As a football fan, there are many things worse you could do with your time than watch Barcelona B. From afar, perhaps on a low quality stream or from a high seat in their 15,000 capacity Mini Estadi, you may just think you’re watching the senior side playing with their usual swagger. Pass, pass, pass, pass. Possession football at its very finest that is the core to Barcelona’s success. That’s probably because you’re watching the next crop of Barcelona first team players, and they’re a very talented bunch.
Barcelona B’s profile was raised temporarily when, typically, the English press took a quote from a man who was not well versed in the English language and blew it right out of proportion. Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola talked about Jack Wilshere in the build up to their match against Arsenal in the Champions League, comparing him to some of his players in the B team. “He is lucky because we have many players like him in the second team with us…”, it was a quote that made some angry, and wrongly so.
It was a compliment, just one poorly worded by a non-native English speaker. What Guardiola meant was that his style of play was Barcelona-esque, a huge compliment and not one that is usually associated with any English midfielder – with perhaps the omission of the passing brilliance of Paul Scholes (of whom Xavi is a big admirer). Being compared to a Barcelona B player isn’t exactly a bad thing either; they continue to produce great talents.
With the league structure as it is in Spain, a club’s B team is entered into the football league with the clause that the two teams must be a division apart. If a club from the first division is relegated and their B team is in the division below that then they will be immediately relegated too. It’s probably for the best in Barcelona B’s case, as they would probably be challenging for a Europa League (if not Champions League) spot were they allowed to be.
Currently Barcelona B sit 3rd in the Segunda División, just five points off first place Real Betis, and second place Rayo Vallecano (with Betis ahead via the head-to-head results). Ordinarily a third place position would grant Barcelona B a chance for promotion to the top league through a promotion play-off. It’s likely too they’d win, if their brilliant performance against sixth place (Udinese fuelled) Granada recently is anything to go by, in which Barcelona B ran out 4-0 winners.
It’s no surprise really that Barcelona’s B team are very, very good. There is a consistency at Barcelona with football at the club that helps keep the structure of the teams in place. Luis Enrique is the current coach of the B team, after having spent 8 years playing for the first team. Before him of course, was Josep Guardiola, a Barcelona man through and through who had also played for the B team many times.
The consistency of having youth set ups play in a similar ways to the first team comes of course from the innovations of Ajax, a fantastic breeding ground for world class talent. Ideas like these are another aspect in which Johan Cruyff has put his stamp on the club’s history. The B team keep the similar structure to the first team, the usual 4-3-3, only substitute Messi’s license to do whatever he wants to with a slightly stricter number nine role filled by Soriano.
The biggest surprise about Barcelona’s B team is just how good they are when compared to other reserve teams in the country. Take a sample of some of Spain’s top teams and it’s interesting to see just where the rival B/reserve teams place. Here then, is a quick run down:
Barcelona B, 3rd (Segunda División Division)
Villarreal B, 14th (Segunda División Division)
Real Madrid Castilla, 2nd (Segunda División B, Group 1)
Atlético Madrid B, 11th (Segunda División B, Group 1)
Bilbao Athletic, 12th (Segunda División B, Group 2)
Sevilla Atlético, 2nd (Segunda División B, Group 4)
Valencia Mestalla, 1st (Tercera División, Group 6)
It must be stressed though that Barcelona B’s success is not just down to an impressive batch of youngsters, as Barcelona are constantly producing through the infamous La Masia building and some great youth scouting. Barcelona B also has some experience in their team, which is vital as an influence on the younger players. Despite the fact that the current squad’s average age is just 21 – there are a handful of players a bit more senior who are pushing up that average. The current oldest player for the B team is ex-Malaga man Armando Lozano, 26 years old – making him older than such first team players as: Messi, Busquets, Bojan, Jeffrén, Pedro and Fontàs. All of whom are former B team players.
One such man with experience on his side is Jonathan Soriano, aged 25. Soriano has played 42 times for Espanyol’s first team, scoring 5 goals. Many Blanquiblaus had high hopes for the man as one of Espanyol’s greatest prodigies, but he fell short of expectations – a mix of injuries and bad form. He was released by Barcelona’s city-rivals at the end of the 2008-2009 season and was picked up by Barcelona’s B team on a free transfer.
It’s interesting to think of the reasoning behind such a signing, perhaps Barcelona saw the untapped potential in the player, who scored freely in his youth, and especially at U17 level for his country. Perhaps they see a (relatively) mature head as a good example for his fellow teammates. Soriano has been a huge part of Barcelona B’s success this season; he’s scored an impressive 23 goals so far this season (a record for a B team player in a season), making him the leading goal scorer in all of the Segunda División.
You can understand why a player like Jonathan Soriano may well want to join the Barcelona B team though. It’s not often a club like Barcelona will come asking and it’s a huge chance for him to get back to his best – and he dreams of becoming a first team player through his performances in the B team. Perhaps, Soriano is a bit of a late bloomer. Soriano has played for the Barcelona first team in his time – a true perk of the job. His debut was in the Copa del Rey, coming off the bench in Barcelona’s 2-0 win away to Cultural Leonesa back in October 2009. Soriano himself though still dreams of stepping up from the B team to the first team permanently, “I have not lost the hope of making the first team and I’m still fighting for it”.
Then there are the young players who look to have a bright long career in the Camp Nou, which is located just on the other side of the road from the Mini Estadi, a badly sliced shot in distance from the one ground could land in the other – although you’re unlikely to see that from the breed of players on show there.
Perhaps the brightest prospect in the B team is the Italian born Thiago Alcântaram, the son of former Valencia and Brazil player Mazinho. He began his youth career at Flamengo before being snapped up by Barcelona as a 14-year-old boy. He made his debut for the B team in the 2007-2008 season, and has now played 59 times for the side, scoring three goals in that time.
The low scoring record is unsurprising when you see that many compare him to the brilliant Xavi Hernández, a man more famed for his pin point passing rather than his goal scoring. Thiago made his debut in May 2009 for the first team, coming on off the bench in the 74th minute as a replacement for Eider Gudjohnsen in a dead rubber defeat away to RCD Mallorca. Thiago is expected to move up to the first team properly for next season, meaning the B team will need to look elsewhere for the creativity that he possesses. Maybe the biggest compliment made about Thiago, outside of his comparisons to the great Xavi, is that his emergence may well make Barcelona’s long-standing interest in Arsenal’s Cesc Fàbregas a thing of the past.
Just looking through the list of former Barcelona B players is impressive It is a roster that spans decades but keeps a constant amount of class. Guillermo Amor, Iván de la Peña, Pepe Reina, Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernández, José Vicente Sánchez, Josep Guardiola, Cesc Fàbregas, Albert Ferrer, Jordi Cruyff, Daniel Güiza, Andrés Iniesta… not a bad production line, and that is just a sampling. It’s well worth watching them just to see the next prodigies develop, even though it can never be at the very top level of the game until their big step up.