By Adam Newson, Football Whispers
Luis Garcia’s path to Barcelona’s first team is one many of soccer’s greatest players have followed.
A local boy who learned his trade in the Catalan side’s famed academy, Garcia progressed through the various youth ranks and eventually played senior soccer for one of the world’s biggest football clubs.
Carles Puyol, Xavi and Sergio Busquets made the same journey and became club legends. Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi were also schooled in Barcelona’s La Masia youth set-up and have become world stars. Undoubtedly more will follow over the years.
Few clubs in world soccer are a synonymous with youth development as the Blaugrana. So when we sat down with Garcia, it was natural talk would focus on his experiences as a young player at Barcelona and the advice he would give to those teenagers breaking through into European clubs’ senior sides.
What do you remember about your first senior game?
It was in the Spanish Super Cup against Mallorca and unfortunately we lost. That’s not something I like to remember! But it came as a surprise, I was on my holidays when I got a call and was told I was going to travel to the game. Óscar García, one of the first team players at the time, was sick so I needed to replace him in the squad. I travelled the next day and Louis van Gaal, the coach, gave me the opportunity to play around 15 minutes. It was very exciting and I remember almost everything about it.
Were you nervous?
I was 18 years old...of course I was nervous! I was with Sergi Barjuán, the Barcelona left-back at the time, in our hotel room before the game and he was trying to keep me calm. He said to me: “Listen if you go out there just make sure you enjoy it, don’t think of it as something difficult.” Ever since that has been my tip for young players because we can forget a little the joy of playing football. When I was a kid I loved going out onto the street with my friends and playing for hours and hours. I’ve got kids now and sometimes I’m scared because they cry when they lose a game. That is sad because they are not enjoying the game anymore.
If you could go back what advice would you have given your 18-year-old self?
That’s tough. Football is so different now, everyone is expecting kids to be comfortable players and pressure is put on them from a very early age. We try to tell them how to play, how to live, not to play on the streets with their friends because they have a game at the weekend. That means they’re not enjoying, they’re not going out with the ball and having fun. That would be my advice, always play with a smile. If you’re not enjoying the game, nothing good will come.
Barcelona is famed for its academy, La Masia, how important is it the club maintains its tradition of developing world class stars?
It is very important. Barcelona have always been a club who brings though young players – most of them in midfield! They are the players who have the values of the club; respect, effort, ambition, team spirit, humility. That is the philosophy of the club and it’s what they’ve learned from the very beginning. Clubs need these players on the pitch because sometimes players who come from elsewhere – sure they are professional and they give 100 percent – but they don’t have the same feeling for the club. It’s so important for Barcelona to keep that.
What advice would you give to young players on their first summer tour with the first team?
These trips are massive, they are a young player’s chance to show off and show the coach they are ready for a place in the first team. The best tip I can give is to look at everything the professionals do; how they tie their laces, how they prepare for games, what food they eat, literally everything because all these things have a big impact in the future. Now too many young players are on their phones or go straight to their hotel rooms to play Playstation. They don’t talk to the experienced players and sometimes that can be very important. Most of the time these players, the guys who’ve been playing ten years as a professional, don’t mind speaking to youngsters, answering questions and passing on their experiences.
Can it be difficult for a young player on a tour to stay concentrated, especially if they are in a city like New York?
I don’t think so because ultimately a summer tour is their chance. Do well and maybe they’ll get more chances in the first team during the season. If they’re not focused and they arrive late to a meeting or to training then their chance is going to be gone. These tours are very important to prove to the manager that they’re ready.
How did the soccer culture in America change during your career?
Now there are a lot of clubs in Europe looking at professional players from the U.S because they know the level is getting higher and higher. The fitness of the players if fantastic, their quality is fantastic and their understanding of the game is getting better and better. More European footballers want to come here at a younger age too because they know MLS is getting more and more competitive.
Barcelona plays three games in North America at the 2018 International Champions Cup, the biggest summer club tournament in soccer. The Blaugrana takes on Tottenham Hotspur, AS Roma and AC Milan and for all match information and tickets click here.