Football: He preaches the La Masia way

Few would have thought it possible, but there is actually a path to the famed FC Barcelona academy of La Masia in Singapore for young footballers of exceptional talent.

Based on the system adopted by the Spanish giants that have produced such delicious talents like Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, FCBEscola (FCBE) set up shop in Singapore last September, and the school's technical director, Carles Martin, has been instructed to keep his eyes peeled for prodigious youngsters.

"That is my job: if I see someone with very good skills - exceptional - I must fill the report and immediately send it back to Barcelona," Martin (right) told The New Paper. "It's not easy to explain what it is we are looking for, but having been coaching for 12 years, it's easy to see.

"The club don't like to contract players (who are too young) and prefer to get players living in Spain. Maybe not now, but perhaps in the future I will be writing this report."

FCBE works with children aged between six and 12 years and next week, Martin will travel with 24 boys from the school here to compete in the third edition of the annual FCBEscola International Tournament in Barcelona.

Like so many youngsters around the world, he dreamed of being a professional footballer.

But a serious knee injury cruelly ended his chance.

Today, the Catalan - he joined Barcelona as international coordinator for FCBEscola in Spain - is working hard to try and help others realise their dream.

Martin is acutely aware of the dangers of talking up the possibility of professional football with one of the most storied football clubs in the world over but, after six months in Singapore, he says he has already seen a few boys he believes could don national colours in the future

"We are dealing with dreams and kids, that's an explosive combination. We can't sell the message that you will be the next Messi, Xavi or Iniesta, but they need to dream," he admitted.

"But it's easy to work with players who dream, they have this passion."

Last week, reigning La Liga champions Barcelona made headlines when Fifa hit them with a year-long ban for irregularities in the signing of 10 young players over recent seasons.

Barcelona will appeal against the decision, while internal investigations continue.

Martin declined to comment on the matter, but said he has yet to receive any instructions from the club. He believes the issue is unlikely to affect the way things are run at FCBE, where the focus is on football education to produce thinking players.

That means business as usual in Singapore, where Martin wants at least one misconception to change.

"I don't like the phrase 'tiki taka', that's a marketing tool, not a sports term. In Spanish, it is "pass and pass" - it means nothing," said the 29-year-old.

"We prefer to talk about passing lines, about technique, tactics and game situations, things that the kids can understand and execute.

 

DISCOVERY

"We are about guiding discovery, not creating automatons. The players decide what the best option is."

Parents pay a premium - $469 for thrice-weekly sessions - for their boys or girls to receive an education in the Barcelona philosophy. Insisting the programme is not a money-spinner or a marketing tool for the club, Martin believes those who sign up get good value: The method and system employed at La Masia.

In Catalunya, they say Barcelona are "mes que un", or more than a club.

They stand for values that transcend the realm of sport and this is what Martin believes makes the FCBE system different from other academies.

"We aim to create a healthy environment where values like respect and sportsmanship can grow and become habits," he said.

"The players are taught to tuck in their shirts, shake hands and play fair; values that we hope will carry into their lives off the pitch.

"But, especially so on the pitch, which is like a sanctuary for players and coaches."

 

This article was published on April 9 in The New Paper.

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