1) Mauro Icardi Sampdoria
In blistering goalscoring form in Serie A this season – notably scoring twice in his side’s thrilling 2-1 win at Juventus in January and hitting four in a 6-0 drubbing of Pescara later that month – the shoot-on-sight 20-year-old is now rated in the ¤15million bracket and
is set to switch to Internazionale this summer.
Born in the same Argentinian city as Lionel Messi, Icardi left Rosario and moved to the Canary Islands with his family at the age of six. Barca had to see off the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla to recruit him at 15 from local side Vecindario,
but their perseverance paid dividends and in his first two seasons in Catalonia he was regularly on target for Barca’s junior sides.
However, below the surface, all was not well. Over time, the youngster had come to the conclusion that his abilities as a pure number nine were not suited to the freewheeling Barcelona template and in January 2011 his wish to leave was granted. He spent a successful six-month loan spell with the Sampdoria youth team prior to joining them permanently in a ¤400,000 deal that summer.
Proof of Samp’s shrewd move came just 10 minutes into his professional debut when he came off the bench to score the winner in a 2-1 win away to Juve Stabia in May 2012.
2) Victor Vazquez Club Brugge
Arguably, Barcelona’s best-ever crop of youngsters was their 1987 vintage, moulded around the talents of Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique and striker Vazquez. Good enough to have an agent at the age of just nine, the youthful Vazquez was considered by many Barca insiders to be even more talented than Messi, and thanks to his ultra-confident personality
he was seen as the group’s leader.
“I remember Messi and Victor were by far the best players in our team,” says Fabregas. “Sometimes they would go in for head-to-head duels. If one scored four in one game, the other would hit five in the next.”
With injuries a constant theme – notably a major knee problem in 2009 – Vazquez made only three first-team appearances for Barca and, after 14 years with his local team, he opted for a fresh start in Belgium with Club Brugge in the summer of 2011.
Now used mostly in a playmaking role, the 26-year-old remains a class act, but he is still just as injury-prone and broke his collarbone last year. Despite this, rumours abound that Malaga have designs on him.
3) Isaac Cuenca Ajax
The skinny right-winger had the critics eating out of his hand after he broke into the Nou Camp first team at the start of last term. With his extraordinary dribbling ability, quick feet and composure on the ball, he looked a natural among Barca’s tiki-taka masters.
But late in the campaign he suffered cartilage damage in his right-knee and the initial prognosis of 20 weeks on the sidelines ended up as eight months in absentia.
In the wake of such a long lay-off, and with the 2012-13 season already halfway through, it was decided that the best way to bring the 21-year-old back up to speed was with a move away on loan. In February he signed a six-month deal with Ajax – a team, of course, with much in common with Barca, employing a 4-3-3 system that is fluid, attacking and with the emphasis on home-grown players.
4) Marc Valiente Valladolid
Another of the class of ’87, there was a time when this resourceful centre-back could do no wrong at Barca. Sufficiently talented to be inducted into the La Masia academy at the age of 10, he was team captain in several of the club’s age-category sides. Yet, apart from a run-out in a Spanish Cup tie against Badalona in November 2006, the Barcelona first team proved a bridge too far.
When Barca bought two additional central defenders – Gerard Pique from Manchester United and Uruguay’s Martin Caceres from Villarreal – in the summer of 2008 he took the hint and left for Sevilla, where he turned out mainly for the reserves for the next two years. With his stock falling fast “El Flaco” (the thin one) desperately needed a change of surroundings to reboot his career, and on signing for second division Valladolid in 2010 he at last found an employer who believed in him.
Solid yet comfortable on the ball, the 25-year-old subsequently played a prominent role in Valladolid’s renaissance. Promotion to the top flight last year has been followed by a respectable showing in La Liga this term – although he was recently on the receiving end of a flying elbow from Athletic Bilbao’s Aritz Aduriz which broke his cheekbone.
5) Victor Rodriguez Real Zaragoza
Cut from the “blaugrana” roster in 2005 along with full-back Jordi Alba on the grounds that they were too small, 23-year-old Rodriguez is currently doing his best to make Barca see the error of their ways on both counts.
While Spain international Alba spectacularly relaunched himself at Valencia before returning to Camp Nou last year, Rodriguez put his career back together with Badalona. After three years with the Catalan club, his versatility – he can play on the right wing, in a central attacking midfield slot or in the hole – earned him a move to Zaragoza, where he is joined by fellow Barcelona rejects Abraham Minero, Paco Montanes and Edu Oriol. But while all are able pros, none of that trio has come close to matching Rodriguez, who since arriving at the Romareda stadium last summer has morphed into one of La Liga’s most astute providers of chances.
6) Oriol Romeu Chelsea
With Barca since the age of 13, many felt he severed ties with the club too quickly when he left for the Premier League in a £4.35million transfer in August 2011. But the truth of the matter is that he simply did not feature in coach Pep Guardiola’s plans and was, at best, fourth-choice behind Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano and Seydou Keita in the Barca engine room.
He has had a tough time since joining Chelsea, forced down the pecking order when Andre Villas-Boas, the coach who signed him, was sacked last season in favour of Roberto Di Matteo. And he was just beginning to regain lost ground under new interim boss Rafa Benitez late last year when he was ruled out for the rest of this season with damaged knee ligaments.
Having represented Spain at Under-21 and Olympic level, there is still
time for the 21-year-old to realise his full potential. Among those monitoring developments are Valencia and PSV Eindhoven.