Lionel Messi and the ascent of Barca soccer

With stars like Lionel Messi and a youth academy bringing up the next generation of athletes, is Barcelona becoming the world's best soccer team?

The following script is from "Barca" which aired on Jan. 6, 2013. Bob Simon is the correspondent. Michael Gavshon, producer.

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and Barcelona's team, known as Barca, is arguably the best team in the world. Over the last four years, it has won 14 out of a possible 19 trophies. That's never been done before. The secret? Many point to its youth academy which recruits boys often no more than seven years old, gives them a rigorous education and teaches them Barca's unique way of playing the game. In some matches this season all 11 players on the field were graduates of the football academy. And that's what the sport is called in every country except the United States: football, not soccer.

In the most contested football rivalry in the world, Barca playing its arch rival Real Madrid, some 400 million people are tuning in on six continents, and there's even more hot-blood flowing than when the Yankees play the Red Sox.

It's the biggest day of the year at Camp Nou, Barcelona's iconic stadium. The match, Barca versus Real Madrid, called El Clasico. John Carlin, who writes a weekly football column for a leading Spanish newspaper, says this is as good as the sport gets.

Bob Simon: I've heard Barca referred to as the best team in the world. Do you believe that?

John Carlin: Oh yes. I mean, right at this particular moment in historical time, Barcelona Football Club is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best football team in the world. And what is more, there are a lot of people, a lot of serious people in the game, who believe that this is the greatest football team that has ever been seen since the rules of the game were drawn up in a London pub in 1862 or three.

Bob Simon: And this is avoiding superlatives.

Walking into Camp Nou on a night like this is entering the cathedral of football. Moments before the teams come on to the pitch, the crowd rises like a tidal wave.

Some 99,000 fans sing the Barca anthem. "Som i serem." We are and we will be.

The guy walking in last is Lionel Messi. He is the best player in the world. Many say, the best ever. Of the last 10 matches between the two teams, Barca has lost only two. This is how they've done it. Well, more than anything else, this is how Messi has done it.

[Here's Lionel Messi, still Messi. And he has a classic in the Clasico. A touch of brilliance from Lionel Messi!]

Yes, Messi is Barca's superstar. But there are others.

[Drifting. Driving. David Villa! 3-0! Game over!]

What has made this Barca team so extraordinary? It all started in this 18th century farmhouse called La Masia.

In the 1970s it was transformed into a soccer training camp for children. Barca scouts looked everywhere for talented kids. Any boy over the age of 11 was eligible. The lucky few came here, got a free education and soccer training. The dream of every kid was to cross the street just a minute away to the Barca stadium. Today 17 of the 25 players on Barca's first team came through the system.

The Masia moved to a sparkling new facility one year ago and now looks like any other international prep school: communal living, lots of carbohydrates, and after a long day at school, there's homework with tutors and training and more training and then, a little recreation, of a sort.

They don't get to bed before 11. Cesc Fabergas came to La Masia when he was10 years old.

Bob Simon: What was it like being a 10-year-old in this place?

Cesc Fabergas: I was very lucky and I'm not just talking about the football, I'm talking about manners, values, education at school. The only thing is that you have to study a lot.

Bob Simon: Pretty strict huh?

Cesc Fabergas: Yeah, they are very strict. But it's worth it.

Bob Simon: What if you really like to have a good time and go out in downtown and --

Cesc Fabergas: You'll be out very, very quick.

But look at these kids when they are doing what they came here to do. These tykes are eight years old. They do not mess around. They are being taught the Barca doctrine: keep passing that ball, caress it, learn to love it. They are magicians in the making. Here's a future goalie. Always scores of soccer senioras in the stands.

Look Ma, I scored. But I lost my shoe. It seems like every boy's idea of fun, but it's very hard work, more seminary than summer camp. Star defender Gerard Pique started here when he was eight.

Bob Simon: Masia has been called a football factory. Is that unkind?

Gerard Pique: I don't know, I think factory-- I don't really like this name. No, because finally we are humans, we are people.

Bob Simon: Sure, but the objective of Masia is to create good football players.

Gerard Pique: Yeah, definitely, that's for sure. And everyone knows that.

Because of the Masia system, these days Barca doesn't have to spend a fortune buying good players. Barca breeds them. Most have played together since they were kids. They know each other's moves. Here's Pique. There's Cesc Fabergas. Today when they pass, there's always someone there to receive because there's always been someone there. And the goals? They come every which way making the commentators sound like they've just seen the messiah.

[Like a lightning bolt from Zeus's hand, off Alves's boot to the back of the net.]

[Gooooooooooooollllllll. It starts way deep, but it's pure Barcelona.]

When Barca plays at its best, it's like watching a ballet. Poetry in motion.

[Messi! Bueno bueno bueno bueno bueno bueno bueno bueno bueno bueno bueno!]

John Carlin: Symphonies. Beautiful paintings. Whatever you like. Absolutely. I mean, I think that, you know, some of the plays will be viewed with aesthetic delight. Not just decades hence but hundreds of years hence.There will be museums, as there are now museums for Picasso here in Barcelona and people will ooh and aah.

