Arsenal V Barcelona – The La Masia war

Two giants of world football, but whilst one is resigned to a sixth season without a trophy, the other prepares for a possible league and European Cup double. Arsenal, touted in the media as “Barca light,” have again been left to reflect on a season of ‘what could have been’ whilst the Catalan giants attempt to truly cement their place as the world’s greatest ever football team.

In terms of comparison you might think it’s a bit one sided. But as Barcelona revel in their current wave of glory, Arsenal are slowly shaping themselves for the future; in the form of Barcelona’s youngsters.

The Gunners first infuriated Barcelona with the capture of current Arsenal skipper, Cesc Fabregas [in 2003]. Whilst the deal originally reached £2million, Barcelona owed much of that transfer fee back to Arsenal in installments from the Overmars and Petit deals. This makes Fabregas a bargain in every sense of the word.

Whilst the Fabregas deal enraged Barca, it hasn’t stopped Arsenal from going back for more. They’ve taken the less successful Fran Merida, youngster Ignasi Miquel (who made his Arsenal debut in the 1-1 draw against Leyton Orient this season) and most recently, 16 year old midfielder Jon Miquel Toral Harper. Speculation is increasing that 15 year old, Xavi Quintilla could also be close to signing at the Emirates.

Another player from the famed La Masia academy said to be on the verge of joining Arsenal is that of 16 year old striker, Hector Bellerin. The youngster has recently been drafted into the U-16 Spanish team and Arsenal appear set to beat off competition from Manchester United and Chelsea for his signature.  

Whilst it is too early to tell how good the Spanish striker will be, you could hazard a guess that with Barca’s track record for producing young superstars, and Wenger’s eye for talent, that this kid could be a world beater.

But why would these young players want to leave the footballing school of excellence that is La Masia? Why would they turn their backs on potentially performing in the famous red and blue shirts? Why do they instead turn to the breeding ground of Arsenal FC?

Anyone who suggests that money is the primary reason is short-sighted. Whilst English clubs can legally offer professional contracts to players over the age of 16, (compared to 18 in Spain); England’s taxation policy means that other European countries such as Italy and Spain can offer smaller wage packets, with the player still receiving the same purse at the end of it.

For those that feel these players move for the chance to play in the best league in the world are also short of the mark. Bear in mind that in recent years, La Liga has attracted footballing talent such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, as well as possessing current World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi. This by no means suggests that La Liga is a better that the Premiership, but the pull factor that it possesses as well as being more aesthetically pleasing than long ball antics of some Premier League teams, certainly puts it in a strong position.

I personally feel that with the impeccably high standards set by Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, there is unnecessary pressure on the future generation of Barcelona to succeed. There is also no sign that these players are set to make way for future stars so youngsters see a move away as not only financially beneficial, but potentially a fast track into first team football. This is where Arsenal come in. Where better to break onto the world scene than “Barca light” themselves? The footballing style takes little adaption, and Wenger is world renown for blooding young stars at a young age. So the question shouldn’t be why do these Barcelona prodigies keep leaving, but rather, how long until they return?

Matt Mace

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