FC Barcelona is a soccer machine.
Since 2008, the club has won seven La Liga titles and three UEFA Champions League titles.
As Alabama is to college football, Barcelona is to pro soccer.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Barcelona head of coach education Marc Carmona provided a detailed look into what the team prioritizes in its youth system.
In 2010, three players who came up through the Barcelona youth system—Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi—were named finalists for the Ballon d'Or, soccer's most prestigious award. No team had ever before had three players named as finalists, let alone players who were developed in their own youth system.
Carmona says the team is working hard to repeat that incredible feat. From the lowest level of their youth system all the way up to the La Liga team, the program emphasizes "the three Ps."
"You have to win by respecting the opponent, the referee and the rules of the play," says Carmona. "But also by respecting our three big treasures in football, the three Ps—possession of the ball, position of the ball and pressing after losing the ball. This is our way to understand football. This is clear from watching any Barcelona game."
When it comes to the specific drills utilized most in the Barcelona youth system, many of them are small, game-like scenarios that ensure the players involved receive consistent touches while also building composure and creativity.
"It is about games in a small space, a lot of rondos, a lot of games with possession, a lot of games 4v4, 5v5, so you can see that the ball is very important. To pass the ball, control the ball, to move with the ball…this is the DNA in football. And the coaches are trying to transmit the understanding at all ages," Carmona says.
Rondos are essentially games of keep-away or monkey-in-the-middle. The group tasked with keeping the ball always has a numbers advantage over the group tasked with taking the ball away (4 vs. 1, 5 vs. 2, 6 vs. 3, etc.). If a player in the possession group gives the ball away, they must switch spots with someone in defending group.
"Our model was imposed by [Johan] Cruyff; it's an Ajax model. It's all about rondos," Xavi told The Guardian in 2011. "Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day. It's the best exercise there is. You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball. If you lose the ball, you go in the middle."
Futsal also plays a role in the youth teams' training. Futsal is an indoor version of soccer that sees five players per side and utilizes a smaller, heavier ball. "In futsal you touch the ball more, participate a lot, are in contact with the ball a lot," Carmona says. "Sometimes in football you can touch the ball once every three minutes. It is a very good practice for football to play futsal."
Due to the tight quarters and smaller ball, playing futsal can be an excellent way to develop dribbling skill and creativity. Players must rely more on technique and quick thinking than physical attributes like speed and strength. "In futsal, you see whether a player is really talented. In normal football you don't necessarily identify talent as easily because it's so much more physical. But with futsal, you notice the small details in quality, class and tactical understanding," Xavi told UEFA.com.
Kids have their entire athletic careers to get stronger and faster, and many of those traits come with physical maturation. Since every kid develops differently, the strongest and fastest 8-year-old is rarely the strongest and fastest 18-year-old. By developing a strong foundation of possession, passing and dribbling skills in their youth, Barcelona maximizes each player's potential.
Photo Credit: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
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