BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona’s 1-0 La Liga win at Villarreal on Sunday was engineered by Lionel Messi but it was not the four-times World Player of the Year but yet another promising teenager from the club’s famed academy who scored the winner.
Barca struggled to break down a determined Villarreal side at the Madrigal but got the breakthrough eight minutes from time when 19-year-old substitute Sandro Ramirez, making his official debut, turned a Messi centre into the net from close range.
Ramirez’s effort came after fellow academy graduate Munir el Haddadi, also 19 and also making his first official appearance, struck in the 3-0 opening day victory at home to Elche.
Their success appears to confirm that new coach Luis Enrique’s strategy of deploying Barca-trained youngsters is working well in the early stages of the campaign.
A former Barca and Spain midfielder, Luis Enrique replaced Argentine Gerardo Martino, who was sacked after the Catalan club ended the 2013-14 season without major silverware.
“It is gratifying seeing that the youngsters are helping us so much,” Luis Enrique told a news conference.
“We are happy for him (Ramirez) and for the dedication of all the young players,” he added.
“We have a lot of room for improvement but the response of the players has been monstrous. It’s still early but there is room for optimism.”
Barca’s “La Masia” soccer school has produced a host of top players in recent decades, including Argentina captain Messi and former player and coach Pep Guardiola.
Luis Enrique is hoping he can create a side with the right mix of home-grown talent and players purchased from other clubs like new arrivals Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic and the established Neymar.
The Brazil forward, returning from an injury layoff, came on as a substitute for the final half hour on Sunday and his pace and skill gave Barca an extra attacking edge.
But it was Ramirez who stole the show and he and Munir earned praise from another La Masia graduate, Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets.
“We know what Munir and Sandro can bring to the team and if they continue like this they will have their place in the first team,” Busquets told reporters. “We have to be patient.”
Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Amlan Chakraborty