Forget United’s Class of 92… meet Barcelona’s Class of 03! Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas were among star-studded Under 15s team at La Masia, but where are the team now?
- Much is spoken about United’s Class of 92, but Barcelona have a rival team
- Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique all played for the same U15s team
- One of their team-mates went on to play for Portsmouth and Palace in England
- Some didn’t make cut, while others are still playing now in the lower leagues
Much has been written about Manchester United’s Class of 92… the incredible group of players that graduated to the Old Trafford first-team together, including the likes of David Beckham, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
Yes, they were pretty good – but over in Spain, they are perhaps rivaled by Barcelona’s equivalent… Lionel Messi and his Class of 03.
Widely regarded as the best to ever play the game, Messi was involved in an incredible Under 15s team in 2003, lining up alongside Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas to name just two.
The great Barcelona U15 team in April 2003: (Back row, left to right) Dani Plancheria, Jose Hinojosa, Gerard Pique, Marc Valiente, Cesc Fabregas, Roger Giribet. (Front row, left to right) Lionel Messi, Franck Songo’o, Julio de Dios Moreno, Eugenio Plazuelo, Juanjo Clausi
A now-famous photo emerged of the team ahead of a Copa Catalunya match against city rivals Espanyol, with the future Nou Camp greats all together, and featuring Messi wearing a striking face mask.
While many have gone on to forge careers at the very pinnacle of the game, others in that 1987-born group have fallen short despite their promise in the ranks of La Masia.
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at what has happened to that incredible Barcelona Under 15s side in the years since 2003…
Recently retired, Dani Plancheria played out the majority of his career in Spain’s lower leagues following his exit from Barcelona. While under contract with the Nou Camp giants, he did manage to play under Pep Guardiola – although only during his one season in charge of the B team.
The goalkeeper helped get the team promoted back to the Spanish third tier… and then he headed to England for a trial with Blackburn Rovers. When that didn’t work out, he played for numerous clubs in the lower tiers of Spain, before ending his career in the fourth tier with Santboia on the outskirts of Barcelona.
He was Cesc Fabregas’ room-mate during his younger years at Barcelona, but never managed to make it as a professional.
Hinojosa was a midfielder, much like his more celebrated friend, but turned to teaching young footballers in Catalonia while still playing for local amateur side Martinenc after giving up his dream of making it to the top.
One of the more recognisable names in that impressive Barcelona youth team, Pique has gone on to play 527 times and counting for the La Liga giants. He did actually leave Barcelona temporarily shortly after that 2003 photo, joining Manchester United for four years.
He was unable to oust Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at their prime, though, returning to Spain for a spell on loan at Real Zaragoza. He then signed for Pep Guardiola and Barcelona again in 2006. Since then, he’s won every top prize in the game and is one of the club’s biggest legends.
Gerard Pique left Barcelona for Manchester United shortly after the photo, but later returned
Valiente joined Barcelona at the age of 10 and captained the side at various youth levels as an imposing defender. He reached the pinnacle of the first-team, playing in a Copa del Rey game against Badalona, but never managed to cement his place in the side.
He left the Nou Camp for Sevilla, before becoming a regular at Valladolid, where he played 157 times over a five-year stint. Israel, Belgium and Serbia then followed, before he returned to Spain with Segunda side Sporting Gijon in the summer.
Marc Valiente (pictured at Valladolid), is currently playing in the second tier for Sporting Gijon
Fabregas is still best mates with Messi now, but he didn’t stay at Barcelona for long after the 2003 photo was taken. In fact, just weeks later he headed off to Arsenal, convinced that Arsene Wenger could push his career on to the next level.
That proved correct as he made his Gunners debut aged 16, before going on to play over 300 times for the club. He then headed back to Barcelona in 2011, winning LaLiga with his youth side, before returning to England with Chelsea.
Fabregas left that summer convinced that Arsene Wenger would advance his career more quickly than if he stayed at Barcelona. He was proved right, becoming Arsenal’s youngest debutant aged 16 years and 177 days in a League Cup game in October of the same year. Almost instantly one of the Premier League’s best midfielders, Fabregas returned to Barcelona in 2011, winning La Liga, before returning to England again with Chelsea. He joined Monaco in 2019 and is currently in his second season with the Ligue 1 side.
Cesc Fabregas remains great friends with Messi, and is currently playing for Monaco in France
Giribet signed for Barcelona on exactly the same day as Lionel Messi, but his career trajectory hasn’t taken exactly the same path as the Argentinian maestro. The defender didn’t make it into the first-team at the Nou Camp, but instead went on to forge a career in the lower leagues of Spain.
He left Barca for Terrassa, before joining Asco, Balaguer and Artesa. He is currently still at the latter, plying his trade in the regional sixth tier of Spanish football.
