Barcelona’s management has come under intense scrutiny in previous years with both the managers and President taking criticism from Barca’s devoted fanbase. Messi’s shock request to leave the club earlier this year put this further into the public eye and highlighted Bartomeu’s poor running of the Spanish giants even further, causing him to resign. However, while there have been some serious failings that have come to fruition lately, there have also been a number that have gone under the radar in the last few years relating to their retainment of youth players.
Barca’s academy record is undoubtedly one of the best in the world with football fans all over recognising the famous name of La Masia. The academy has formerly been home to a number of players who have gone on to be among the the best in the world in their position, but they haven’t got it right every single time. With this in mind, we thought we’d go through some of the biggest mistakes they’ve made, featuring some players that you might not realise were once part of the academy!
The first player on our list is RB Leipzig’s Dani Olmo. The Spaniard joined La Masia at the age of 7 and made quite a name for himself, finishing as top scorer in his age group in four out of his six seasons there. An impressive feat when you consider the vast swathes of talent that the academy churns out every year.
Olmo decided to leave La Masia eventually, favouring first team football over youth team action, joining Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. He was hugely successful at Zagreb, being fast tracked to the first team and making his Champions League debut in a short amount of time. However, after 134 appearances for the Croatian club, Olmo decided to make the step up and join Julian Nagelsmann’s exciting Leipzig side. Olmo actually claims Barca were interested in resigning him before his move to Leipzig. Interestingly, he criticised their behaviour, claiming that they reached out to him, before putting everything on hold and postponing the move, leading him to move to Germany. Now widely regarded as one of the top attacking midfield prospects in Europe, Olmo is starting to show signs of his early promise as he delivers on some of the biggest stages, as Barca agonisingly watch on.
Next on the list is a player who very few people know was formerly a Barcelona youth player, Mauro Icardi. The Argentine was hot property as a youngster and had both Barcelona and Real Madrid fighting for his signature before joining the Catalan club. Icardi represented both the U17 and U19 teams before joining Sampdoria on loan in 2011. This move worked really well for Icardi as he bagged 13 goals in just 19 games for Sampdoria’s youth side, leading the Italian club to move to sign him permanently. It didn’t take long for Icardi to make his mark and by 2012 he had already made his debut for the senior side.
Icardi’s big move came a year later as he joined Inter and went on to score over a hundred goals for the Italian giants in a career that’s been full of controversy. This controversy led to Icardi finding himself out of favour at Inter, despite his obvious goalscoring ability. Not content with sitting in the stands, Icardi moved on loan to PSG for a season before making the move permanent. A natural scorer with a keen eye for goal, Icardi is a player that Barca will surely be wishing they fought harder to keep.
Third on our list is a player who Barcelona not only let slip through their fingers, but did so at the cost of him joining their arch rivals. Takefusa Kubo is still only 19 years of age, yet promises a huge amount. The young Japanese was absolutely tearing it up for the Barcelona youth teams before it came to light that Barca had broken international transfer policy for under 18 youths, making him inelligible. Following this setback, Kubo headed back to Japan with FC Tokyo, before spending half a year on loan at Yokohama F Marinos.
It was from here where Kubo really began to make headlines as clips of him making a mockery of opposition defenders, even at such a young age, went viral. He was instantly dubbed the ‘Japanese Messi’ due to his incredible close control and this caught the eye of none other than Real Madrid. Kubo signed for Real Madrid in June 2019 and joined them on their pre season tour, however, was loaned out to RCD Mallorca for the upcoming season. He made 35 appearances in La Liga during a difficult season which saw Mallorca relegated. Despite this, Kubo’s reputation remained thoroughly intact as he was considered one of the bright sparks of the team. The promise he showed in this season led to another loan move for the current season, but this time to a more successful La Liga side in Villarreal. Although yet to hit the headlines for his displays in Europe, Kubo has shown so much ability and if Real Madrid can get his development just right, then they look to have a serious player on their hands, a prospect made even more desirable by the fact that it would signal a huge error from their rivals, Barcelona.
One of the more well known players on this list is Wolves’ Adama Traore. Most football fans are aware that the flying winger was previously at Barcelona after he joined Villa from the Catalan club in 2015. Spanish born, to Malian parents, Adama made has actually represented Barca in the Champions League away at Ajax in 2013. However, the now Wolves man was not the player he is currently and this can be evidenced even by a simple picture of him during his time in Spain. Since moving to England, Traore has bulked up massively and has managed to combine his unbelievable pace with a hulk-like physique.
Some might consider Traore a late bloomer, however, still at just 24, he has very gradually developed his game. While at Villa and then Middlesbrough, Traore’s talents were clear as he would regularly blaze past or even through the opposition, but this ability was very rarely met with any end product. He became associated with tearing through defences before being unable to find the finish or a decent cross. It began to look like the Spaniard was a one trick pony and that this lack of end product would be a flaw that would define his career in England. Despite this, Traore managed to get a move to Wolves in 2018 for a fee of around £18m and it was there where his career really took off. Playing under Nuno Espiritos Santos in a hugely exciting Wolves side, Traore began to finally find the quality that he needed to turn his ability into results. He gradually went from impact sub to a vital name on the team sheet as teams became terrified of his ability to burn through their lines of defence.
Although it would be slightly harsh on Barcelona to say they misjudged Traore entirely as he did also massively struggle in England to begin with, it has to be said, that perhaps they can be blamed for not getting the best out of him when there was obvious talent there. Whilst Middlesbrough and Villa also failed, not much changed between there and Wolves, where Nuno and his coaching staff have uncovered a real gem, something Barca would normally back themselves to do, but failed miserably this time.
Finally we have Ajax’s Andre Onana who joined Barcelona in 2010. The Cameroonian keeper started out at the Samuel Eto’o Foundation, where he developed for five years before deciding to join Ajax’s youth team. Onana started in the youth team, Jong Ajax for a while, showing much promise and making 39 appearances, before earning his chance at playing for the senior side. Since being promoted to the full Ajax team, it’s fair to say Onana hasn’t looked back, making 225 appearances in all competitions for the Dutch side.
Since cementing his place in the Ajax team, Onana’s performances have begun to attract interest from elsewhere, with Chelsea being heavily linked in the past. Onana even claimed that Barcelona have shown some interest in resigning him, but a move is yet to materialise. Onana isn’t the first player in this list that Barca have shown an interest in resigning so if this doesn’t tell you that they know they’ve made a mistake then I don’t know what does!
Who do you think Barcelona’s biggest mistake was? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Instagram!