​Barcelona's famous La Masia academy was founded on 20 October 1979, and we have seen some outstanding talents emerge from the system in the 40 years since.


Few academies in Europe can hold a candle to La Masia, which has produced legends, champions, heroes and superstars in industrial numbers.


Here are 15 of the finest graduates in La Masia history...


15. Albert Ferrer

Albert Ferrer and Marian Pahars

A tenacious right back, Albert Ferrer worked his way up through the ​Barcelona ranks as a teenager, and was rewarded with a loan move to CD Tenerife in the 1989/90 campaign.


After impressing, Ferrer returned to Camp Nou to become the instant first-choice right-back for Barcelona. He racked up a total of 292 appearances across eight years for La Blaugrana​, winning five ​La Liga titles, one European Cup and one Cup Winners' Cup.


He then spent five years with ​Chelsea, where he added one FA Cup and one Super Cup to his impressive trophy cabinet, before retiring in 2003.


14. Sergi Barjuán

Sergi Barjuan

Born and bred in Barcelona, it was Sergi Barjuán's destiny to make it with La Blaugrana, and that's exactly what he did.


After he was boldly introduced by manager Johan Cruyff in 1993, left back Barjuán never looked back, establishing himself as the team's undisputed starter opposite fellow La Masia graduate Ferrer.


Barjuán won three La Liga titles and the Cup Winners' Cup across his nine years with Barcelona. He racked up 382 appearances, before leaving for ​Atlético Madrid in 2002.


His time in Madrid was not as spectacular, although Barjuán certainly made an impact on the disciplinary side of things. He picked up 23 yellow cards in his first two seasons, and eventually retired in 2005.


13. Luis Milla

Luis Milla

A beneficiary of the senior team strike in the 1984/85 title-winning season, young midfielder Luis Milla was handed a one-off appearance for the team to help make up the numbers but then spent another four years in La Masia before returning to the senior side.


He added a Cup Winners' Cup to his resumé, but a contract dispute saw him leave to join rivals Real Madrid on a free transfer in 1990. With Los Blancos, Milla produced the best form of his career as he fired the team to two La Liga titles.


He left to join Valencia in 1997, where he picked up another Copa del Rey trophy, before retiring four years later.


12. Pedro

Pedro

Compared to many on this list, winger Pedro Rodríguez was somewhat of a late bloomer. Only brought to Barcelona at the age of 17, Pedro spent a few years with the academy before making his mark on the senior side in 2008.


The winger spent seven seasons with the club, racking up a huge 321 appearances for La Blaugrana between 2008 and 2015. In that time, he won La Liga five times and even added three Champions League titles for good measure. In 2010, he became the first player in history to score in six different club competitions in one season.


He then made the switch to Chelsea, where Pedro has won one Premier League title and the Europa League last season. Still a core part of the Blues, Pedro will be targeting some more silverware before he retires.


He is the only man ever to have won the Champions League, Europa League, World Cup, European Championships and Premier League.


11. Victor Valdés

Victor Valdes

Barcelona have produced more than their fair share of outfield talents, but one of their finest academy graduates was actually a goalkeeper.


After establishing himself as first choice for the 2003/04 campaign, Víctor Valdés was viewed as perhaps the world's finest goalkeeper for the majority of his 12-year stay at Camp Nou. By the time he left, he had won six La Liga titles and lifted three Champions League trophies as a core part of one of the greatest club sides of all time.


A cruciate ligament injury brought a disappointing end to Valdés' Barcelona career, but the Spaniard went on to feature for Manchester United, Standard Liège and Middlesbrough, before calling time on his career in January 2018.


He returned to Barcelona's academy to coach the Juvenil A side in July, but was unceremoniously sacked just months later.


10. Iván de la Peña

Espanyol´s Ivan De La Pena celebrates af

One of the most underrated superstars of all time, Iván de la Peña's list of career honours reads more like that of a mid-table veteran. However, he will always be remembered as one of the finest technicians in La Masia history.


After making his first-team debut in 1995, De la Peña was a key part of the Barcelona side who won one La Liga title, one Cup Winners' Cup and one Super Cup between 1996 and 1998. However, he clashed with new manager Louis van Gaal and was shipped out to Lazio in 1998, where he won the Cup Winners' Cup in his first season. 


Loans with Marseille and even Barcelona followed, before De la Peña reestablished himself with nine stellar seasons with Espanyol. The midfield general won the 2005/06 Copa del Rey, befoe bringing his career to a close in 2011.


Former teammate Mauricio Pochettino once told ​The Guardian that Brazilian icon Ronaldo felt De la Peña was the best player he had ever seen. High praise indeed.


9. Cesc Fàbregas

Cesc Fabregas

A La Masia star between 1997 and 2003, Cesc Fàbregas opted to walk away from Barcelona to try to break through at ​Arsenal. Needless to say, he definitely managed that.


Across his eight years with the Gunners, Fàbregas proved to be one of the finest midfield maestros around, and that form earned him a move back to Barcelona in 2011. Already a star, he slotted in seamlessly and went on to win La Liga in 2013.


He left Barcelona for the second time in 2014 to join Chelsea, with whom Fàbregas won two ​Premier League titles and the 2018/19 Europa League.


Now with Monaco, the 32-year-old is still regarded as one of the finest creative midfielders in history.


