Move over Messi. These HMH starlets can be the real deal
A whole new ball game: Barca coach Franc Carbó and HMH's Ben Dimant
"I've got them playing the Barca way." Those were the words of academy coach Franc Carbó following a series of intense training sessions with the HMH Under 15 squad.
Having put the group through their paces at Barcelona's youth academy at Miniestadio, Carbó recently travelled to Powerleague Mill Hill in north London to ensure that they have been practising what he preaches – the Barca philosophy.
"I've noticed a big improvement in six weeks within the team," said Carbó. "We want the players to understand our philosophy, important aspects of the game such as it's better to play a pass back than lose the ball. They've also been learning how to play with confidence with the ball at their feet. It's all about team spirit and there are no stars."
Carbó, 27, has been working for the European champions for three years. He is in charge of FCB Escola (Under 12) team, as well as international youth camps and clinics.
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He said: "When you see a good player you don't touch their strengths. You only try to improve their weaknesses, such as using your weaker foot and heading.
"At Barca, we analyse the marks of the young players every three months – both football and education. We drop those with the lowest number of points.
"The most important thing is for us to develop the player to ensure they are ready for the first step. We give the same instructions to a player aged 12 as we do to a first team player. The only difference is the pressure that the player is under.
"The way I see it, the ball is made from leather, leather comes from a cow, a cow eats grass so you should keep the ball on the grass."
Speaking about Barcelona's recent success, Carbó revealed that it came as a result of a blueprint devised in the late 1980s. "The club has worked hard and waited a long time for success," he said. "You have to be very passionate and believe in what you are doing. You have to believe in the philosophy without the pressure of results.
"At Barcelona, we have 12 players who have come through the ranks out of 21. This has saved the club a lot of money. Messi came to Barca at the age of 13. Xavi, Iniesta, Valdes, Pique, Puyol, Fontas, Thiago, Busquets and Pedro followed."
Carbó talked about the steps that young players looking to become a professional footballer should follow. He said: "It's important to keep your feet on the ground. At Barca, one in 10 boys turn professional. You have to be realistic and work hard. It's crucial the player enjoys what they are doing. They cannot be pushed by their parents to do something they don't want to.
"People play football to enjoy the game with the ball at their feet and you have to be strong mentally."
The Spanish national team has gone from strength to strength in recent years and Carbó believes the England team must slow down in pursuit of success. "English football is very different to Spain, he said. "The players have different strengths. In England, one team tries to reach the opposition goal too fast. They should learn to slow down. Players have to understand that the ball is very precious. A team cannot score without the ball so control of the ball is important."
However, he believes that the Premiership offers better financial incentives than La Liga. "English clubs can offer conditions that Spanish clubs cannot."
With Cesc Fabregas having recently returned to the Nou Camp, Carbó believes that Arsene Wenger's men have been suffering from a lack of experience following an indifferent start to the season.
"Over the last few years, Arsenal have had a mix of young and experienced players. Now they are only young and they are not used to the pressure.
"They need role models to offer advice and experience. Even before Fabregas left, they were suffering from a lack of leadership. Cesc had to be a leader at 24."
Looking a little closer to home, Carbó says that size does not matter for anyone wanting to turn professional. "Look at Paul Scholes, Joe Cole and Scott Parker," he said. "They are not the biggest but they're great players.
"You don't need to be big to play football. You need to be smart and skilful. The most important quality is how fast you can think. Silva, Nasri and Mata are not the biggest but they're all very comfortable on the ball."
The decision to play the Barca way was made by HMH Under 15 manager Avi Goldberg.
Midfielder Ben Dimant is one of the players that Carbó took under his wing at HMH. He said: "It's been an amazing experience working with a coach who works for the best club in the world. He's been really helpful as we had always been trying to pass the ball too quickly and go for goal.
"He has taught us the importance of width and keeping the ball rather than trying to match opponents physically. We have also worked on technique and we have had other teams praising our style of football as a result."