La Masia: Álex Rico

After weeks of profiling some of La Masia's greatest talents, many of which were midfielders, it's hard to believe that Barcelona have so many exciting prospects in the middle of the park. Yet, at every level in the academy there are precocious teenagers making major leaps in their developments as they progress through the ranks. Stuck between two squads with a number of highly talented youngsters in the Juvenil A and Cadet A teams, the current Juvenil B squad gets a little overlooked at the moment. Nico González would be with the team if he hadn't skipped that level entirely while Ilaix Moriba didn't last long this season before his promotion to Juvenil A. If anything, the progress of those two has allowed for even more opportunities for the likes of Brian Peña, Marc Doménech and Álex Rico. Of the three, Rico is the first to make his Juvenil A debut and it's not hard to see why.

Born January 25, 2002 in nearby Lleida, Álex Rico Pico got his start at a very young age in football playing for Lleida Esportiu and AEM Lleida, two local clubs in his hometown, for five years before making the move to La Masia. His first match for Barcelona as a 10-year-old came at the Estadi Montilivi for the final of the Nike Cup. He has progressed through the ranks since arriving for the 2012-2013 season and starting his Barcelona career at the Alevín B level.

Like so many other La Masia central midfielders, his idols and comparisons are Xavi and Iniesta. While the resemblance is only slight at the moment, he has regularly been a team captain for his squads and touches the ball more than any other player on his team as the defensive midfielder or as one of the two other more attacking midfielders. In April 2017, he captained the Cadet B team that won the league title with six match days left, winning 23 of their 24 matches and losing just once to Igualada on the first day of the season. The team finished with a goal differential of +98, conceding 12 times in the entire campaign. The following season, alongside the now-departed Pablo Moreno (Juventus) and Raúl Martínez (CF Damm) as well as current teammate Doménech, Rico won the league title with three match days remaining last season and got a deserved promotion to Franc Artiga's Juvenil B team. This past summer the player also signed an extension to keep him at the club until 2021.

In addition to his burgeoning Barcelona career, Rico has featured for Spain at youth level, making the jump from the U-16s to the U-17s alongside Nico González and Juvenil A goalkeeper Pol Tristán. He has played five matches for the U-17s, starting twice in U-17 Euro Qualifiers.

The player is also known for his love of music and sociable personality. If these traits are indicative of a young man who can deal with the pressures off the field, it appears Rico is in great shape in Catalonia. His leadership and play on the field speak for itself and he has recently been rewarded for his progress, making his Juvenil A debut in a 4-0 win against Olivar.