BUENOS AIRES - How to clone Lionel Messi? Set up a Barcelona football school in Argentina.
This was the thinking behind the Catalan club when they decided to look for more Argentine talent to nurture in their rich, world famous youth scheme.
Barcelona Junior Lujan was set up in 2007 as a subsidiary of the Spanish giants in a Buenos Aires suburb, recruiting and preparing boys to fulfil their dream of reaching clubs in the Argentine first division.
Director Jorge Raffo told Reuters in an interview about the care and education of boys between the ages of nine and 12 and the possibility that one of them might become a top performer like Messi or Diego Maradona, Mario Kempes and Enrique Omar Sivori before him.
"The junior project respects the essence of the Argentine footballer through his quality, individuality, intellectual development and teamwork to return to the source and find those great players of our history like Maradona, Messi, Kempes or Sivori," Raffo said.
"When we work with nine, 10 and 11-year-olds we don't know if a kid is going to be a footballer, but we do know he's going to be a person. So we're particularly aware, specifically in this place, that the kids must be supported, accompanied, educated and not pressured."
General manager Daniel Vitali, Barcelona's legal representative in Argentina, said one of their main concerns was handling the uprooting of the boys.
"Messi's was a case in point. He left when he was 12, it was very painful for him and his family, the uprooting process," Vitali said.
"One of our objectives is to avoid kids leaving Argentina when they are very young, so we aim for them to develop in their own place, with their people, their family, in their country."
The boys in the project, aged nine to 16, who arrive from all corners of Argentina through scouts and talent spotters, are required to study at Don Bosco School, one of the leading schools in Buenos Aires province.
The school has about 45 boarders and another 150 boys who live at home and train there every day.
"The 45 kids are the ones that go to Don Bosco school, they live here with us, they return to their homes five times a year and their parents also come here to visit them three or four times a year," Vitali said.
The school applies the same training methods as those used at Barcelona.
"On the sporting side, Barcelona have given us a whole methodology we follow to the letter. We are obliged to show a development and sporting model quite different from that which has existed so far here in Argentina," Raffo said.
He said that there is a regular exchange of information with the Catalan club through video footage of training sessions.
For the coaches, football is the excuse to teach a set of values to the boys so that, if they do not make it as players, they will not be reproached for not having fulfilled their dreams.
Raffo added: "As we always say, we are competing in two tournaments, a football tournament and a human one - who's going to become an architect, lawyer, accountant."comments