La Masia: Txus Alba

The relationship between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol is a complicated one, a rivalry strengthened by location, well-fought derbies, the accusations of political allegiances and most surprisingly, the arms race of Catalan youth into their fabled academies. Only a small fraction of players that come through La Masia make it as professionals and that percentage of prospects lessens for Espanyol and CF Damm, the other major youth program in the city of Barcelona. 15-year-old Txus Alba has already made stops at all three, going from discard to gem seemingly overnight and currently finding himself in the highly competitive Cadet A squad at La Masia.

Jesús "Txus" Alba Ramos was born on March 31, 2003 in Barcelona and began his development in 2010 at the Escola del RCD Espanyol. After four seasons with Espanyol, the midfielder moved on to Damm. It is ignorantly assumed that Damm is the place players go when they can't make the grade in La Masia or Espanyol, but Damm can boast the likes of former Barcelona first team contributors Aleix Vidal, Cristian Tello and Isaac Cuenca. In addition to those three, former La Masia and current Inter Milan first team player Keita Baldé, Villarreal's Gerard Moreno and Espanyol's Dani García and Sergio García were also in the ranks at the local academy.

The move to Damm worked for the player as he found his way back to Espanyol to continue his progress as a footballer. Back in Cornellá, Txus ascended to the Cadet B level and earned a call-up with Spain's U-15s. The combination of his improved play and breaking into the national team set-up put him on Barcelona's radar, so much so that they payed the 50,000 euros required to take him away from their rivals, a move that the player was reportedly pining for after growing unsatisfied with the way things were working at Espanyol.

Eight of La Masia's 63 new additions this summer came from Espanyol, with Txus going straight into the Cadet A squad while Raúl Moro and Brian Peña joined Francesc Artiga Cebrián's Juvenil B. Under Carles Martínez's tutelage, Txus has continued his role in the Spanish national team set-up, getting called up to the U-16s alongside Juvenil B's Ilaix Moriba and Cadet A teammate David Navarro. He hit the ground running in one of his first appearances for Barcelona, scoring at the end of August against Sant Andreu's Juvenil B team.

Goals will be icing on the cake for the youngster that has looked exceptional in Carles Martínez's midfield, where starting spots are earned and the competition is fierce. Central midfield is often the deepest position in La Masia, and this current crop of Cadet A mini-maestros is the deepest in recent memory. Fermín López has moved out to the wing while Jorge Alastuey has split time in the middle and as a winger. Barcelona's 4-3-3 means that Martínez has to decide which of Txus Alba, Arnau Solá, Marc Casadó, Alejandro Ginard, Xavi Simons and occasionally Alastuey fill out those three midfield spots; an impossible decision game in and game out. Txus might profile as the most technical of the bunch, with the vision and line-breaking passing of a prototypical attacking midfielder. He combines those traits with an outside shot and the ability to dictate the pace of a match to make him a real danger in the opponents' half. Like many young players, understanding his defensive responsibilities and making those into habits will be a heavy focus for the player as he refines his game throughout his teenage years.