Introducing this season’s class of homegrown Barcelona stars
With the exception of Alen Halilović, a recent signing from Dinamo Zagreb, all of the players pictured above have been at Barcelona since they were at least 14 years old. Heck, some of them have spent most of their lives there. Sergi Samper has been a Barcelona player since he was just 6 – a footballing education that to the general football fan, is almost unfathomable.
Not including Halilović, all of these players are products of La Masia (Barcelona’s famed academy). They have all been with the club through their formative years, progressing through the ranks on a yearly basis. The majority of them are current Barça B players, however some of them have been catapulted to the first team fold from Juvenil A (Barça’ under-19 team). No matter where they’ve come from, Luis Enrique has deemed them good enough to feature with the first team during this year’s pre-season.
In this article, I take a closer look at some of the more impressive performers from Barcelona’s pre-season and discuss what the future holds for these Canteranos.
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#3 Adama Traoré – Winger
Like Sergi Samper, Adama has been at La Masia since a very young age (8 years old). After competing on the International stage with Spain, the country of birth, he recently switched his allegiances to Mali. It might not feel like a blow for them right now, but it could well do in 3 or 4 years time. The wide man is a cocktail of frightening pace, power and directness. When you add a Barcelona footballing education to those attributes, the results could be devastating. Adama has been a fixture in the B side since 2013 and actually got a taste of first team action last year, coming on as a late substitute in games against Granada and Ajax in the Champions League. At the moment, it doesn’t count for much though.
During pre-season Adama often got 45 minutes to show what he could do. There were signs of a superstar ready to break out during the Nice game – one driving run from his own half all the way to the opposition penalty area sticks out. But there were also moments where he looked very raw. The biggest thing for Adama at the moment, is finding a place where he can feature regularly at a high level. I have absolutely no doubt that he is a star in the making, but the final part of the sentence is key – “in the making”. Experience at the top level is the final ingredient needed for Adama. It is the only thing he needs to become the player that many hope he can be.
#2 Sergi Samper – Centre Midfield
Now, I’ve put Samper down as #2 in this list, but that’s purely based on this pre-season. In terms of overall prospects at La Masia, he is without a doubt the finest, for me. An elegant midfielder who performs way beyond his years, he is quite evidently the future of Barça’s midfield.
Samper has made 40 appearances for the B team, and increasingly one of the first names on the team sheet. He is a deep-lying playmaker who prides himself on his ball distribution and control of the midfield area, something he’s very well esteemed in. When you’ve played for Barcelona since you were 6 years old, those attributes tend to come fairly naturally.
In the game against Nice a few weeks ago, Barça struggled in the first half. Changes were made at half time and on came Samper in the pivot, to form a midfield trio with Xavi and Rakitić. The 19-year old fitted in seamlessly, it looked like he had 100 Primera games under his belt. Along with his more experienced midfielders, he helped Barça regain control of the midfield to plant the foundations of what was a much better 2nd half performance.
I’m unsure whether Samper will be included in the first team fold this season, although I think he’s absolutely good enough. The landscape for him will become a lot clearer over the next year, with his elder Sergi Roberto not really establishing himself in the first team despite 3/4 years of inclusion. At this point, I feel it’s only a matter of time before Samper surpasses him.
#1 Munir El Haddadi – Striker
And finally, the Spanish striker with the Moroccan name… Munir rose to fame last year after he guided Barça to a UEFA Youth League title win in Switzerland. He scored 11 goals in 10 games during the tournament, catching the attention of teams all over Europe.
After displaying such form, he was promoted to the B team last season where he went on to score 4 goals in 11 games in his debut season. An almost 1 in 2 ratio for a first year graduate is impressive, but Munir’s game isn’t totally reliant on scoring goals, unlike his previous records would have you believe. A clever forward who finishes just as well as he makes intelligent off-ball runs, his style for an eventual first team call-up is just what Luis Enrique will be looking for.
His debut season for Barça B was a fruitful one. Featuring regularly throughout pre-season, he has continually got better as the appearances have racked up. His most recent performance against Helsinki was the game-changer. He scored two goals and provided a clever assist in a brilliant 45-minute cameo. He had been making the right runs and doing all the right things throughout pre-season, but the game in Finland was when it all came together. Munir possesses a wide range of attributes that you would want in a modern-day striker. Maybe not blessed with the finest physical assets, but his mind works twice as fast as you could ever run.
Of all the prospects, I think a first team calls are most forthcoming for Munir and Samper. They are quite comfortably the most technically gifted pair from this year’s class, and I have no doubt that both of them could give a good account of themselves in the Primera if they were to be promoted right now. I don’t think their call-ups will come just yet, but I’ll be looking to both of them to really establish themselves towards the end of the season/start of next season.
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JAMIE KEMP is a Spanish/European Football Writer for Inside La Liga, uMAXITFootball and a host of others. He is also an FA Licensed Football Coach with a passion for youth development. Follow Jamie on Twitter.