masia | 2015-10-11
La Masia - Not everyone makes it
What next for the players that didn't establish themselves in Barcelona's first team?
The meeting between Rayo Vallecano and Deportivo de La Coruña this season marked a special occasion that many missed: Roberto Trashorras and Fernando Navarro were back playing on a first division pitch. It’s not something rare, as they did it several times in the past. But the players are now 34 and 33 years old, an age which begins to raise doubts in La Liga, even as they are winners who have featured there for 15 years. From 2000 to 2003 they even shared the same team at Barcelona B, and they persevere to this day.
This meeting may seem an insignificant detail, but that is far from the reality. We can talk about the Barça B team of the 2000/2001 season, to show how hard it is to reach the top. Being in such a privileged academy can determine the career of a player. Being at Barça or Madrid in a given moment can open several doors, even if it can also increase expectations. As a friend would say about the ball and the eleven players, “football manages to put you in the place you belong.”
That year, Barça B were in Segunda B and Xavi, Puyol, Gabri, Mario Rosas, Arnau and Luis Garcia had already left. Another generation was coming. In this one, the ingredients were once again deceptive, as is almost always the case in the big clubs’ second teams.
The team was coached by Josep Maria Gonzalvo, accustomed to Segunda B and known for being an analyst on Catalan television. He had at his disposal players with very high expectations, something that wasn’t well handled by the club. Money was a lost battle before the beginning of the season. The salary differences between the players kept the group from enjoying harmony. The range went from millionaire contracts to normal ones. Between that and the overall club instability (coaching and presidential changes), the team that led the first round ended in a unexpected 11th place after bottling the second half of the season.
Nowadays, only one player from that group remains at F.C. Barcelona: Andres Iniesta. That season, he was a 16-year-old player who only played 10 games. He struggled physically against older players. He played as a 4 and still had to improve and learn, although his coach carefully watched over him to control his development. Gonzalvo said that the day of his debut against Figueres, he discovered the intimate side of Iniesta: “I went to see him at home and (it) surprised me, it was really simple and clean, except it was full of religious symbols.”
Other players came to the first team. In goal there was a first-team competitiveness between José Manuel Reina and Victor Valdes. The first one had an advantage and after playing the first part of the season, made it to the first team and never went back.
Valdés then took the baton and despite being closely followed by Frank Hoek, who expected him to be the first-choice goalkeeper choice in Barça’s future, his maturity still wasn’t enough and he didn’t take corrections well.
The third one in competition was Javi Ruiz, less talented than the other two, but with a high work ethic that led him to two seasons in the second division and three years in the Espanyol first team, even if he couldn’t start in Liga. He spent the rest of his career with different Segunda B teams.
The defense for that team also flirted with the elite. Bermudo only had one year in the first division, in Tenerife, but injuries stopped his progression. Iban Cuadrado was four seasons at that level, between Murcia and Malaga. The technique and versatility of Óscar López still didn’t allow him to succeed at the Camp Nou -- he only played 35 games in the top flight. Luis Miguel Carrión made his career in Segunda B, and even managed to be promoted to Segunda with Nastic de Tarragona. And special mention for the centre back who was followed by Gerard Piqué: Dani Tortolero. There was information circulating inside the club that he was the best central defender of the squad, but his football earned him a place not in the Camp Nou but rather in the second division, where he made a brilliant career.
The midfield had two players who succeeded in football, but not at Barcelona, Thiago Motta and Mikel Arteta. The first one came from Brazil, without almost any concept of European football and with an aggressiveness which soiled his quality. The second one didn’t feel good being in the same club as Pep Guardiola and Xavi Hernández, master and student, both of whom were already in the first team.
There were three other players who promised a brilliant future, but ended without meeting the expectations, in: Sergio Santamaría, Haruna Babangida and Nano.
