Tactical Insights

What happened to ‘next generation’ Barcelona player fans were unhappy to see join Man Utd

Manchester United persuaded a Spanish teenager to quit a Barcelona team that included Gavi and Pedri to play for their academy – but the transfer didn’t work out as planned

Barcelona fans want to see their academy players graduate to first-team level(Getty Images)

Lionel Messi, Xavi, Carlos Puyol, Pep Guardiola, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Victor Valdes, Thiago Alcantara, Pedro…

The list of superstars to graduate from Barcelona’s La Masia academy is long – too long to list in one article. Every club in Europe wants to snatch a talent from their famous youth set-up when they become available – and Manchester United are no exception.

Back in 2020, United persuaded Marc Juardo, a 16-year-old right-back, to leave the Spanish sun for Manchester. It was a transfer that left Barcelona chiefs furious, as the La Liga giants tried to tie him down to a new long-term contract after weeks of talks.

Barcelona fans thought Juardo would be part of their next great team. Midfielders Pedri, 21, and Gavi, 19, have both won the Golden Boy prize in recent years. That gong is given to the best young footballer in Europe, with Jude Bellingham winning it in 2023.

Alejandro Balde, a 20-year-old full-back, has also become a Spain international over the last two years and was named in La Liga’s Team of the Season last time out. And back-up goalkeeper Inaki Pena, 24, has impressed when called upon by manager Xavi.

Add those four young players into a squad that includes the likes of Ronald Araujo, Robert Lewandowski, Joao Felix, Jules Kounde, Frenkie de Jong, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ilkay Gundogan, and you’ve got a team that’s good enough to compete for silverware.

Juardo was expected to be part of such a squad… until United came calling. The Red Devils added him to their academy team – where he worked with Spanish coaches – and gave the defender intense English lessons to help him settle in Manchester.

Juardo was handed a professional contract after turning 17 in April 2021 and a first-team debut seemed inevitable… but it never came. Although Juardo played in the EFL Trophy and sat on the bench for a Premier League game, he never played for the first team.

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