offpitch | 2016-03-30
The men responsible for La Masia discuss Cruyff, youth teams performances and more
Jordi Roura and Aureli Altimira, responsible for the youth football at Barça, analyse the season, La Masia and praise Cruyff
Barça’s academy has fallen short of the greatness of Johan Cruyff, honoured by all youth teams during the tournaments in the week of Easter. The heads of the academy, Jordi Roura and Aureli Altimira, met with Mundo Deportivo to analyse the season and praise the genius Dutchman as a player from 1974, but especially in 1988 when he, as a coach, revolutionized the azulgrana football.
Has the Barça youth football maintained Cruyff’s style?
Roura: "Cruyff established a style of play, but with time and the contribution of all coaches who arrived after, it's clear that it has evolved. But the essence is still his.”
Altimira: ”We have introduced some finishing touches, without changing it. All these years have shown that you can win by practicing happy and attractive football.”
There is a definite genetic aspect. The children are becoming bigger, and the football is more physical. How do you deal with this change?
Roura: “We are the only club that keep small, talented players. We have patience with players who suffer from physical issues. We wait for them. It is undeniable that there as positions, like goalkeeper or centre back, where they should be well developed [physically] when scouted, because if you’re only 1.70m, you can’t play. But in midfield and attack, we prioritize talent. We don’t sign a players that aren't very, very good.
Some time ago, the best youth players play in older age-brackets. Now, there are only a few: Abel, Mateu, Nico, Ansu, Ilaix…
Roura: Our idea is to strengthen this part. Next year, there will be more. The goal is the progression of players, for them to grow. This year, players like these have stood out. Maybe there were too many like these in that category, and then next year we will add the rest to a higher category. But we cannot do it with many. It’s an important decision, and it has to be thorough.
What have you changed in the last year and a half, leading La Masia?
Roura: I've always told Aurelio [Altimira] that we were very predictable. The boys were sure what to do. Touch the ball, widen the pitch, get into 1v1’s… We have an obsession that they have to go into big spaces. They all play, they all come, but in the end, [some] will have to leave. We worked in the first team, and we got it. Pedro, for example, swells to score goals going into spaces first. It’s not easy. You must go into spaces in a certain time, not always, depending on the opponent and other elements. There you go, adding new ways. The first team, for example, have become great at counter-attacking, without losing the touch. There is another issue, more intangible. We need to become more competitive. Giving up the style? No, not giving up anything. We have to play like we always do, that’s non-negotiable, but by being more aggressive in 1v1’s, reading the game better, giving more importance to the strategy, attacking and defending wise. How many times have we played well before, but lost due to a corner? This has to stop. A corner is a part of the game, and we must give it relevance. And it makes no sense that a center back tries to do a nutmeg in the 90th minute in the box. That’s not reading the match well. If we are able to integrate these things, we will be better for sure. But we have certain types of players, and it’s not easy.
Altimira: “The methodology is essentially the same as in previous steps. What has changed is the scouting method. Before, players from all over the world came, but now the objective is to have total control over Catalonia. We look at Xavi’s, Puyol’s and Busquets’s, and sometimes the Iniesta’s and Pedro’s of Spain that improve us.
Football wise, what else should work for Alevin, Infantil or a Cadet player?
Altimira: “With the Alevins, 7-a-side football, the individual technique, without forgetting the positional game, which is the basis of our training. In Infantil and Cadet stages, we incorporate tactical aspects such as pressure and creating space. Another difference is that in 7-a-side football, the players play in different positions. In 11-a-side football the positions are more fixed.
What do you prefer: polyvalent players or specialists?
Roura: “There’s an idea. It marks the process and the footballer. You never know if a player is a 7 in everything or a 10 in something. I don’t know. In 7-a-side football, versatility is favoured, in 11-a-side, everyone will find their place.
Altimira: “What I try to do when finishing off squad templates is to have two different profiles at every position. For example, a ‘9’ striker and a ‘9’ playmaker.”
What assessments you have so far this season?
Roura: “Good ones. We have already left behind a year and a half in a difficult environment due to the FIFA sanction, both sporting wise and that so many children have had nothing to do, without knowing when they might return. We contemplated two scenarios: that the signings could play and not play, and finally a third scenario, that they could not play and that it would stop 10-12 players more from playing. Luckily, we were farsighted, and we almost didn't reject any player, if not, some teams wouldn't have been able to compete. Luckily, this is history, the teams are playing well, and there are many very good players.”
Almost all teams are leading their leagues, and in the week of Easter, many won prestigious tournaments against rivals like Real Madrid and Espanyol.
Roura: “Yes, but so what? It’s great, it’s great to win, but if you win and you don’t see anyone with the talent to make it, it’s useless. Winning a league is more or less insignificant. What satisfies me is that every team has players who have options to reach the top.”
Altimira: “In four, five, six years, three or four of our players from our current youth football will be in the first team, for their quality and mentality. Upcoming generations of great promise.”
There have been comments that the squads have been bigger this year. Will there be less or more signings this summer?
Roura: “That’s the only thing that we need to solve. Possibly we’ll have to let go of more than what we usually go. [There are] transfers that we have to do. It doesn’t only depend on what you want, but also what the market has to offer.
Altimira: “In recent months, there have been surprises. Players, who could’ve been rejected or were dubious, but who have taken a step forward.
The new players just have half a year to show that they deserve to stay. Isn't it too much pressure?
