Welcome to Barcaland: How Barcelona deliver their global message

BARCELONA, Spain -- Once you've come through security, head straight past the food trucks on your right and then turn left at the information tents. Keep going past the table tennis tables, the air hockey station, the PlayStation stands and the sumo football pitch. On the right you'll eventually get to the Tito Vilanova pitch where Lionel Messi trains.

Welcome to Barcaland -- enjoy your stay.

Former coach Luis Enrique once joked that FC Barcelona is like Disneyland. As far as analogies go, it wasn't far off. This week, more than ever, the club's San Joan Despi training base on the outskirts of the city certainly resembled a theme park as the sun beat down on the FCBEscola tournament.

While Manchester City's "Disneyfication" of football has involved investing in clubs across the globe, Barca's world domination attempts have been more subtle. As City have been launching New York City FC and shovelling cash into Girona, the Catalan club have been making inroads at the grassroots level.

Since the turn of the millennium, Barcelona have opened 39 soccer schools around the world (as well as running various camps) -- including 11 in the United States and Canada -- and now boast of a presence in six continents.

This week, the club brought together 45 of their schools and camps in Barcelona, with 1,900 boys and girls spread across 172 teams taking part in 600 games, with the finals for each age group held at the Mini Estadi on Thursday.

Excited parents lined the training pitches. Some had American flags painted on their cheeks, others waved Colombia's tricolours in the air and there were loud chants from Australian, Japanese and Brazilian mums and dads when they felt their teams needed lifting. In between games, they took to the roads between the pitches, where the kids participated in funfair activities, games and eating.

Many will have been hoping that one day their son or daughter will be back, training on the Tito Vilanova pitch. But is that what this is all about? Have Barca shipped in the players from the schools to take a look at them? To unearth the American Messi or Canadian Andres Iniesta?

"We are not there to scout players," says Xavi Perez, the director of Barca's school in Montreal. "It's unlikely we will find them." Josh Gregory, a coach at the school based in Charlotte, adds: "If a player popped up at that level, I am sure they would have them over. But if you saw the [Barca academy] U-14s against ours, you would understand very quickly why they're not bringing them over."

Instead, Barca's schools, especially in the U.S and Canada, where there is less football tradition than in Europe, are more of a conversion course for the local kids in the Barcelona brand. "Methodology" and "values" are the words which are repeatedly used when you speak to people at the club involved with the schools. But, through their outposts around the globe, they are giving everyone access, in a roundabout way, to the education which brought us Messi and Iniesta. Who doesn't deserve that?

"Our main intention is to bring to these players the Barcelona methodology, like the way that we train," Perez adds. "So that the players of Montreal have the experience to practice in the same way as the kids in Barcelona.

"[We are there] to give them the experience, to train with a professional structure, like in Europe. We can see the benefits very fast. We want to give them a different vision. These kids are coming from Canada, a big hockey country. The way that they play is very similar to hockey, running behind the ball. I don't see any structure [when they play football]. Hit the ball forward and run..."

Perez tails off as he tells one of the players on the Montreal U-12 team, playing on the pitch in front of him, to offer his hand to an opponent he has just fouled. Values.

He continues: "The Montreal school is not an island. Every year there's more of an effort to be connected. There are coaches from Barcelona who are constantly travelling to our city, giving us information. When the kids see people coming from Barcelona with the same ideas, it helps a lot to win their confidence.

"For us, it's very important to make sure that the Barca methodology, training and structure is at the top level. We cannot lower our standards because Barca means a lot and we have to keep the name of Barca at a very high level."

Perez, like the directors of the majority of the schools, grew up in Catalonia and earned his coaching badges with the club. Many of the coaches, like Gregory, are more local, although they sing from the same hymn sheet.

"The values are a huge part of it," Gregory says. "Every training session we have a value for that session and it runs through everything. Especially in the U.S, where it's not [always] very forward minded. Many U.S players would rather kick long than pass back. So it's about breaking habits and culture and showing them this.

"The main thing with players that grow up predominantly in the U.S is they don't know how to use their body that well. And that's something that all the players have to learn. It's seen as a non-contact sport because we have American football, which is seen as the contact sport, and everyone else plays in a softer way. But we've got them to realise they can use their bodies, in a good way.

"We think this is the best way, maybe it's not the best way for everyone, but it is for us." It's not been straightforward, though. To choose to go to one of Barca's schools in the U.S. or Canada is to choose to play football uncompetitively.

Perez struggles to even arrange friendlies in Montreal, with the local federations "blocking" him from doing so. It's a similar story in Charlotte.

"It's very political at times," Gregory explains. "Basically the clubs in the state associations, they'll block us from entering because they're aware of the brand and people leaving, even without competition, to play for us. We're trying to get in leagues here and there, but everyone has their eyes and ears out, so when they hear about it they shut us down."

That's not stopped people wanting to be part of the projects. Gregory has one boy who makes a seven-hour round trip from Washington DC just to be involved. However, it naturally limits how far the schools are able to take the players.

So, is there an endgame? Perez and Gregory say the objective, for now, is just to develop, educate and improve the players. What they do when they leave is up to them. But Barca may have bigger plans. It may, one day, all feed into something bigger. Perhaps, the idea is for the best players from the 11 schools to eventually progress to the club's academies, in Arizona and New York.

The girls, meanwhile, may soon have a professional Barca side in the U.S to aspire to. The Catalan club are set to launch a team in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), with reports saying Magic Johnson will be involved with the side, which will be based in Los Angeles.

Or perhaps there is no big endgame yet. Maybe it's just about gaining a foothold in the American market -- and other markets around the world -- growing the Barca brand and developing Barcaland.