Barca give Wenger blueprint for revolution
ARSENE WENGER has devoted countless hours over the past five years to explaining why his football philosophy should satisfy pragmatists as well as idealists. Yet the very best justification can be provided in only one word: Barcelona.
Too much reliance on unproven young talent? Barcelona, a club who finished their 2-0 victory over Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final with eight academy graduates on the pitch.
An excessive belief in the beautiful game? Barcelona, whose football is universally regarded as the most sublime in Europe, have had their trophy cabinet bulging over the past three years.
Too many players lacking in physical size? Barcelona's team is the smallest in Europe.
Wenger is undeniably stubborn in believing that his policy is right for Arsenal, but he must also have gained reassurance from the successes of Barcelona.
That was particularly evident in the summer of 2009 when he pledged to reassess his players after a fourth consecutive trophyless season and then returned for pre-season by citing the example of Barcelona.
"I ask you: who has been the most successful team in the world?" he said. "Who won everything last year? Barcelona. What do they play? Lovely football. I am not against being pragmatic as to be pragmatic is to make a good pass, not a bad pass."
So it will be a genuine clash tomorrow of two clubs who are bound by common ideals.The most obvious is their willingness to invest in young players and also give them the playing opportunities to develop together.
Speak to leading directors or coaches at either club and an almost identical philosophy is outlined.
At Barcelona, the focal point for the academy is La Masia, a Catalonian farmhouse built in 1702 but converted more than 30 years ago into a residence for young football players. The focus on education and technical quality is legendary.
"The player's footballing progress and development have to go together," explained Carles Folguera, director of La Masia since 2001. "We're talking about values that are not negotiable. We want to make them better players and better people.
"Producing a player out of a boy that becomes a symbol of your own identity is priceless."
From the U-7s upwards, the players all practise the same style of possession-play and one-touch passing that was implemented by Johan Cruyff between 1988 and 1996.
The results at Barcelona have certainly been extraordinary. Not only is the core of Barcelona's team formed from graduates of La Masia, but nine of Spain's World Cup-winning squad came through the academy.
Arsenal may never match that, but the aim of Liam Brady, Arsenal's academy director, is to have "three or four" home-grown players in the team who have genuinely developed right through Arsenal's system. Almost 50 academy graduates have already represented Arsenal's first team since 1999. (© Daily Telegraph, London)