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Wednesday, June 22, 2011
La Masia is where the magic happens


Barcelona has been making quite a bit of noise in the transfer window so far. The club is said to be "80 percent done" with bringing Udinese's Alexis Sanchez to Camp Nou, although because money is so tight at Barca, the deal is yet to be completed. (This has also left the door ajar for Manchester City to throw around its financial muscle.) Sanchez is an extremely versatile player, capable of being deployed on the wings or in a more central role, and he could go a long way in helping to give other Barcelona stars, such as David Villa and Pedro, much-needed rest, which they both needed at the end of last season.

And then there's the now-yearly transfer saga of Cesc Fabregas. But his desire to leave Arsenal for Barcelona is a case of wanting to return home.

Fabregas is a graduate of La Masia, Barcelona's training academy. And, in all this talk of bringing in top-tier talent, the beauty of Barcelona -- its foundation and soul -- is the club's homegrown players. You can sign whomever you want, but if he doesn't have that instinctual feel for the Catalan way (Zlatan, anyone?) it often becomes a case of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

La Masia is a place where art and science are fused together to create the finished product you see on the pitch each week during the season. It's also the subject of a new ESPN.com video (embedded up top, or click here.) It's a pretty guarded place when it comes to media intrusion, and you won't get too much detail out of the school's coaches about their training techniques (they guard it like Coca-Cola protects its secret recipe). But it's interesting to see Xavi and Lionel Messi talk about their experiences at the academy -- how they played all day, every day, learning the Barca way. They make it sound so simple, even though the finished product can be so complex.

The video gives you an inside look into the training school, which is based on the three pillars of athletics, values and academics. Only one of every 10 graduates typically makes it to the Barcelona senior team. Current squad members who are also alumni include Xavi, Messi, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol.

Many graduates, such as Fabregas, land at other big clubs. But we always know where their heart lies.