Some 140 kids are doing college-level soccer drills in the steamy heat at the Middlesex School in Concord. On one level it looks like your typical, albeit intense, summer soccer camp. But something is different here: The campers are wearing Barça soccer shirts — azulgranas, blue and scarlet — bearing the emblem of the legendary fútbol club out of Barcelona, where what most of the United States calls soccer is followed with a religious fervor that is hard for most Americans to understand.
FC Barcelona’s fans possess a devotion that may be at least equal to sports-crazy Boston’s love for the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins combined. Barça’s fans jam Camp Nou, its 98,000-seat stadium, game after game. The club has 61 million followers on Twitter and Facebook, making it the king of sports in social media (as Forbes put it, that’s more than what the 30 richest NFL teams have combined). The value of the franchise is estimated to be the third largest in the world of sports at $2.6 billion, behind Real Madrid and Manchester United. Quite possibly two of the best players in the world wear a Barça uniform: Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar. But what makes Barça unique beyond its disciplined style of play and 14 championships (out of a possible 19) is its focus on its extensive youth academy, La Masia, from which it draws much of its talent. It cultivates players from a very young age, as early as 6.