La Liga - Mitten: Barca B get A-list treatment

Eurosport - Tue, 07 Sep 09:43:00 2010

Luis Enrique was the lungs of the Barcelona team in the early 90s. The tough Asturian, played for his local side Sporting Gijon (where as a young player he roomed with Kevin Moran) before joining Real Madrid and then Barca.

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When he retired in 2004, he took a year out to surf and run marathons around the world. Ultra fit, he began to take part in Iron Man competitions, which he still does. He writes a superb blog about his endeavours.

In 2008, he took control of Barcelona's reserve team, replacing his former team mate Pep Guardiola who moved up to look after the first team. Enrique has been as adept at coaching as he was at playing and last season led his young side to promotion and Spain's second division - the highest league in which a second team can play.

Barça's stiffs joined Villarreal B, the only other top flight team with a reserve side playing at such a high level.

Both have their own stadiums. The Catalans play at the 16,000 capacity Mini Estadi over the road from Camp Nou, usually to crowds of 2,000 but much more for big games. Villarreal play to fewer, making them the lowest supported team in the division which includes relative giants like Real Betis and Celta Vigo, who Barca B beat away in their opening game. It was not so long ago that Celta were beating Barça's first team. Both teams have a good track record of promoting players so that they seldom have members over the age of 24. And so impressive was Villarreal B coach Juan Carlos Garrido last season, he was also promoted to take over the first team.

Barca B, as you might suspect, are stuffed with emerging talents. Names to watch out for like Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, Oriel Romeu and Thiago Alcantara who all starred in the Spain Under-19 side which recently reached the European finals against France.

Having your reserve sides playing at such a high level has several advantages.

"In England, reserve teams play in front of empty stadiums against other reserve teams," says Arnau Riera, the captain of Barca B in 2006, a side which included Lionel Messi.

"In Spain, you are playing in real games in front of big crowds. You come up against seasoned pros who really want to beat you because you are Barca. You have to deal with the media and with fans. It's a great learning curve and reduces the step up from being a reserve team nobody to being a first team player."

Critics grumble that only the rich clubs can afford the privilege and unfairly offer reduced price admission. Castellon used to be the biggest club in Villarreal's area until the Yellow Submarines acquired a wealthy benefactor 15 years ago. Now they play in a league below Villarreal B, yet have to charge more for tickets.

Barça's B teamers have been promoted twice in the last three years and Enrique could be the man to replace Pep Guardiola in the future - though he might have to give the Iron Man a break.

His side have another bonus tonight. With most of the first teamers absent on international duty, Barca B get to play a full Brazil side in a practice match at the club's new training ground.

Andy Mitten / Eurosport

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