Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta — the list of players that have graduated from Barcelona’s academy and gone on to become world class talents is seriously impressive. It’s no surprise that over the years, La Masia (the name of Barcelona’s youth facility) has gained a reputation for developing extreme technical ability in young players. Barcelona's relative struggles in recent years have arguably come largely due to their transitioning into more of a money-splashing 'galacticos' model, rather than sticking to their roots in player development. But with a new generation of extremely gifted young stars like Gavi and Pedri showing that they can do it at the top level, things are looking up for Barca, and with Xavi at helm as head coach, a more forward-thinking culture is being generated.
In this article, we'll be giving you a glimpse into how the Barcelona academy has been able to consistently produce talented youngsters over the past couple of decades, by diving into the world of La Masia. However, it's important to state that the youth setup isn't all we'll be talking about — because ultimately, the club's academy is situated within the larger site of the Barcelona training ground. And today, we'll be guiding you through the entire complex.
We'll detail the size and dimensions of the site, the facilities on offer, the history of the Barcelona training ground and any recent renovations that have been made. Once we're done, you'll have a much better idea of how talents like Pedri and Ansu Fati have been able to make their way into the first team and dazzle on the European stage.
Barcelona's home ground Camp Nou is one of the most iconic football stadiums in the world. With a capacity of almost 100,000, it's hosted two European Cup finals, two European Cup Winners' Cup finals, numerous Spanish domestic cup finals, as well as multiple games at the 1982 World Cup. But a short 10-minute drive away, there's another Barcelona site that most football fans know a lot less about: the Barcelona training ground.
The base of the club's training operations is located in the small city of Sant Joan Despi, which is around 10km west of central Barcelona. Opened in June 2006 and used by the first team and youth team for both training and matchdays since 2009, the site provided stability to the club when they moved here, ending a 30-year period of training on the small pitch (known as the La Masia pitch) annexed to the Camp Nou.
The name of the Barcelona training ground is the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, named after the founder of the Catalan club, Joan Gamper. A Swiss football executive and athlete, Gamper founded multiple clubs around the turn of the 20th century, including FC Barcelona and FC Zurich in his native Switzerland, and he also served as Barca's first-ever captain between 1899 and 1903. So when the new training ground was built over a century later, the club made the decision to honour his unique legacy. And in the years since that grand opening, several things have been done to ensure that the Barcelona training ground continues to offer players the best facilities possible.
Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper might've opened in 2006, but it wasn't long before the club started hatching up plans to expand, grow and revamp the site. In 2009, a refurbished dressing room was unveiled with a pool area to help players recover from injuries and matchdays. A smart spa was built to assist player recovery, alongside a sauna, a hydrotherapy pool, a jacuzzi and contrasting hot and cold water plunge pools (14 and 40 degrees respectively). Then, in 2011, a new residence was opened at the complex, designed to house FC Barcelona youth players, who prior to this renovation boarded at La Masia. Around 85 players can fit comfortably into this residential centre, which is built to provide as much comfort and support as possible to Barca's stars (many of whom are recruited by the club from other countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, or even West African nations like Senegal).
A couple of years later in 2013, the Catalan club announced the acquisition of a plot of land adjacent to the Sant Joan Despi complex. Previously, this was owned by the tennis club El Forn, and it cost Barcelona a substantial 8,270,000 euros to buy. The new 26,000 m2 estate increased the size of Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper by 20%, and this boosted land has been used to expand La Masia and add some additional space for first team player facilities, too.
Another important addition to the complex has been the building of the Estadi Johan Cruyff (Johan Cruyff Stadium), which opened in 2019. A UEFA Category 3 Stadium that can hold 6,000 spectators, the new ground on the Ciutat Esportiva site has replaced the Mini Estadi as a matchday venue for Barcelona B and Barcelona Femeni (the club's women's team). This is one of the most impressive facilities at the campus, but there are plenty of other interesting features — let's spend some time digging into them.
