Barcelona’s success in the 21st century had a lot to do with the fantastic talent that came through their academy, La Masia. Although many of the players found success with the senior team, some had to move elsewhere to flourish.
#5. PEPE REINA
Pepe Reina was at the Barcelona academy along with Victor Valdes who went on play for the senior team for over a decade. However, Reina, who was younger than Valdes by a few months, broke into the Barca first team almost two years before Valdes and by the end of the 2001/02 season, he had played 49 games for them.
Before the 2002/03 season, Barca had a new manager in Lous van Gaal and he preferred to use his new signing, Robert Enke, in goal. As a result, Reina left the club and joined Villarreal. However, a few months into the season, Van Gaal was sacked and Victor Valdes was made the first-choice goalkeeper by the new manager. That should have been Reina’s place.
Reina was Villarreal’s first-choice goalkeeper for three years and he helped them qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the very first time before joining Liverpool in 2005. The Spaniard won a record three consecutive Premier League Golden Glove awards with Liverpool and is considered one of the greatest goalkeepers in the club’s history.
He played for Bayern Munich and Napoli after leaving Liverpool before joining AC Milan this summer. Reina has also played 36 times for Spain despite being the second choice goalkeeper.
#4. JORDI ALBA
The inclusion of Jordi Alba might raise a few eyebrows as he has been Barcelona’s undisputed first-choice left-back for a seventh season running. However, Alba was let go by Barcelona in 2005 after eight years with the academy.
Alba was a winger in his youth days and was let go by Barcelona because he was too small. In 2007, he joined Valencia and he successfully converted to a full-back here under current Arsenal manager, Unai Emery.
During the 2009/10 season, Emery deployed Alba as a left-back due to injury problems and after witnessing Alba’s success in that role, Emery continued playing him in that position. In 2012, he returned to Barcelona and has made a name as one of the best full-backs in the game.
#3. THIAGO ALCANTARA
Thiago Alcantara made his professional debut for Barcelona. In fact, he played 101 games for the senior team and scored 11 goals but his playing time was considerably restricted at Barcelona because of senior players like Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
So, when Pep Guardiola was appointed the manager of Bayern Munich in 2013, he signed Thiago for only €18m. This was possible because Thiago’s release clause of €90m dropped as Barcelona failed to fulfill clauses in his contract related to the playing time he received.
Thiago suffered a couple of long-term injuries at Bayern but he has gone on to become a key player for the Bavarian club. Now into his sixth season with the club, the Spanish international has played 163 games and scored 26 goals while winning ten trophies.
#2. CESC FABREGAS
Cesc Fabregas is another La Masia product who left the club at a young age only to join them years later as a first team player.
Fabregas left Barcelona when he was 16-years-old as he sensed that he would have received limited first-team opportunities. He moved to Arsenal and was an integral member of the Gunners’ midfield between 2004 and 2011, a period during which he played 303 games and scored 57 goals.
The Spaniard who was named the club captain in 2008, had a memorable season in 2009/10. In 36 games across all competitions, he scored 19 goals and provided 16 assists of which 15 goals and 13 assists were in only 27 Premier League games.
Fabregas left Arsenal in 2011 to return to Barcelona and after three successful years, he was deemed surplus to requirements and was sold to Chelsea for whom he still plays.
#1. MAURO ICARDI
Mauro Icardi might be the most surprising name on this list. He joined the Barcelona academy in 2008 when he was 15 and left the club in 2011 to play for the youth team of Sampdoria on a six-month loan deal. During this stint, he scored 13 goals in 19 games for the Primavera side and Sampdoria used their option to sign him permanently.
He made his professional debut at the end of the 2011/12 season in the Serie B as a substitute and scored within 10 minutes. The following season, he played for Sampdoria in the Serie A and scored 10 goals in 31 games before signing for Inter Milan. At the time of his transfer to Inter, Icardi stated that he had no regrets about leaving Barcelona.
Icardi is currently Inter’s ninth highest goalscorer of all-time with 113 goals in only 191 games. Considering his goalscoring records, he could climb to seventh by the end of the current season. The 25-year-old who has been Inter’s captain since the start of the 2015/16 season, has won the Serie A Golden Boot twice already.
Honourable mentions – Hector Bellerin and Keita Balde