Academic goals

Published in Monocle magazine, September 2011

A humble man, Carles Folguera seems uncomfortable in the limelight. Yet that’s where the director of Fc Barcelona’s youth academy found himself after Spain’s national team won the FootballWorld Cup in 2010. After all, nine of the players, including Iniesta, Xavi and Messi, had grown up under his tutelage.

La Masia, the academy that 42-year-old Folguera has been running for 10 years was born in 1979 from a mundane preoccupation: to save money. Growing talent at home saves Barça millions in transfer fees later. But it has also shown the merit of team-building and character development. Fundamentally, La Masia isn’t just a hothouse for football. “The boys have to be aware of their possibilities and limitations,” Folguera says. “And we have to make sure they understand our values.”

The 80 boys aged between 11 and 18 currently living on Barça’s training grounds are taught to improve through self-criticism and take responsibility for their failures. With only three out of every 10 boys at La Masia eventually becoming professional, Folguera takes academic achievement seriously (12 players from Barcelona’s second-division team are currently enrolled in higher education). But he places most importance on emotional bonds. “We are the boys’ family. We help them get through bad times and keep their feet on the ground when they think they don’t need us anymore. It’s about making sure they are as happy as possible.That’s what makes Barça successful.”