MADRID — Barcelona coach Xavi knows from his own experience that taking a chance on youngsters at the club’s famous La Masia soccer academy usually pays off.
Xavi himself was a member of the academy before becoming one of Barcelona’s — and Spain’s — greatest players.
He was an 18-year-old when given the chance to debut with the first team in a Spanish Super Cup game in 1998. The former midfielder scored in the match against Mallorca to kickstart his successful career.
So it’s no surprise that Xavi hasn’t been afraid to give opportunities to the current generation of La Masia players. The latest to get his chance was 17-year-old Marc Guiu, who on Sunday came on late in the second half and scored about 30 seconds into his debut to give Barcelona a 1-0 win against Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league.
At 17 years, 291 days, Guiu became the youngest Barcelona player to score in his debut with the club.
“I don’t have a problem with looking at our talent at home,” Xavi said. “On the contrary, we only need to give them confidence, just like it happened to me when I was 17 or 18 years old. When we see that a young player is ready, we just send him out onto the field.”
Xavi this year had already taken a chance with 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, who debuted in April. Before the international break, Yamal became the youngest-ever player to score in the Spanish league. Yamal now is a regular starter for Barcelona and was called up for Spain’s national team.
Other young players given opportunities by the club recently have included Alejandro Balde, Marc Casadó and Fermín López. Barcelona had already bet on teenagers such as Pedri and Gavi, who now are regular starters both for Barcelona and the Spanish national team.
The most famous member of La Masia was soccer great Lionel Messi, who made his debut with the first team at age 17 in 2004, a few years after arriving from Argentina.
“It surprises me that they are not scared,” Xavi said. “I see them with a spark, a desire. They look at me and it feels like they are telling me to put them on because they know they are prepared. I can see that energy, desire, self-confidence. There is a very good generation that we must take advantage of. They don’t look scared out there.”
Xavi has had to expedite the debuts of some players because of a series of injuries to the regular starters, but the way they’ve come through when called upon have shown how well things have been done in La Masia through the years.
“The whole club should celebrate today, all the people who have worked with him (Guiu),” Xavi said. “It’s a sign of the good work being done at home.”
Spanish media showed Guiu’s parents in tears at the stadium while celebrating their son’s 80th-minute winner on Sunday. The Spanish player was also emotional after his dream debut.
“I’m gasping for air,” he said. “I’m still digesting it. I’ve been working all season to be ready and take advantage of my opportunity and I’ve done it.”
Xavi didn’t say if he would keep Guiu in the squad as Barcelona gets ready to host Shakhtar Donetsk in the group stage of the Champions League on Wednesday, and then faces Real Madrid in the first Spanish league “clasico” of the season on Saturday.
Regardless, Guiu passed his first test, like so many others before him from La Masia.
Image credits: AP