth team born in another region of Spain is Iniesta who is from Albacete ( about 300 miles from Barcelona) so a large proportion of the team is from immediatly outwith Barcelona and I am sure a lot of the youth team will be too.

  2. Thomas Gaunt says:

    Great article. Must admit didnt know about the 90 mile limit, seems ludicrous, but presumably players just move to within 90 miles then sign? I think the Youth system in England is a joke / disgrace. There must be klimitations put in place so that at least 75% of squad are British. The issue is the Premier League and greed, they want the best young players and will stop at nothing to poach them. The irony is that many of these 14/15 yr old genius’s never amount to anything and it is now young British talent that clubs want but then complain that it is too expensive! It is laughable, it is free to invest in 50-60 young british players over a 5-6 year period and you would probably get a better return, plus you will also then get the club loyalty which understandably some of the foreigners dont have. If Cesc goes to Barcelona who would blame him, Arsenal poached him in the first place. This all then leads to the England team being utter dogsh*t…. yet are we doing anything about it?? Nope!

  3. Varun says:

    Few points i’ll make.

    Barca B are currently 3rd in 2nd division, but won’t be promoted as pointed out.

    While Barca B is where the talent is finally given the polish b4 they enter the 1st team its the lower youth levels where much is actually molded.

    Watch out for new team, the current Juvenil A (U-17) team, became champions and remained undefeated throughout the year.
    Its being compared to Barca’s class of 87 team (one which had messi, pique cesc)

    About England,
    i am not at all optimistic, people don’t have the guts to implement there,
    they just get all defensive even when Germany was proposed as a model during the WC 2010.
    Media just makes situation even worse.

    ManU 90′s class while good wasn’t that good in terms of World Class, they only won 1 UCL and nothing at national level, while its admirable but its not on the same level as current Barca or Ajax in terms of influence.

    About this 90mil. limit,
    I am not convinced that its the limiting factor.

    Players can still be developed, only about 500 players have ever graduated from LaMasia.

    With all the passion that supposedly is present in England i doubt even in that 90mil area you won’t find 3 genuinely WC players who can get to 1st team, rest can be bought, and even Barcelona buy heavy every year.

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