BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Barcelona has risen to the top of European soccer on the strength of its highly productive academy.
Now, it's looking to expand its stock of homegrown talent through a new school building to develop even more young players.
The new facility was presented to the media on Friday and has the name of the Catalan club's emblematic old residence, La Masia. But by increasing its capacity from 60 to 83 players, Barca hopes to produce more stars such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.
''We have visited several facilities of our competitors (Milan, Bilbao and Arsenal, among others) to get ideas,'' Jordi Moix, Barcelona's economic and strategy director, told The Associated Press. ''To have a building like this at the same place as the training fields ... and not fifty kilometers (away), it's something we can be proud of. We can say this is one of the best facilities now in the market.''
The 11-18 year olds selected by Barca's talent scouts to train at the old La Masia used to travel 30 minutes to practice each day. But here they just have to step outside the modern five-story building located at Barca's training grounds on the outskirts of the city.
The new academy can house up to 58 soccer players. Another 23 spots are allocated to prospects for the club's basketball, handball and roller hockey teams. Twenty-two young athletes have already moved in with more set to return from summer holidays.
The Spanish champions consider the $15.5 million it cost as a good long-term investment.
''We hope to create athletes to feed our first team, (players) our fans can more easily identify with,'' Moix said, adding that it also makes financial sense to develop players instead of relying on the transfer market to build a quality squad.
While the old La Masia is an 18th-century Catalan farmhouse, the new one has the feel of a college residence hall with the occasional splash of a Barca souvenir shop.
The second and third floors have sleeping quarters for one, two or four players, while a ground floor has a kitchen, dining room, offices and classrooms with audiovisual equipment.
It also has a large central hangout area that is simply a teenage boy's dream come true. The area is decorated with poster-sized images of Barca players, and decked out with a large screen TV with tiered seating, a space for video game consoles and a billiards table.
But even though the facilities are modern, the club says it wants its academy to continue in its tradition that has made it an international reference and bedeviled rivals such as Real Madrid, which struggles to introduce young players into its first team.
''What we have done is bring the spirit of the Masia to this new academy while improving the conditions for the children with more modern (facilities), more space and more light,'' Masia director Carles Folguera said. ''The idea of the club is that the scouts continue working as they have until now with a lot of success.''
La Masia produced seven of the starting 11 players in Barcelona's commanding 3-1 win over Manchester United in the Champions League final in May and nine of Spain's World Cup winning squad.
But is the club worried that leaving the old La Masia farmhouse could jinx its namesake?
''No, no, no, the Masia is still there. So every year we can touch it a little bit so we can get its good vibrations,'' Moix said. ''And we have the picture downstairs.''