One of the most successful clubs in world football, FC Barcelona is distinguished by a style of play that melds the beautiful game’s carnivalesque flavour with a discipline that runs like a unifying thread through the players on the field, one end of it held by the manager hopping about the team dugout. This thread extends beyond the playing field, to Barcelona’s youth training academy FCBEscola, popularly known as La Masia (“the farmhouse”), perhaps most famous for producing Fifa’s three-time player of the year, Lionel Messi.
But La Masia is more than just Messi. In 2010, it became the first youth academy to have trained all three finalists for Fifa’s player of the year—Andrés Iniesta, Messi and Xavi Hernández. Having opened academies in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Poland, FCBEscola has now taken its first steps towards establishing one in India.
Barcelona’s unique style of play was introduced to 360 children between the ages of 8 and 17 during two five-day camps held in the National Capital Region—at The British School, Chanakyapuri, from 30 December, and The Heritage School, Gurgaon, from 6 January—through a tie-up between Conscient Football and FC Barcelona. Conscient Football, part of the real estate investment company Conscient Group, promotes football in India and has a three-year memorandum of understanding with the All India Football Federation; the group runs The Heritage School.
The La Masia way: Children being trained at the camp at The Heritage School, Gurgaon. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Three FCBEscola coaches, led by Josep ‘Pep’ Moratalla, put the children and a clutch of coaches from Conscient Football through the paces, familiarizing them with the club’s training methods.
“There is an Indian way of playing and there is the Barca way,” says Jayavandan, head coach with Conscient Football. “A highly professional method that is all about respect and sacrifice.”
Three-day training of the local coaches in the Barcelona method preceded the camp. Jayavandan, along with 11 other coaches from Conscient Football, learnt a style that pays particular attention to the player’s intimate relationship with the ball, intensive drills, player-specific training, and enjoyment of the game. “Enjoyment is the basic thing,” attests Moratalla. “It is always better for an individual’s functioning within a team.”
Having tested the waters with these camps, Barcelona may go on to establish a full-fledged academy in India. The Indian coaches, employing their local knowledge, and trained in the club’s style of play, would then be a vital part of it.
By all accounts, these two camps served as platforms for the children to bond as teammates. “You can’t possibly produce a great player at the end of a five-day camp,” says Jayavandan. “Our focus was on increasing the children’s love for football and introducing them to all the techniques.”
Eye on the ball: Josep ‘Pep’ Moratalla of FCBEscola. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Moratalla adds: “You need continuity for progress in the game. What we teach them also forms a part of the Barcelona team’s training. The children need to continue working on these skills.”
The 180 children in each camp were divided into two batches and put through 3-hour training sessions for five days. Each session began with a warm-up that lasted 10-15 minutes. Barcelona believes in short warm-up sessions that don’t stretch the child’s muscles too much. This was followed by individual skills, where the children were encouraged to build a relationship with the ball, “making it listen to them”, as Jayavandan calls it.
Stopping and passing the ball formed an indispensable part of the session. At first, the players were made to go through the process without a defender to worry them. Later, defenders were brought in. Jayavandan says stopping and passing is of prime importance in the Barcelona way.
“Every aspect, right from the position of the player whom the ball is being passed to and the pressure to be applied on the ball while kicking, to the posture of the body, is given due importance,” he says.
The session closed with a few matches. Of particular interest was the match that pits five players against another set of five players, with an additional five acting as “jokers”. These jokers flip loyalties from one side to the other during the game, playing for the team which is not in possession of the ball.
“Jokers help you get a better sense of the game,” says 15-year-old Aditya Jain, a participant at The British School camp. Jain, who has been playing for seven years and has attended many camps, says he learnt a great deal from this one. “One second you’re attacking, the other you’re defending—it improves your passing in small spaces.” Jain says he has improved on passing the ball along the ground, shifted from the wings to a more central position on the field, and most importantly, “learnt to think a lot more when the ball was at my feet”.
Moratalla considers keeping the ball in possession and taking the initiative the fundamental attributes of a Barcelona player. “Recuperation from the training and feedback is very, very important too,” he continues. “The individual’s feelings about the aspects he has worked on need to be understood at the end of the day.”
Camaraderie and understanding is palpable in the Barcelona unit that turns out day after day before ever-swelling crowds expecting nothing but effortless domination from a side that contributed a majority of the players to the Spanish national side that won the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
“About 80% of the players in the Barcelona team hail from the Catalunya region of Spain, with only 20% coming from other parts of the country and the rest of the world,” says Moratalla. It says a lot about the efficacy of this training system.