The Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, named for Barça's founder, sits in Sant Joan Despi, a small city of about 32,000 on the western outskirts of Barcelona. It is here that most of Barça's training takes place and where this week several of the players have returned after their vacations. The first team members currently working out with Guardiola are Jose Manuel Pinto, Maxwell, Gabi Milito, Adriano, Víctor Sánchez, Seydou Keita, Alexander Hleb, Bojan Krkic, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Jeffren.
What's more notable at the moment is the inclusion of 14 Barça B players (their team having been renamed once again from Barcelona Atletic this summer). Those players are goalies Oier Olazábal, Rubén Miño, and Jordi Masip; defenders Albert Dalmau, Sergi Gómez, Armando Lozano, and Marc Muniesa; midfielders Ilie Sánchez, Jonathan dos Santos, Martí Riverola, Tello, and Sergi Roberto; and forwards Cuenca, Benja, Jonathan Soriano, Edu Oriol, and Nolito. Defender Andreu Fontàs and forward Víctor Vázquez are both currently injured, but are also training on the margins of the group.
Manager Pep Guardiola is clearly looking to test Víctor Sánchez and Hleb before deciding whether they make the squad or are instead loaned out, but he'll also be looking to test the youngsters he rarely works with. The main contingent of up-and-comers is currently away at the U-19 European championships, so it is those left behind that are able to make their presence felt.
Goalie Álex Sánchez; defenders Martín Montoya, Marc Bartra, and Carles Planas; midfielders Oriol Romeu and Thiago Alcantara; and striker Rubén Rochina have all appeared in both of Spain's U-19 matches (2-1 to Spain) with Thiago scoring in their first match against Croatia. Of these, it is Bartra and Thiago who look to have the brightest futures while Muniesa, Fontàs, and Dalmau are not far behind. The only non-Spaniard in the B squad, Jonathan dos Santos, has already made appearances for the full Mexican national team and also looks to be maturing rapidly under the direction of B-team coach Luis Enrique.
It remains to be seen whether the squad will serve as a feeder for the first team this year or whether Luis Enrique will be focused on retaining Barça B's Segunda status, just achieved at the end of last year through a playoff against Sant Andreu. The recovery of Gabi Milito surely puts the young center backs in the wings for another year as their spots are taken by regulars. Henrique and Martín Cáceres are also both available if Guardiola chooses to include them in the roster, but it looks likely that both will be transferred or loaned out, especially for the former after Henrique refused to heed Guardiola's call to return this past week, citing a need for his future to be sorted before he began work again. That is a recipe for losing your shot.
If all three of Rafael Márquez, Henrique, and Cáceres are transferred, as I expect they will be, and no other center back is brought in, there will be an extra spot open for the youth to fight over (so to speak, let's hope it doesn't come to blows). I foresee Bartra, Muniesa, Fontàs, and Dalmau rotating into the center back spot whenever there's an opportunity. The Copa del Rey should be an excellent venue for them to showcase their skills and get first team experience, especially if another defensive midfielder is added to the lineup to add depth and protection in front of them.
Barça's roster is currently made up of 2 goalies, 4 central defenders, 4 wing backs, 1 defensive midfielder, 3 central midfielders (5 if you count Hleb and Víctor Sánchez), and 6 forwards. That's 20 assured spots and 2 potential spots (though I do think both Hleb and Víctor Sánchez will also be loaned out again).
All of this, then, points us towards the midfield, where the biggest moves are on hand. Without a solid defensive midfielder coming up through the youth ranks, our number one transfer priority should be a backup for Sergio Busquets. That does appear to be part of the plan, with various names like Etienne Capoue and Moussa Sissoko looking like the most fancied of the young, cheap variety while Javier Mascherano and Wilson Palacios are the big names being bandied about. The real thrust of the rumors, though, is in the attacking midfield with the on-going drama of Cesc Fabregas looming largest, with Mesut Özil and Yoann Gourcuff the "backup plans".
The whole thing smells of politics, of course, with new president Sandro Rosell coming in promising, as happens in all elections (Laporta promised David Beckham and only managed to get Ronaldinho), a mammoth effort to get Fabregas back into the squad. Never mind that Cesc is more an Arsenal youth product than a Barcelona youth product, the whole sickening affair forgets that Barcelona's current success is based squarely on the shoulders of the cantera and not massive transfers. During last season (2009-10), the most common lineup included 8 canteranos: Víctor Valdés, Puyol, Piqué, Busi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Pedro, and Lionel Messi. It would be folly to approach the coming season without trusting in the cantera once again, especially with a large transfer having already taken place. €40m for David Villa is no laughing matter and given that Rosell has been preaching austerity in the face of financial crisis (the depths of which are not particularly clear), it only makes sense to draw on the youth system that has so effectively served the club over the last few years.
Jonathan dos Santos and Thiago are both capable of stepping up to fill in when necessary and will happily ride the pine over the coming year while they learn from arguably the best midfield duo in the game. Both players have fantastic potential and while it has not been realized to the degree that Fabregas' potential has (I suppose it is no simply talent), this potential will not be fully realized until they get expanded first team minutes. It would be stupid not to admit the obvious positives of having Cesc in the squad--among other things, a tactical flexibility that Vicente del Bosque took full advantage of during the World Cup--but I do not see him as an automatic starter and a €40-60m bench warmer makes little sense, especially given that Cesc himself spoke out during the World Cup to say that he wasn't entirely happy in such a role. And I can't blame him either as bench roles for world class players obviously don't take full advantage of said player's skills.
So, given all that, a massive transfer fee (or even a €15-20m one for Özil as has been reported) makes no sense for both financial and sporting reasons. The development of youth--and I have very high hopes for both JDS and Thiago--should take priority while we're capable of mining such a rich vein of form, particularly if trust can be put in Hleb or Víctor Sánchez after the inevitable Iniesta injury comes to pass. Guardiola has proven himself capable of developing youth products into starters at the World Cup final (Pedro and Busi) and there's no reason to think he cannot do similar wonders with the current Masia crop. It would behoove the club to continue to put their faith in the B-teamers and forget about excessive transfer fees, regardless of whether or not a talented player wants to "come home."