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  • Writer's pictureBruin Sports Analytics

How Effective is La Masia?

By: Derek Diaz and Elly Goan


Football Club Barcelona is one of the most well-known teams across the world. Barcelona is well known for their superstar Lionel Messi who played and dominated the La Liga league from 2004 and finally leaving the club in 2021. Even with the absence of their superstar, the team continued to succeed finishing the past 10 seasons in a top 3 standing in the Spanish top-flight La Liga. However, recent mismanagement has left the club in a massive financial crisis. According to Catalan Newspaper Diari ARA, FC Barcelona has €1.3 Billion to repay from loans before 2032 and €613.5 Million of that is due before 2028. With this, FC Barcelona find themselves stagnant in the player transfer market with a net spend of €3.4 Million in the Summer of 2023. Fortunately for FC Barcelona, their youth prospects are among the best in the world and come from their own academy, La Masia. It is a very difficult and selective process to earn a spot in the program. Despite this selective program, typically about 30%-40% of the students continue to have a professional career in football while only 10%-15% make it to the top level. Given their situation, is La Masia the answer to FC Barcelona’s financial and sporting crisis?

In the top flight of Spanish Football, La Liga, they instill salary caps for teams based on their financial performances and debt ratios. Due to their financial struggles, FC Barcelona’s salary cap for the 24/24 season has been decreased. The aim of La Liga’s strictness within salary caps is so that they can channel their revenue toward their debt. FC Barcelona’s salary cap has been set at €204 Million following the conclusion of the January 2024 transfer window. This comes with the financial restrictions of registering players within the league as their annual payroll currently sits around €219 Million. Displayed are the top 10 gross salaries of the players at FC Barcelona with Frenkie De Jong, Robert Lewandowski, and Ilkay Gundogan being among the top 3 reported earners. We can also see that FC Barcelona’s payroll drastically increased from the 16/17 season, peaking at the 19/20 season. While the past 4 seasons have seen a decrease in order to find financial stability.

Due to the tight salary cap along with injuries to first-team players, manager Xavi Hernandez has had to rely on the youth academy to fill these empty roles. Fortunately for them, their youth academy La Masia has a historically good track record producing the likes of Messi, Iniesta, Busquets, Puyol, Pique, and even Xavi Hernandez himself who have all found themselves to be regarded as some of the best of their generation. Under Xavi 15 La Masia players have made their debut for the first team. These include the likes of Lamine Yamal (16) and Pau Cubarsi (17). Along with these debutants, Xavi also continues to use La Masia graduates Ronald Araujo (25), Pablo Gavi (19), and Alejandro Balde (20). These players have become a core part of the first team under Xavi Hernandez, but the further question lies in how they line up against similar players in their position. Can they compete with other top players?

Pau Cubarsi and Lamine Yamal are some of the latest breakout stars who have found themselves in Barcelona’s starting lineup consistently. Are they the solution to maintaining a tight salary cap while continuing to progress the club's success? As new players to the club, they both make a gross salary of €1,6700,000 a year, which is within the bottom 8 players of the club's payroll (2023-2024 Barcelona Salaries and Contracts, n.d.). Both made their debut at a young age; 15 and 16 respectively. Above are two graphs that visualize the percentile for specific stats ranked against players in their position from around the world. Yamal proves why he can be such a useful winger for Xavi, creating actions which lead to goal by ranking high in expected assists and passes into the penalty area. Cubarsi on the other hand demonstrates what a good distributor he can be throughout his play ranking among the highest for total passing distance against top defenders in his position.

At such a young age there is experience to be gained in their development and their play to also be refined. Though progress is never linear, Lamine Yamal and Pau Cubarsi show strong signs of making it to the top level through their performances in their teenage years. The further emphasis on their part to play in the first team does rely on their integration into the playstyle of FC Barcelona. 

(Lionel Messi Stats, Goals, Records, Assists, Cups and More |, n.d.)

With Messi as the most notable alumni out of the La Masia academy, above is a table presenting his statistics from the most recent year. It is clear that he is a star player in many aspects. Given his years of experience, it is hard to compare his success to the very new and young Cubarsi and Yamal. However, they are performing well as demonstrated by their relatively high ranking in percentiles for numerous statistics so given more experience they can continue to grow just as Messi did to make him the player he is today. 

FC Barcelona’s style of play is often described as “Tiki-Taka” which is their tactics that consist of short passes to maximize possession of the ball and once a scoring opportunity arises to then attack. This style was achieved most notably by Pep Guardiola from 2008-2012 in which FC Barcelona was crowned Spanish champions 3 times and European champions twice under his reign. Stylistically this is how their academy operates and for a player to be a good fit for this club there are certain skills that are important to develop to ensure success at the high level which include a good first touch, passing accuracy, and movement without the ball. 

As emphasized it is crucial for players to have a good fit into the team with consistent passes the above graph compares the six players in their average progressive passes per 90 and percentile. A progressive pass can be considered any pass that is 10 yards toward the team's attacking goal or a pass that is completely within the penalty area of the opponent. The measure per 90 refers to the average of the specific statistic within the 90-minute long game. The graph demonstrates that Ronald Araujo performs highest amongst percentile standing at the 81st percentile and Fermin Lopez averages 5 progressive passes per game. Given each player has a different role and position to fulfill for the team it can be seen that Pau and Ronald perform well and fulfill the preferred strategy of the club as well as perform highly in regards to their position.

Of the La Masia graduates with a contract and registered salary with the first team, we can visualize their earnings. Many factors go into a contract negotiation and salary compensation and it can be seen that their La Masia graduates make significantly less earnings than the other players at the club. Now, it must be noted that these contracts were given under the turmoil of the financial struggles, and with an effort to stay at the club of their life, these La Masia graduates seemed to have been more keen on helping the club during these troubling times. Of these salaries displayed above some players previously mentioned above may not appear. This is because their contract is registered with the subsidiary teams and therefore does not contribute to the first team's salary cap. Though, it is a much lower and less significant salary so it wouldn’t make much of a difference this can be seen as a way to increase the talents among the first team without causing more hurdles in the club's financial sector.

With the history and recent success of La Masia players among the first team, it is clear that FC Barcelona remains keen on retaining and generating more talent that is taught how to be a good fit for the club. The further financial struggles of the club make it difficult for the club to sign players and retain the high earners but La Masia offers a solution to both. La Masia has been core in FC Barcelona’s golden years and is proving again why it can be such a valuable asset for FC Barcelona.


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