The Barcelona training ground is packed with all the state-of-the-art features that a top European club requires for its daily operations. The site covers an area of 136,839 square metres, which is roughly 34 acres. On this large expanse of land, there are nine football pitches, five with natural grass and two with artificial grass. Eight of these are full-sized pitches, while one (Pitch 6) is a mini pitch measuring 55 x 38 metres. The quality of the artificial pitch surfaces has been enhanced in recent years by the installation of four state-of-the-art FieldTurf Poligras Optimum 63 surfaces, which feature durable fibres and a patented mixture of silica sand and cryogenic rubber infill material. Pitch 7 has the largest capacity for spectators, with 1,750 people able to watch matches that are played here. And there's plenty of other spectator sport going on at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper.
On site, there's also a multi-sport pavilion that hosts basketball, handball, and futsal games, and can house 472 spectators. Other key indoor buildings include three gymnasiums, a pool and sauna facility, two press areas, five changing rooms, five offices/changing rooms for coaches and referees, offices for medical professionals, a service building that includes team catering areas, plus specialised training areas for goalkeepers and other technical areas. There's also an underground car park with 80 spots, as well as plenty of parking space above ground level.
In total, this training centre cost Barcelona around 68 million euros to build, with construction costing around 42.5 million, and the rest corresponding to urbanisation and land acquisition. In order to finance this, the club had to sell two separate plots of land, but it's hard to argue with the fact that those sales were worth it: the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper is a high-tech complex with plenty of impressive features.
In order to add some insight regarding the status of Barca's training ground in comparison with other centres across the world, it's worth honing in on La Masia, arguably the crowning jewel of the site. Barca's academy has been instrumental in shaping the club's rise to the top of European football in recent times, with the talent crop of the early 2000s representing a particular high point in the academy's history — in 2010, La Masia became the world's first youth academy to have trained all three finalists for the Ballon d'Or in a single year: Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, and Xavi.
La Masia used to be located near Camp Nou in the Les Corts district, but as the club expanded over time, this area became too small to be a feasible long-term option. In June 2011, these headquarters ceased being a residential home for academy players, and all youth team operations were shifted to the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, where they remain to this day. The fact that since then, an extremely impressive cohort of young talent has been developed here — Gavi, Pedri, Fati, Eric Garcia, and more — is a testament to how the Barcelona training ground compares to others across the world, both for first team and youth team players. At the same time, Barcelona's women's team, who also train and play their matches at the Gamper campus, have gone from strength to strength (this season, they won their 8th Liga F title).
Yes, it's not the biggest complex in the world (in fact, it's dwarfed by huge Premier League training grounds such as Leicester's huge 185-acre Leicester City FC Training Centre and Arsenal's 140-acre London Colney site). However, it clearly makes up for this with state-of-the-art equipment, gymnasiums, pools and saunas, a large selection of high-end grass and artificial pitches, and perhaps most crucially, the consistent employment of some of the best coaches in the game.
In late 2021, Barcelona revealed plans to renovate Camp Nou in order to keep pace with Spain's other giant, Real Madrid. The club are proposing a 1.5 billion euro investment designed to modernise the stadium, turning it into a 105,000-seater stadium with tons of new solar panels, office complexes, and other new features.
As part of these plans, the club also announced that the areas surrounding the stadium will see some large-scale renovation. This includes the aforementioned Estadio Johan Cruyff (the stadium of Barca's women's team and Barca Atletic), and the training ground we've been discussing in this article. However, it's unclear exactly how the Ciutat Deportiva Joan Gamper will be revamped and upgraded in the coming years, as Barca look toward the future. Will it be further land acquisition and extra pitch building, or will work be focused more on redeveloping the site's main building? It will be interesting to see how the project unravels.
If you're keen to find out more about some of the most impressive training grounds in the world, you're in the right place. Why not start by checking out our guide to Chelsea's Cobham Training Centre? It's widely regarded as one of the best training facilities in Europe, and for good reason.