BARCELONA — Ernesto Valverde insisted Barcelona have not moved away from their model of giving homegrown players a chance after the club broke their transfer record for the second time this season with the signing of Philippe Coutinho.
Barca could end up paying Liverpool €160 million for Coutinho, who replaces Ousmane Dembele, who arrived from Borussia Dortmund for an initial €105m in the summer, as the club’s record signing.
The Catalan club have often played on the fact they have been able to develop some of the world’s best players without having to spend big money in the transfer market, such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi.
But with fewer players progressing to the first team from the club’s La Masia academy in recent years, Valverde defended the decision to invest heavily on Coutinho and Dembele and pointed out that Barca have always signed the world’s best players.
“Barcelona’s model has always been the same,” the coach said in a news conference on Wednesday. “[The club] have always gone to the transfer market to sign the best players in the world. Many of the very best players have played here.”
Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic represent a handful of the big players that Barca have spent big money on in the past.
However, Valverde did acknowledge the importance of La Masia, as well.
“At the same time, we always try to look at the academy,” he added. “We want to bring players up [to the first team] based on their style of play and their development.
“You have to remember, we have been through a generation with special players like Xavi and Iniesta (…) sometimes more players will come through from the academy; sometimes there will be less. But we also need to sign players to keep ourselves at the top.”
With the arrival of Coutinho, Barca find themselves needing to reduce a wage bill which is threatening to spiral out of control.
Sources have told ESPN FC that the club are working on “several outgoings” with Javier Mascherano, Arda Turan, Aleix Vidal, Rafinha and Gerard Deulofeu all possible makeweights.
Valverde wouldn’t be drawn on any of the individual cases. He did admit, though, that he would like to work with a smaller squad, given he now has 25 players registered to play for the first team.
“I have always preferred to work with smaller squads,” he said. “I don’t want to be working with 20-odd players because then you have to leave a lot of people out and rotate more. And we have the B team, too, where we can also go for players.”
Barca host Celta Vigo in the second leg of their Copa del Rey round-of-16 tie on Thursday at Camp Nou. The two sides drew 1-1 at Balaidos last week, giving the Blaugrana a slight advantage going into the game.
“The tie is slightly tilted in our favour because of the away goal, but the advantage is minimal,” Valverde said.
“But Celta always score away from home, they have done in every away game this season. We won’t have [the away goal] in our heads.
“It would be a mistake to speculate about whether we are in a good position or not going into the game because that leads to mistakes. We want to win the game.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.