Roger Giribet didn’t quite hit the heights expected of him and is currently in the sixth tier
What more can be said about Lionel Messi? The six-time Ballon d’Or winner has played his entire career at the Nou Camp after graduating from La Masia and he is widely regarded as the best player of all-time.
In the 2003 picture, he is wearing a face mask, borrowed from Carles Puyol, who had worn it several weeks earlier after breaking his cheekbone in a clash with team-mate Frank de Boer in a Champions League match against Inter Milan.
Messi’s own cheekbone was fractured during the game a week earlier in which Barcelona sealed the league against Espanyol. Both teams met again in the Copa Catalunya here, and Messi had been told to sit things out for three weeks. But he told coach Alex Garcia that he wanted to play and borrowed the mask from Puyol.
Messi started the match against Espanyol with the protection but it was too big for him and he could hardly see through it, so he threw it off the pitch and promptly scored two goals in five minutes.
His Barca debut followed in October 2004, when he had not long since turned 17, and the rest makes him the greatest player in the club’s history.
Messi went on to become a six-time Ballon d’Or winner and is widely regarded as the best ever
Perhaps one of the more well-known members of the squad, given his time in England after leaving Barcelona. Songo’o is the son of former Deportivo title-winning goalkeeper Jacques Songo’o, and was spotted while playing in Depor’s youth academy.
He didn’t quite make the grade at Barcelona, but did manage to secure a Premier League move off the back of his time at the Nou Camp, joining Portsmouth in 2005. He played twice for the then-Premier League side, before being sent for loan spells at Bournemouth, Preston, Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday.
After struggling to make his mark on English football, he headed back to Spain with Real Zaragoza and Albacete, before moving stateside with Portland Timbers. He then ended his career in Greece with PAS Giannina, retiring in 2014 at the age of 27. His brother Yann plays for Scunthorpe United.
Franck Songo’o, pictured at Portland Timbers, played for five different teams in England
Julio de Dios Moreno
A midfielder in the 2003 team, he played for Barcelona C and briefly for Barcelona B, but could never make it to the very top level. At the age of 20, he tried his luck at Terrasa – where he reunited with Roger Giribet for a season – before moving on to eight more modest sides in Spain’s lower leagues.
He is currently at SD Ejea – the reserve side of Huesca – in the third tier, playing against the likes of Barcelona B.
‘Pitu’ is currently playing in the Tercera Division – fourth tier – for Cerdanyola
Eugenio ‘Pitu’ Plazuelo
Plazuelo – known as ‘Pitu’ on the football pitch – is another player who was impressive at youth level but could never break through to the top level. He has become a steady entity in the lower leagues of Spain since leaving Barcelona.
He headed straight for Mallorca’s B team after leaving Catalonia, before playing for Sant Andreu, Vilanova, Martinenc, Vilassar de Mar and two spells at Cerdanyola, where he seems to have found a home.
He is currently in his second spell at the Catalan club, who ply their trade in the fourth tier of Spanish football.
A real Spanish football journeyman, Clausi started out as an attacking midfielder famous for stepping in front of Messi to take all the set-pieces. ‘I was the kick-taker but I must have let him take one or two,’ he once joked.
He played for Barcelona Youth, Under 17s, 18s and 19s, before heading to Catarroja in 2006. 13 moves later and he is now at Paterna CF, lining up in Group 6 of the fourth tier.
AND THE 1996-97 GRADUATES WEREN’T BAD EITHER…
It is not just Lionel Messi’s age-group that were particularly impressive when coming through La Masia… a few years prior to them, there was another star-studded fleet of players on the cusp of the first-team.
While Messi and Co were still playing in the younger age categories of the club’s academy, the 1996-97 graduates included a whole host of big names.
Perhaps the most famous comes in the form of Andres Iniesta, who worked his way into the first-team before playing 674 times in the club’s colours. He then left for Vissel Kobe but there is little doubt over the fact that he will some day return in a coaching or behind-the-scenes role.
Carles Puyol is another big name that may well return to Barcelona in the future, despite recently rejecting the chance to take over as sporting director. A one-club man, he made 593 competitive appearances for the Nou Camp giants, before retiring in 2014.
Pepe Reina was another big name, the goalkeeper going on to play 49 times for the first-team before heading on to the likes of Villarreal, Liverpool, Napoli and Aston Villa, where he is currently on loan at the age of 37.
Jofre Mateu is something of a Barcelona legend, having played 112 times for the club’s B team in the lower leagues of Spain. He then moved on to Levante and Espanyol, where he returned to LaLiga, before forging out a long career in the second division once more. He ended his career with three years in India.
Gabri Garcia, just known by his first name Gabri on the football pitch, joined Barcelona in 1993 and stayed for 13 years until he moved to Ajax in 2006. He played over 100 times for the first-team and has since turned his hand to management. He was assistant at Barca B, before taking charge of the Under 19s, and is now manager of FC Andorra in the third tier.
A photo of the La Masia residence, surrounded by photos of the 96-97 graduates
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