Why La Masia is a footballing symbol of Catalan independence

Tito Vilanova's team began with 10 homegrown players and that became 11 when Martin Montoya replaced Dani Alves after 15 minutes, marking an all-time high for the esteemed academy
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

The timing appeared almost poetic. As Catalans flocked to the polling booths to vote in the region's elections on Sunday, many pushing for secession from Spain, their flagship football team fielded 11 homegrown heroes together for the first time at the highest level - and moved 11 points clear of rivals Real Madrid in La Liga. Barcelona, with a team made entirely in La Masia, had once again shown itself to be symbolic of Catalan independence.

When Martin Montoya replaced the injured Dani Alves after 15 minutes at the Ciutat de Valencia against Levante, Barca's side was made up solely of players who had graduated from the club's esteemed academy. In total, there were eight Catalans on the field for the visitors, although it was two of the other three players in orange and yellow who stole the show for Tito Vilanova's team.

Victor Valdes Catalan
Martin Montoya (on for Alves) Catalan
Gerard Pique Catalan
Carles Puyol Catalan
Jordi Alba Catalan
Xavi Catalan
Sergio Busquets Catalan
Cesc Fabregas Catalan
Pedro Tenerife
Lionel Messi Argentina
Andres Iniesta Manchego
They were Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. The former was simply spectacular for the Catalans, scoring one lovely goal and brilliantly creating the other three - two of which were netted by the Argentine. Messi, now on 82 goals and well within reach of Gerd Muller's record of 85 in a calendar year, was unusually outshone by his mild-mannered team-mate who, like Leo, is in contention for the Ballon d'Or prize at the end of 2012. Cesc Fabregas, who scored the fourth in an incredible 16-minute spell following a goalless first-half, had already assisted three Barca goals in a league game this term, in the 5-4 win at Deportivo La Coruna, but Iniesta was on another level altogether in this match.

And so the Catalans' 11 canteranos struck a symbolic blow for Barca on the day their people headed to the polls - many in search of independence. And Vilanova's team are now 11 points clear of Madrid after just 14 rounds of matches. On Sunday, they equalled the best-ever start to a Primera Division campaign - that of Radomir Antic's Real side in 1991-92.

A word of warning for the league leaders, however: Madrid did not win the title that year, losing out on the final day of the season to Johan Cruyff's 'dream team'.

Cruyff was responsible for the construction of La Masia in the first place, telling Barca president Josep Lluis Nunez on his departure from Camp Nou as a player that the club needed an academy to be able to compete with Madrid. That was in 1978 and 34 years later the Catalans claimed independence - on the pitch at least - by fielding an entire team of homegrown players at the same time for an hour, between the 15th and 75th minute, when Adriano replaced Jordi Alba. Thiago then came on to make it 12 La Masia graduates out of a total of 14 players used. By then, the academy had already made history.

It is a stark contrast to Madrid, Jose Mourinho and the capital club's much-maligned cantera policy, which has come in for criticism again this season, despite Alvaro Morata's recent winning goal for the champions - also at Levante.

Madrid are now in Barca's wake and it is Atletico hanging on to the Catalans' coat-tails with just three points fewer than the Liga leaders. Tito's team will be taking nothing for granted but now appear to be in a strong position in the race for the title - albeit only in November. In the 11th month, Barca moved 11 clear of their fiercest rivals, and - in what is an unprecedented statistic in the modern era - with 11 canteranos on the pitch at once. Keep this up and the current campaign may yet be remembered as the title made in La Masia.

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