Guardiola’s trust in youth inspires the next generation

Some names for you:

Pinto, Dalmau, Adriano, Muniesa, Espasandin, Rueda, Keita, Jonathan, Jeffren, Rochina, Oriol.

Seydou Keita is arguably the least flashy member of the current Barcelona first team lineup, operating largely in the background as his more prominent team-mates take centre stage, but his name positively leaps out of those listed above.

You might also recognise Copa del Rey keeper José Manuel Pinto and the Latin American duo of Jonathan Dos Santos and Jeffren Suarez, who have both enjoyed goalscoring run-outs for the Blaugrana this season. If you can identify anyone else, you win a gold star.

This is the team that Pep Guardiola fielded at Wembley Stadium for the second half of Barca’s pre-season exercise against Tottenham Hotspur. The inexperienced side could not prevent Harry Redknapp’s full-strength Spurs from bagging a late equaliser but their control of the ball and youthful exuberance illuminated a dull day in North London.

While Pinto, Keita, Jonathan and Jeffren have been on first team duty with Barca this season, it has been a different story for the other young men that graced the Wembley turf last summer. For the likes of Víctor Manuel Espasandín Facal, José Manuel Rueda Sanpedro and Eduard Oriol Gracia, the grim reality over the last few months has been time spent in the stiffs. That may be a slight misrepresentation, given that life as a reserve team player is a relatively glamorous affair if you are lucky enough to play for Barcelona.

FC Barcelona Atlètic play in the Spanish Segunda Division B Group 3. Understandably, league rules dictate that they will never be permitted to reach the dizzy heights of the top flight. They are nevertheless a fascinating subject to consider. The side currently lie second in their league with three games remaining, seven points behind their near neighbours Sant Andreu. Despite the almost unbridgeable gap to first position, they may still achieve promotion as this is decided by a post-season play-off involving the top four teams.

Barca Atlètic’s coach is none other than former Spanish international Luis Enrique and they play their home games at the remarkable Mini Estadi, which holds more than 15,000 people and is conveniently located just yards from the majestic Camp Nou. The proximity of the two stadia offers more than mere convenience to the Atlètic squad. Even their oldest players this season are just 25 years old, but most are far younger and therefore have one eye firmly on the prospect of playing across the road.

The conveyor belt of talent, from the club’s La Masia youth academy through Atlètic to the world famous first team, shows no signs of slowing. Since his appointment in the summer of 2008, Guardiola has not just blooded Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez but placed them in positions of trust. Names as renowned as Yaya Toure and Thierry Henry now play second fiddle to these Atlètic graduates.

Another prospect, Brazil-born midfielder Thiago Alcantara, has already featured for Barca’s first team despite being the youngest member of the second string, having only turned 19 last week. Of course, Guardiola himself has twice made the step up to the twin peaks of player and coach at the Camp Nou, something which must encourage ex-Barca star Enrique in his current role.

It is one thing to possess a strong youth academy, quite another to produce ready-made solutions to first team problems on a consistent basis. The lighting-quick Pedro made fourteen appearances last season as Barca breezed to a terrific treble. He often looked raw and ineffective in comparison with the devastating trio of Henry, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o. This season, he has excelled.

Defeat in the San Siro was a collective disappointment but signalled a huge personal milestone for Pedro. The Canary Islander netted his 20th goal of a magnificent season. They haven’t just been any old goals. They have usually been big goals, some spectacular and some important, each one contributing to the case against Barca’s desire to buy a replacement for Henry.

As Barca head into one of the most important games in their history next Wednesday against an Italian side packed with South Americans and coached by their Portuguese former interpreter, they may yet turn to the Ivorian Toure or the Frenchman Henry.

The smart money, however, is on Guardiola persisting with Busquets and Pedro in a side desperate for goals. Just across the street, the next generation will gain even more inspiration in pursuit of a goal of their own.

The Author

David Bevan

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