[Messi, again takes the wall pass. And again! Absolutely brilliant, that goal was a work of art!]

Today's Picasso in Barcelona is that kid Messi. He came to the Masia from Argentina at the age of 13. Today they call him La Pulga, the flea. No one can shake him off.

[Look at this from Messi. Look at this run. He leaves one, he leaves two for dead. Takes on three, takes on four, beats the goalkeeper!]

The ball often seems magically attached to his foot.

[This little man is an absolute genius.]

Like all geniuses, Messi makes it look easy.

Bob Simon: Now, when you score a goal today, are you just as happy as when you scored a goal when you were 11 years old?

Lionel Messi: In the same way. I enjoy football in the same way I did when I was a little kid. And I love playing. I love winning the games. I love scoring. And I keep loving it all.

Bob Simon: Yeah. But when you score a goal today nobody's surprised. Everyone expects you to score a goal. When you first came here, when you started playing it was a big surprise when you scored a goal.

Lionel Messi: Yeah, that's true. In that regard, it was a big change.

And Barca has changed from what was once something of a neighborhood club to a global franchise. It boasts the second highest grossing Nike store in the world and it's worth an estimated 1.3 billion dollars. Its owners? You're looking at them. Not some rich mogul. It's a not for profit owned by the club's members -- 170,000 of them. Each one with a vote. Sandro Rosell was elected Barca's president in 2010. He has belonged to the club since he was six years old.

Bob Simon: The slogan is "More than a club." What does it mean?

Sandro Rosell: Well it's a feeling. It's part of our lives. It's within our heart. It's something that is part of your culture. And that's the reason it's more than a club. It's not only 11 players playing against 11 players and winning or losing. It's much more than this. It's something that is within your blood.

Barca has been in Gerard Pique's blood for three generations. Today, he's one of the pillars of the team. He took us to a hallowed place in Camp Nou: the locker room.

Bob Simon: A lot of very famous people have been before you, huh?

Gerard Pique: Yeah.

And every locker is a monument of sorts. The names of players who came before are never erased.

Bob Simon: Let's see your locker.

Gerard Pique: You have Maradona, one of the best players in the world--

That's Diego Maradona, the great Argentine player from the 1980s.

Bob Simon: One minute. When you go to your locker every day, you're looking at the name Maradona.

Gerard Pique: Yeah.

Some of football's most legendary figures have also booted up in this room. The Dutchman Johan Cruyff. The Bulgarian Stoichkov.

The Brazilian Ronaldinho. But the club's most spectacular successes have been scored by today's crop. Fourteen out of 19 competitions in the last four years. Gerard Pique's debut season was 2008.

Gerard Pique: We won the league, we won the cup. And this was the European Championship.

Bob Simon: Pretty good year.

Gerard Pique: The best year in the history of the club. Never happens in the history that you win the three titles.

The road to every match leads through a long tunnel. Some players stop here.

Gerard Pique So here we have, like, a little church. And--

Bob Simon: A chapel in--

Gerard Pique: A chapel. Some of the players-- before the game--they pray.

Bob Simon: How would you describe the atmosphere here before a game?

Gerard Pique: A lot of nervous, a lot of tension.

Bob Simon: And it's pretty quiet here now. I bet it isn't quiet when you walk out, huh?

Gerard Pique: No, it's not. It's incredible your first time here.

[This is heart stopping.]

If you think that's heart stopping, look at this from Gerard Pique.

[Xavi... he has found Pique! And Gerard Pique finally break through the Inter barricades!]

And remember, he's a defender. Scoring goals is not normally a defender's job. Great football. But for Barca fans, so much more. It is an affirmation of who they are: Catalans. Barcelona is the capitol of Catalonia which, on the map, is a province of Spain. But many here want to secede from Spain, form their own state. The Barca players are their soldiers.

Sandro Rosell: What this club represents to us, it represents to be part of a country called Catalonia. Then I would say, yes, we are quite different.

Bob Simon: Country called Catalonia. It's not in the United Nations.

Sandro Rosell: Not yet. Who knows.

Over the last few months Barca fans have been acting like they're at a political rally. During every match the stadium erupts with cries for independence.

The politics may be particular to a piece of Southern Europe. The football belongs to the world.

John Carlin: You go to a remote village in northern Madagascar, I bet you anything you like that you will find kids there wearing Barca shirts. And if you ask people, "Who is Messi?" You know, a bunch of kids, everyone will raise their hand and start screaming and shouting so--

Bob Simon: They've never heard of Derek Jeter?

John Carlin: I'm afraid not.

Americans will become Messi fans soon enough. He is after all only 25 and just keeps on getting better.

[Messi has a decoy in Iniesta... Iniesta back to Messi .....Goal 86!]

Last month, he broke the world record for scoring the most goals in a calendar year.

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    Bob Simon is among a handful of elite journalists who have covered most major overseas conflicts and news stories from the late sixties to the present. He has contributed to 60 Minutes since 1996.

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