Barca still hopes to woo top talents

BARCELONA - It may not be held in the glamorous setting of the Nou Camp, or at the world class training facilities of the club's youth academy La Masia.

But this has not stopped hundreds of children, hailing from different parts of the world, from taking part in the FCBEscola International Tournament, an annual football competition featuring the school's branches worldwide.

This year, 780 children competed in the third edition of the seven-a-side competition, held at the training pitches of the Miniestadi, home to Barcelona's B team.

Tryouts at FCBEscola Barcelona, the flagship branch of the club's global network of football schools, alone saw some 1,500 trialists compete for 80 spots.

Said Xevi Merce, director at FCBEscola Barcelona: "For us, the biggest change over the years has been the number of participants. Every year, the number increases as we open more and more schools worldwide."

Such numbers should quell fears of a Barcelona decline, in the wake of Fifa slapping a year-long transfer ban on the club.

After all, they can still rely on drawing the best young talents from the Catalonia region - with a population of 7.57 million - and grooming them for the first team.

It is a formula that has worked wonders for the Spanish giants, who have been one of the world's top sides in the last decade.

The first team has 11 Catalans, with a further four coming from other parts of Spain. In total, there are 17 youth-team products - including Lionel Messi, who joined the club when he was 11.

However, the club's global recruitment - snapping up the likes of Argentinian Messi and Mexican Jonathan dos Santos at a young age - would undoubtedly be affected.

Barca also currently boasts two top Asian prospects in La Masia - Japanese Takefusa Kubo, 13, signed after impressing at the FCBEscola in Japan, and South Korean teen Lee Seung Woo, 16. Securing such top talents may prove harder in the future.

Fifa rules dictate that clubs can only sign international players under 18 unless the players are older than 16 and live in nations in the European Economic Area, or if the player's parents are moving for their own, non-sporting reasons, or if the buying club is less than 50km from the player's home.

That said, Barca can still rely on FCBEscola's expanding global network as a useful scouting tool.

There are also no rules preventing them from housing precocious talents in their football school before transferring them to their academy. Over the past decade, more than 80 youngsters have made the jump from FCBEscola to La Masia.

Merce said the school will continue expanding overseas. He said: "The goal is to be present in different countries, and share our methodology to the rest of the world. We believe that this is a good thing to do."

This article was published on April 18 in The Straits Times.

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