Roura: “These players will try to get continuity. They have come across a complicated situation and just have three months of playing. Very little time to adapt at Barça.”
Altimira: “The FIFA sanction has also been a learning lesson for the coaches, who have had to manage a small squad until January and now must have to deal with too big squads.”
Roura: “By the way, for all transfers, when we were told they couldn’t play until January, they got the chance of leaving and that we’d understand if they did. But that wasn’t the case, everyone stayed, demonstrating the greatness of the club.”
Will players who have left the club, like Lederman, Take and Kais, return?
Roura: “There is a cordial relationship, but we cannot have a contractual relationship. For them to return, they and their clubs should want it to happen. In any case, we follow them. Take, for example, we went to see recently with the Japanese national team.”
The scouts of top English clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea, City, frequently visit the Ciutat Esportiva. Are you concerned that promises could leave?
Roura: “It’s a subject that we manage, but it’s here every year. Fortunately, nothing happened last year. What can we do? We must ensure that the player loves the club. It may seem corny or romantic, but we must try. We also let them know that they are players that fit our style, and that England is different. After, I get to know certain situations and their families. If they [English club] pay what they pay… Barça won’t enter an economic way. If we pay for one, we can reach a peak, if the player is worth it. But we can’t do it with twenty. We have to retain players who do not want to leave.”
The first team bar is high and therefore it takes more to get promoted, does that hurt when trying to convince a player to stay?
Roura: “Getting to the first team has always been difficult.”
But now it’s more difficult. They are the best in the world.
Roura: “Yes, but it depends on what positions. If you are a striker, it’s very difficult to reach the first team, because they have the three best players in the world. Before, being a midfielder was more complicated. Also keep in mind the great career opportunities you get after playing at Barça B. You can find a better club [to sign for in the future] if you play at Barça B than if you play in a club in the Primera or Segunda.”
Altimira: “Now, the kids are in a hurry. They must have patience, not coming up at 18, but 20 or 21.”
Roura: “Look at the players who have gone to England. Apart from one or two, not many have succeeded. No good structures, you begin to give in… It’s very complicated.”
There have been comments that that is a subject that you’re not managing. From the outside, it seems strange that a decision on a player whom you have been following from the age of 10 to 16 corresponds to another department, that of Pep Segura.
Roura: “There is another department. The management is different, but it’s all the same. The final decision is not ours, but there is good communication.”
Where there isn’t communication is at times at the games. In the previous round, Juvenil B and Cadet A played at 12 Saturday, and Juvenil A and Infantil played at 12 Sunday.
Roura: “It’s true, sometimes the game is on the television, and sometimes it depends on which teams are playing away. Juvenil A played Espanyol at home, Infantil B played away against Damm. The two rivals are from Barcelona.
Altimira: “Yes, it’s true, sometimes they coincide, and it’s an issue that must be corrected because they are interesting games.
Also in the previous round, the head of youth development in Real Madrid, ‘Piru’, was at Ciutat Esportiva. Were you surprised?
Altimira: “We also saw him in Gava, Terrassa… This has become a jungle. There are also people from Villarreal, Valencia…”
Roura: “It’s a sign of the importance that all clubs are giving to youth football.”
But neither Barça sign from Madrid or Madrid from Barça. Is there a gentleman’s agreement?
Roura: “Nobody has told me anything, nothing written, but this works well. I do not plan to sign anyone from Madrid, and I don’t think Madrid are planning to sign from Barça.”
How's the relationship with Espanyol?
Roura: “They were superb with Oscar Perarnau, who isn’t there any longer, and with Jordi Lardin they are also very good. In any case, if we sign someone from Espanyol, it’s because the player wants to come. It must be understood as normal.
The two summers before your arrivals, 6 Espanyol players were signed. You have only signed 3. Is there a trend?
Roura: “There is an idea. Our intention is to sign players who will improve what we have, whether they are from Espanyol, Gavá or Sevilla.
Altimira: “Right now, Espanyol players are tied down.
Roura: “It has to be very clear cases. Signing 6 Espanyol players will not happen. It’s excessive.”
How have the new coaches done?
Altimira: “Last year we did some re-touching only because it was fair that all coaches continued in the club for us to get to know them better, and to make an exhausting monitoring. This year there will also be some change, but we are very happy. They’re all hard workers and they understand what we want. They are doing a great job.
Do you follow the academic performances of the youth players?
Roura: “Yes. Besides from Carles Folguera, director or La Masia, Ruben Bonastre, the head teacher, gives us weekly reports. You can delay one or two assignments, but not seven or eight, because in the end, a slap in school is a slap in the dressing room. And if you allow an Infantil player to pass everything, it will last forever. Attitude is vital, and those who do not like it, goodbye.
Do you also control them on social media?
Roura: “It’s a serious problem. We have met with the parents. The police have spoken with the players, the Catalan FA have held organized talks… Coaches follow all players, who know they cannot speak ill of fellow rivals. The key is educational aspect, because we can’t prohibit it..
What do you think about 11 and 12-year-olds who have representatives?
Roura: “It’s inevitable. A few years ago it was unthinkable that a player would have representatives, and now it’s unthinkable that they don’t have it. You can’t ban it, either. The father appoints a person who handles talks with the club, and we will talk to that person. A representative will not move us from our positions or change our decision regarding the boys. In any case, there are representatives who are poor and others who are great.