La Masia Andres Iniesta Lionel Messi Xavi BarcelonaGetty/Goal composite

What is La Masia? Barcelona's famous youth academy & the star players it produced

Football academies exist at almost every club, particularly at the elite level, but few have built a reputation to rival that of Barcelona's La Masia.

The Catalan club's famous conveyor belt has served up generations of supremely talented stars who have carved out impressive careers in the game.

Those who attend La Masia are steeped in the culture of the club and the idea is to develop a sort of familial bond from the lowest age group right up to the senior team.

GOAL takes a look at La Masia's history and some of its best known graduates.

What is La Masia?

La Masia - which is Catalan for 'the Farmhouse' - is the name that is generally used to describe the Barcelona youth academy, or cantera (meaning 'quarry') to give its Spanish name.

A residence in which young players receive a football and academic education, it has become synonymous with inculcating the philosophy of Barcelona (Mes que un club), with its graduates invariably leaving branded by what club officials have described as "the stamp of La Masia".

Former Barcelona player, coach and product of La Masia, Pep Guardiola, put it thus: "The player who has passed through La Masia has something different to the rest, it's a plus that only comes from having competed in a Barcelona shirt from the time you were a child."

La MasiaGetty Images

The original building, known as La Masia de Can Planes, was an ancient farmstead which was built in 1702.

Barcelona's stadium, Camp Nou, was opened in 1957 and it was built next to La Masia, which initially served as the club's headquarters. It was converted into a dormitory for young players from outside Barcelona in 1979 and subsequently transformed into a world-renowned academy facility.

La Masia general viewGetty Images

In 2011, La Masia was moved from its traditional location at Carrer de la Materninat to a new base in Barcelona's purpose-built training complex, La Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, which is located in Sant Joan Despi.

Constructed at a cost of €11 million, the new Masia is a 6,000 square-metre building with five floors and it can house 83 athletes.

As well as rooms for its students, the building contains state-of-the-art facilities including a gym, massage room, audiovisual centre, classrooms, a kitchen and, of course, pitches.

Notable La Masia alumni

Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, BarcelonaMike Hewitt

It is a testament to the enduring importance of La Masia that so many stars have passed through its doors over the years.

While not all of them have managed to forge long careers at Camp Nou, many have distinguished themselves with other clubs, both in Spain and further afield.

Lionel Messi, who is widely regarded as one of the best players in the history of the game, emerged from La Masia during the 2003-04 campaign and has become Barcelona's undisputed talisman.

The likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol are graduates of La Masia, as are Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.

List of famous La Masia graduates

PlayerNational teamPosition
Andres IniestaSpainMidfielder
Lionel Messi ArgentinaForward
Carles PuyolSpainDefender
Victor ValdesSpainGoalkeeper
Guillermo AmorSpainMidfielder
Sergio BusquetsSpainMidfielder
Gerard PiqueSpainDefender
Sergi BarjuanSpainDefender
Pep GuardiolaSpainMidfielder
Pepe ReinaSpainGoalkeeper
Thiago AlcantaraSpainMidfielder
Hector BellerinSpainDefender
Bohan KrkicSpainForward
Sergi RobertoSpainMidfielder
Ansu FatiSpainForward
Lamine YamalSpainForward

As mentioned, Guardiola, who broke into the Barca first-team under Johan Cruyff, is a notable Masia alumnus, along with the likes of Albert Ferrer, Sergi Barjuan and Guillermo Amor.

Cesc Fabregas famously left La Masia to join Premier League side Arsenal, where he excelled before returning to Barca in 2011.

Other players to pass through the academy include: Pepe Reina, Pedro, Bojan Krkic, Victor Valdes, Thiago Alcantara, Hector Bellerin and Rafinha.

Interestingly, Barcelona fielded an XI made up entirely of La Masia alumni in 2012 during a game against Levante after Dani Alves was forced off with an injury. The Brazilian was replaced by Masia graduate Martin Montoya, who joined Valdes, Alba, Puyol, Pique, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro and Messi on the pitch.

Admission to La Masia

It will come as little surprise to learn that it is extremely difficult to earn a place in Barcelona's youth system.

Each year, the club runs trials for players from the age of six to 11 through its FCBEscola programme and successful trialists have a chance of progressing to La Masia.

Naturally, given the stature of Barcelona as a global enterprise, the club's scouting system aims to identify the best players from across the planet.

Those who are subsequently signed by the club may be housed at La Masia, though given the limited space, alternative accommodation is also available.

To get a flavour of what happens at La Masia, check out the video above for a glimpse into the daily routine, which involves an early start, lessons, training and more.