BARCELONA (Reuters) - The quaint 18th-century Catalan stone farmhouse that became the symbol of Barcelona's famed soccer academy closed its doors to recruits on Thursday after more than three decades of nurturing talent.
"La Masia de Can Planes", built in 1702 and dwarfed since the 1950s by Barca's massive Nou Camp stadium next door, has been a home from home to players including current coach Pep Guardiola, midfielder Andres Iniesta, captain Carles Puyol and goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
The building, which is being replaced by a much bigger, purpose-built facility at the club's training ground outside, will begin a new lease of life as the club's institutional headquarters.
However, not all of the leading lights the school has produced, including World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, midfielder Xavi, defender Gerard Pique and Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, lived there.
Players who pass through the youth school, known in Spanish as the "cantera" (quarry), are imbued with Barca's special brand of stylish, possession-based soccer, most recently on display in the Champions League final at Wembley where they crushed English champions Manchester United 3-1.
Recruits lucky enough to win a place at the "Masia" -- some 60 at a time from Spain and beyond -- also undergo an intense programme of education which officials say produces more rounded individuals who have a better chance in life if they fail to make it as a professional athlete.
Standing outside the farmhouse and flanked by the 16 trophies Barca's various professional sports teams won in a club-record haul last season, director Carles Folguera said he and his colleagues were excited about the "New Masia", which cost around 9 million euros ($12.7 million) and will house some 80 young hopefuls when it opens next month.
"We are switching to a residence that will be an example for the world due to the immense possibilities it will generate," Folguera told reporters.
"We will continue to work with the same ideas," he added. "We are happy when success is accompanied by educating excellent people."
Former Barca midfielder Guillermo Amor, one of the Masia's first residents, said he was more nervous on Thursday than when he moved in as a teenager in 1980.
"Today is not an easy day," he said. "For me, this place has not been just a residence for athletes but my home. We will have a marvellous new residence and we should make sure the family atmosphere is transfered there."
Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Mike Collett; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org