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The Catalans recently fielded an entire team of academy players for an hour at Levante and could conceivably conquer Europe with a side made up of their homegrown heroes

ANALYSIS
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

They laughed in his face. Louis van Gaal was roundly ridiculed when he claimed he would like to see a Barcelona team made up of Catalan players from La Masia. But a decade on, the Dutchman's dream has become a reality.

In many ways, Van Gaal was closer to Jose Mourinho (then his assistant at Camp Nou) than the Pep Guardiola or Tito Vilanova school of coaching: the former Ajax boss won few fans with his pragmatic approach to the game (particularly as he followed Johan Cruyff's Dream Team and a Bobby Robson side which had featured a young Ronaldo at his breathtaking best); he frequently argued with the press; and spoke broken Spanish (Cruyff conversed comfortably in Catalan).

But what upset fans most was his insistence on bringing in Dutchmen and dispensing with Catalans. Van Gaal signed eight Netherlands internationals (Ruud Hesp, Michael Reiziger, Patrick Kluivert, Philip Cocu, Winston Bogarde, Boudewijn Zenden, Frank and Ronald De Boer) with varying degrees of success, while a ninth - Marc Overmars - would arrive shortly after he left the club in 2000. In the meantime, homegrown players such as Albert Celades, Ivan De La Pena, Oscar and Roger Garcia were allowed to leave the club. Even the popular Albert Ferrer departed to join Chelsea.

Van Gaal always maintained that his vision was a Barca side comprised of local footballers, but his actions did not seem to reflect his words and when he did finally sign a Catalan, striker Dani Garcia from Mallorca in 1998, it was a player who had come through the youth system at Real Madrid. That hardly helped.

Dani didn't feature much, either, but behind the scenes a talented crop was emerging. And despite the criticism, Van Gaal was true to his word; the Dutchman vetoed the sale of Carles Puyol to Malaga and handed a debut to the defender, now club captain and Barca symbol. The former Bayern Munich boss also gave Victor Valdes, Xavi and Andres Iniesta their first starts for the Catalan club, where he spent a second spell as coach in 2002. His cantera is still going strong, more than a decade later.

So even though this team is more associated - understandably so - with Guardiola and now Tito, Xavi sent an affectionate message to Van Gaal after the league win at Levante 10 days ago, when Barca fielded 11 canteranos for just over an hour in Valencia. Because the Dutchman's dream, once ridiculed, had become a reality.

A Barcelona side made in La Masia

GOALKEEPER

Victor Valdes


RIGHT-BACK
CENTRE BACK
CENTRE BACK
LEFT-BACK

Martin Montoya

Gerard Pique

Carles Puyol

Jordi Alba


CENTRE MIDFIELD
CENTRE MIDFIELD
CENTRE MIDFIELD

Xavi

Sergio Busquets

Cesc Fabregas


RIGHT FORWARD
CENTRE FORWARD
LEFT FORWARD

Pedro

Lionel Messi

Andres Iniesta

And perhaps the most impressive thing about Barca's home-made team is that it is arguably the Catalan club's strongest side right now. Alexis Sanchez is injured and somewhat out of the picture anyway following a desperately disappointing second season so far at Camp Nou, while Dani Alves is also sidelined and the Brazilian's fragile form means he may be an inferior option to Martin Montoya at right-back as well.

Elsewhere, Javier Mascherano and Alex Song are important players, but neither would feature in a full-strength Barca line-up and are finding their opportunities restricted now both Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique have returned from their respective injuries. The one who does offer something different to the rest is David Villa. The Asturian, however, is not a regular starter these days either.

The rest are all Barca born, or at least bred.

THE NEXT IN LINE FROM LA MASIA
 MARCA BARTRA

Although currently sidelined, Bartra has made several appearances already this season and is seen as a long-term partner for Pique after Puyol retires.
 GERARD DEULOFEU

The most spectacular player at Barca B, but needs to improve his discipline before stepping up to the first team. Expected to become a superstar.
 SERGI ROBERTO

The next in a long line of talented central midfielders at Barcelona, he has already scored twice for the first team and awaits further opportunities.
Lionel Messi is Argentine, of course, while Andres Iniesta hails from La Mancha and Pedro grew up in Tenerife. All, however, came through the youth ranks at La Masia, like Cristian Tello, Thiago Alcantara and Isaac Cuenca, all waiting in the wings for their opportunities at senior level, along with many more at Barca B.

Against Levante, Barca scored each of their four goals with their all-Masia side on the pitch and thereby negotiated one of the season's trickiest away fixtures in some style. Now, there seems no reason why they cannot try something similar in the Champions League.

Against Manchester United in the 2008-09 final, Barca began with seven canteranos. And in the 2010-11 showpiece in the continental competition versus Sir Alex Ferguson's side once more, there were also seven La Masia graduates in the starting line-up.

But the summer signing of Jordi Alba and the arrival of Cesc Fabregas last year have seen the Catalans bring back two of their homegrown heroes, while the emergence of Thiago, Tello et al has given the club a more solid base.

Alves, Alexis, Mascherano, Song and Villa will have their parts to play for Barca in the rest of 2012-13, but not one of the five is indispensable in this team. And winning the Champions League with 11 La Masia players on the pitch really would be something special.
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