La Candela: Barcelona's Argentine Messi Factory

Introducing La Candela and the football project that produced Barcelona's three-time Ballon d'Or winner, Lionel Messi...
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Introducing La Candela and the football project that produced Barcelona's three-time Ballon d'Or winner, Lionel Messi...

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Introducing La Candela and the football project that produced Barcelona's three-time Ballon d'Or winner, Lionel Messi...

La Candela stands in the district of San Justo, forty minutes outside of Buenos Aires. It's steeped in football history; the place some of game's greatest ever players learned their trade. It was here that Barcelona discovered Lionel Messi.

Alberto J. Armando, a visionary former Boca Juniors president, bought this 50,173 square metre patch in 1963. He created football pitches for lower-league clubs to train on, and a club house for their players to get changed in. Boca Juniors coach Alfredo Di stéfano used La Candela in the 60’s, as did Diego Maradona in 1981 – the year he won the championship with a memorable Xeneizes team.

In the 90s, Boca stopped using La Candela and the property was rented out. The facilities soon fell into disrepair, and were ultimately abandoned. 
In 2004, Jorge Raffo, who played at Boca Juniors and was familiar with La Candela in its heyday, decided to buy the property. Raffo had recently created CEFAR (Footballers High Performance Training Centre) and needed a place to work from. The facilities and the mystique of La Candela were perfect.

CEFAR was the first private centre in Argentina to specialise in high-performance training for footballers. Today, professional players train at La Candela every day, dreaming of being picked up by a big club. It's also regularly used by international and club teams from around the world for pre-season training.

The first and most important, is to change the working methods of the teams here. In a land of great talents, if you add a European methodology and organization, we can achieve more Messis

In 2007, with the aim of recruiting a young Lionel Messis, FC Barcelona and CEFAR signed an agreement.

Raffo is the project's sports director, working with roughly 200 boys between the ages of 12 and 16. “This points to different objectives,” Raffo says. “The first and most important, is to change the working methods of the teams here. In a land of great talents, if you add a European methodology and organization, we can achieve more Messis.”

His vision should encourage Argentinian clubs to develop their young talent to ensure they are not uprooted at a young age like Messi. The objective is clear: players remain in Argentina until they are completely ready to leave for Europe.“No player will leave La Candela before he is 17,” Raffo says on CEFAR´S official website.

Barcelona's latest superstar to emerge from the project is Maximiliano Rolon. He arrived at Barcelona two years ago, still just 15. Rolon is a skilful striker that can also play on both flanks. Barcelona see Rolon as the natural successor to Villa, Alexis Sanchez or Pedro.

It was recently announced that CEFAR would not continue in 2012, folding for economical reasons. It has emerged that the Catalan club are unwilling to continue their investment in Argentina. Sandro Rosell, Barcelona´s president, and his board don't consider it profitable enough – despite Rosell being impressed with La Candela when he visited the facilities during the Copa America last July.

In 2007, Barcelona's then president, Joan Laporta, committed to invest €7.5m by 2011 in Club Atlético Luján to take over the training of players between 12 and 16 years old, both in sport and education.

Barcelona's latest superstar to emerge from the project is Maximiliano Rolon. He arrived at Barcelona two years ago, still just 15

“We want to replicate this model in other countries that we know are producing good football and good footballers,” Laporta said. “Magnificent examples are Brazil and Mexico. CEFAR´s methodology is the same we have in La Masia. All project managers are inspired by that methodology and they are in permanent contact with the directors of La Masia.”

Txiki Beguirtain, FC Barcelona´s sports director during Laporta´s presidency added: “We chose the CEFAR because I liked Jorge Raffo, his dedication, his past and his discretion. And the facilities are fantastic. I saw very few places as good as the CEFAR in the world.”

So far Barcelona have invested only half of what was agreed. Since Rosell´s became president, the amount of children at La Candela was reduced from 48 to 30, and from 27 to 18 per players for each of the eight templates.
But there are more big clubs interested in keeping the best players and continuing with the project – namely, Boca Juniors.

Last week, Daniel Angelici became the new Boca president, announcing the arrival of a new football coordinator: Jorge Raffo. He also stated the club will go back to train at La Candela.

There has been no announcement from Barcelona on whether or not they will continue to support the project.

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