Where are they now? Barca Van Gaal’s 10 youngsters made their debuts


Louis van Gaal made his senior debuts for 10 different players during his two spells at Barcelona – but it would be fair to say their fortunes were mixed.

Van Gaal gave several young players breaks during six hugely successful years in charge of Ajax and continued to look to the youth ranks after taking over at Barcelona in 1997.

Here’s how the 10 players the Dutchman promoted at Camp Nou fared after getting their chance…

Mario Roses

“There was another Iniesta at Barca,” Xavi once said of Rosas. “I will always remember his name: Mario Rosas.

“If you saw how he played at 15, 16 or 17, you would say: ‘When this guy makes the first team, the Camp Nou are going to hallucinate.’

“He was a mix of Laudrup and Messi, for real. He was playing with both feet, dribbling, being competitive.

“He had everything, but he got lost. It shocked me. Maybe he wasn’t professional enough or didn’t have a strong mentality, we’ll never know.

Mario Rosas is the greatest player you’ve ever seen, and that makes him all the more exciting. He was last seen as manager of Croatian side HNK Sibenik, a position he resigned as of January 2022.

READ: The mystery of Mario Rosas, the man Xavi called ‘a mix of Laudrup and Messi’


With Barcelona already crowned champions, Jofre replaced debutant Rosas at half-time to make his own bow for the club on the final day of the 1997-98 campaign.

It was a bittersweet day for Jofre, who scored Barca’s only goal in a 4-1 loss to Salamanca, and he will only appear once more for the club.

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Stints at eight different clubs followed, with the midfielder ending his career in India.

Samuel Okunowo

Born and raised in Nigeria, Okunowo joined Barcelona aged 18 and burst onto the scene in 1998-99, making 21 appearances in all competitions as Barca won La Liga.

But two interest-free loan spells at Benfica and Badajoz halted his momentum, and the right-back went on to join clubs in Greece, Romania, Albania, Ukraine, the Maldives and, bizarrely, the England amateur team of Waltham Forest.

In 2012, Barcelona came to the rescue of Okunowo, issuing an online appeal after he lost everything when his property burned down.

He retired in 2013 after a season back in his home country with Sunshine Stars and now works as a scout.


You may have heard of him. Fairly well, apparently. Ended up winning the Qatar lottery while playing for Al Sadd. Now manages the club he served with such distinction.

Barcelona legend Xavi

READ: 10 quotes from Xavi to explain his football philosophy: ‘Combine, pass, play’


The left-winger made just four La Liga appearances in four years at Barcelona and signed for Atletico Madrid in 2003.

After three years at Calderon, Nano moved to Spain’s lower division and retired in 2018 after two years at Racing Ferrol.


The midfielder has had a storied career, although it’s fair to say he hasn’t been as successful as some of his peers.

After making his debut in Barcelona’s 4-2 win over Arsenal at Wembley in 1999, Gabri became a first-team regular for the Catalan giants, only to fall out of favor when the side found the winning touch to win two La Liga titles and a Champions League.

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After earning three caps for Spain, he spent four years at Ajax and finished his career in Qatar and Switzerland.

Upon retirement, he returned to Barcelona to coach the reserve and youth teams before having spells in charge of Sion and FC Andorra.

He now leads Lleida Esportiu.

Charles Puyol

Another to file under ‘fairly good’. Puyol became the leader of Barcelona and Spain, winning everything in sight.

“He was a great professional and a very demanding coach. If not for him. I may not have made it into the Barcelona first team, so he has my eternal thanks,” Puyol told Sport when asked about Van Gaal, who made his debut at the defender in 1999. .

Puyol now runs an agency alongside Ivan de la Pena and rejected an offer to become Barcelona sporting director in 2019.

Sergio Santamaria

In 1997, Santamaría won the Ballon d’Or as the best player in the FIFA Under-17 World Championships, beating Ronaldinho.

He was on Barcelona’s books for nine years but never established himself as a first-team regular, spending three of his last four seasons at the club on loan.

Leaving the Nou Camp, the midfielder fell down the divisions with single seasons at six separate clubs before retiring at the age of 31 due to injury.

Victor Valdes

Valdes and Van Gaal have had a strained relationship over the years, although the manager gave the goalkeeper his senior debut in a Champions League qualifier against Legia Warsaw in 2002.

The duo were reunited at Manchester United 13 years later when Valdes was signed as a replacement for David De Gea, but was placed on the transfer list after Van Gaal accused the stopper of refusing to play in a football game. Reserve.

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Not even allowed a locker at United’s training ground, Valdes eventually joined Standard Liege on loan before moving to Middlesbrough for his final season as a professional – he was most recently manager at UA Horta – but he has no resentment towards his former manager.

“I have no bad words for Van Gaal or Manchester United,” he told Sky Sports. “They helped me through my injury and the manager gave me my chance as a footballer at Barcelona and then again at United.

“He’s like a father figure to me. I don’t want to remember the last six months badly – ​​for me, he’s at the top. We are still friends and there is no problem between us.

Andres Iniesta

While Van Gaal’s spells at Barcelona can be remembered for clashes with players and the press rather than masses of silverware, he can view his legacy at the club as having bloodied a number of youngsters who eventually led the club. to success – which may still be the case at Manchester United.

Van Gaal only lasted until January 2002-03, but it gave him the chance to hand Iniesta his first six appearances in a Barcelona shirt.

A decent parting gift, it must be said.

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