Santamaria had to deal with the media pressure after he won the Golden Ball at the Under-17 World Cup in Egypt, in a tournament where Xavi and Ronaldinho were playing, Then his level dropped, making himself dispensable. His career after leaving Barça in 2004 went through Segunda and Segunda B without any glory.
The cases of Babangida and Nano were conditioned by expectation, as well as the way they were managed. The 16-year-old Nigerian was the pearl of La Masia. He had everything required to succeed. and the press praised him. But the rushed campaign to promote him to the first team affected him -- he couldn’t handle it and ended up moving from Barcelona to several different countries. His gaffes continue to be famous far from Barcelona. In 2010, he signed for the second team at Mainz. He was 28 then, and when he was called by Thomas Tuchel for the first team, he didn’t come because he fell asleep.
Nano had everything to succeed. He was strong, tall and fast, a winger who seemed ready to leave a mark. However, you could say he was a victim of the club situation. He came to the first team and had an offer from Arsenal whose technicians advised the club to accept, but the sporting director turned a deaf ear and extended his contract by an amount disproportionate for his age. His efficiency decreased and despite having had a long career in the First Division, Segunda and Segunda B, his history wasn’t the expected one.
In that team there was also Samuel Okunowo, a Nigerian. He arrived that year and surprised the coach, Josep Maria Gonzalvo, because of a strange circumstance.
“They introduced him to me and I coached him. I saw his movements weren’t natural. It appeared that he was injured, with a (muscle fiber) rupture which neither he nor anyone (mentioned). The injury got worse so he needed three months to recover.”
Okunowo began with Van Gaal even though his level seemed far from being Barça quality. Then his career quickly went away from the elite. He played for leagues in Romania, Albania, Ukraine, Iran, Maldives and the England 5th division before coming back to Nigeria, where he asked for help in returning to Spain after a fire let him homeless.
Other players from that team had more modest careers, such as Alberto Manga, Moisés Pereiro, David García, Sergio García Capitán or Albert Puigdollers. Each of them had a career in Segunda B, but two cases can be highlighted: Jorge Perona and Miki Albert, the two 9s of that team. Perona came with the sense of a goleador, a quality he didn’t lose (he had a great career in Segunda B), but maybe his objectives were cut short because of coming along at such a young age, with so much being asked of him. Albert had smaller expectations, but a cardiac irregularity ended his career at 27, after several seasons in Segunda B.
All these men, with their histories and their trajectories, shared the team with Fernando Navarro and Roberto Trashorras, who both had distinct roles.
Navarro and Trashorras
Navarro arrived from the youth division, and the high expectations created when he made it to the first team with Frank Rijkaard ended with him leaving Barça before making it, even if his hard worker reputation allowed him to have a long career in the first division -- he even won the European Cup in 2008.
Trashorras was an undebatable starter, despite being a complicated player back then. Intelligent, technical and a good scorer, he had everything to succeed, but his game wasn’t what the coach expected. If their relationship was complex, the media ended up killing a marriage that had not yet begun. Despite that, Trashorras went on with a career in the second division before reaching the first division and becoming the leader of a Rayo team which continues to surprise.
In football, there are many stories -- stories behind the story of something as irrelevant as a meeting between two players, Trashorras and Navarro, before a Rayo-Deportivo game. Making the top level is the ultimate thing in a footballer’s career. Many try, some are chosen and only one makes it through. Money, expectations, talent and luck are the many issues during the life of a player, a life that eventually respects the saying above, that “football manages to put you in the place you belong,” said by Pedro Nieto, a former player.
Also in the youth teams were Anestis Anastasiadis, and two Brazilians suggested by Rivaldo: Marcelo and Triguinho. The first one, a mistake of the secretarial department, didn’t have the Blaugrana DNA. The Brazilians trained several months with the team despite not being able to play in Segunda B due to residency complications. Triguinho went on to play in top category of Brazilian football.
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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Iñaki García.
TRANSLATED BY: Jérémy Veron
Jéremy is a die hard Barcelona fan and currently studies business in France.