8. Gerard Piqué

Gerard Pique

Like ​Fàbregas, ​Gerard Piqué opted to take his talents elsewhere at a young age, joining ​Manchester United in 2004 before even penning a professional deal at Camp Nou.


Still a youngster, Piqué played a reserve role in Manchester, but he was still part of the side who won a Premier League and​ Champions League double in 2008. He then sealed a £5m switch back to Barcelona in 2008. And the rest, as they say, is history.


To date, the towering defender has accumulated 508 appearances for the club, in which he has won eight La Liga titles and lifted the Champions League on three occasions as well.


With an additional six Copa del Rey honours to his name, Piqué remains one of the finest defenders around. He is 32 now but shows no signs of slowing down, so expect that trophy cabinet to grow a little larger.


Beyond football, Mr Shakira is a fierce supporter of Catalan independence and is widely expected to move upstairs into the Barcelona boardroom after hanging up his boots.


7. Sergio Busquets

Sergio Busquets

It didn't take long for Barcelona to figure out they had a future star on their hands in Sergio Busquets. The midfielder needed just three years in the academy before a vacancy in the first team opened up.


He quickly proved to be a vital holding midfielder for Barcelona, and he has retained that role to this day. Since making his debut, he has racked up 545 appearances in all competitions and he boasts a trophy cabinet which most can only dream of.


Eight La Liga titles, three Champions League trophies and six Copa del Rey triumphs later, and Busquets is widely heralded as one of the finest defensive midfielders in history.


6. ​Guillermo Amor

AMOR BARCELONA

A versatile midfielder, Guillermo Amor spent eight years in La Masia before being given the chance to strut his stuff in the senior side in 1988.


An instant hit, Amor transformed Barcelona's midfield and was a core part of Johan Cruyff''s success at the club. He went on to make 408 appearances over ten years, in which he lifted five La Liga titles, two Cup Winners' Cups and one European Cup.


After falling out of favour under Van Gaal, Amor began winding down his career with Fiorentina, Villarreal and (ahem) Livingston, before hanging his boots up in 2003.


Since retiring, Amor has gone on to become a director at Barcelona. He is in charge of the youth system, but also plays a key role in the senior side as well.


 5. ​Carles Puyol

Carles Puyol

Few players owe their career to La Masia quite like Carles Puyol. When he joined in 1995, he was actually a forward, but coaches at the academy decided he would be more effective as a defender. A wise choice.


After making his debut in 1999, the iconic Spaniard went on to make 593 appearances for Barcelona, with whom he remained until his retirement in 2014.


He picked up six La Liga titles, as well as three Champions Leagues. The hard-tackling, uncompromising defender with the caveman hair is seen as one of La Masia's greatest success stories.


4. ​Pep Guardiola

Josep Guardiola

Cruyff is heralded as perhaps the greatest mind in Barcelona history, and the Dutchman was directly responsible for the development of midfielder Pep Guardiola. The boss opted to deploy Guardiola in an unusual deep-lying playmaker role, in which the midfielder went on to thrive.


Despite being just 20 years old, Guardiola was a focal point of Cruyff's famous 'Dream Team', and he went on to win six La Liga titles, one Cup Winners' Cup and one Super Cup across his 11 years with the club.


He brought his career to a close after spells in Italy, Qatar and Mexico, before returning to Barcelona to become a coach of the youth setup.


He excelled and was soon promoted to first-team manager, where he added another three La Liga titles and two Champions League victories. Now with ​Manchester City, Guardiola continues to dominate world football.


3. Andrés Iniesta

Andres Iniesta

When you think of Barcelona, you think of Andrés Iniesta. The midfielder joined La Masia as a 12-year-old in 1996, and his uncanny playmaking abilities helped him rise through the ranks fairly quickly.


Promoted to the senior team in 2002, it was not until the 2004/05 season in which Iniesta became a regular. He made a total of 674 appearances for the first team before his emotional departure in 2018.


Before leaving, Iniesta picked up nine La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues. There's a reason he is seen as perhaps the finest midfielder of his generation.


Now 35, Iniesta currently turns out for Japanese side Vissel Kobe.


​2. Xavi

Champions League final - "Barcelona v Juventus"

Iniesta's partner in crime, Xavi Hernández's quick-thinking and passing skills became the embodiment of Barcelona throughout his 17 years with the club and even to this day.


After making his debut in 1998, Xavi starred in 769 matches for Barcelona, and he played a pivotal role in establishing Barcelona's dominance over the rest of Europe. 


He won eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues, whilst he was also a World Cup and European Championships winner with Spain.


After leaving Barcelona in 2015, Xavi spent four years in Qatar with Al-Sadd, and he recently retired to take over a first-team manager of the side.


 1. ​Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

Not only the greatest La Masia graduate of all time, but perhaps the finest player in history, ​Lionel Messi needs no introduction.


Messi made the bold move to leave Argentina in 2000 to pursue a career with Barcelona, but there were initial fears over whether he would make it. Physically small and suffering from homesickness, things looked rough for Messi.


Nevertheless, the Argentine worked hard and was rewarded with a debut in late 2004. Instantly, everybody knew they were witnessing something special with Messi, who did not disappoint. He has racked up a ludicrous 605 goals in 693 outings to date, but that number will continue to grow at an electric rate until Messi says stop.


At club level, Messi has lifted ten league titles and four Champions Leagues, and he has also won an unprecedented five Ballons d'Or. It has been a glittering career so far, and there's still plenty of time to keep getting better.


For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!