Colours of the world, unfenced
Youngsters congregate to celebrate football, the Barcelona way
In one picture, he stood in front of the fence, bright-eyed and floppy-haired, smiling; a young boy with the world at his feet.
Years before the adoration and accolades, Lionel Messi arrived in Barcelona along with a bag of Argentinian tricks, fused with a dash of otherworldly magic.
They may not have realised it, but over the last few days the 780 kids from academies all over the world have walked past the same fence at the annexes of Barcelona's Mini Estadi, where the FCBEscola International Tournament (April 14 to 17) is hosted.
Just across the street from the storied Nou Camp, where Messi's Argentinian sorcery - woven seamlessly into the Barcelona way - continues to bamboozle, the Mini Estadi annexes witnessed a broad spectrum of footballing cultures.
From Brazil and Egypt they came, from as far way as Japan, the Dominican Republic and Singapore, all schooled in the Barcelona way, but bringing to the field - and stands - a tinge of a footballing culture that is all their own.
"We have seen different kinds of players from different countries, playing the same style, with the Barcelona philosophy, but there are little differences they bring from the culture of their countries," Inaki Andreu Gonzalo, one of the directors of the tournament, said yesterday.
There are 66 teams from 12 countries here and the two groups of children range in age from 8 to 10 and 10 to 12.
Out on the pitch there were boys who were hard-tackling tigers, there were even divers and whingers, and some teams featured kids who seem blessed with four lungs.
The Singapore youngsters have yet to stamp their style - or authority - at the tournament, having lost all their fixtures in what is proving a steep learning curve since the school's opening in September last year.
"I'm quite disappointed because we haven't even won a single match yet," said eight-year-old Julian Tay.
"Our opponents are playing in the Barcelona way, and doing it well, but that's probably because they have been training a long time.
"Some pass very hard, some like to take long shots, but all of them play a good passing game, and it's very hard to take the ball from them."
In the stands, the parents of the players from the Brazilian school have made their presence felt in a big way.
With flags, horns and voices united in song, they turned the annexes into a mini samba party of sorts, as their children run rampant in front of them.
"The differences can be seen on the pitch and also off it. Some are enthusiastic while others are quiet. There are some who are very competitive and strong (physical) and others are relaxed, take it easy," said Gonzalo.
"It is nice to these fans from all over the world come here and mix their cultures."
While it may manifest in different ways, the one common thread that runs through all the players here is the drive to succeed.
"I will take this experience with me, but the toughest thing to accept has been the losing," said nine-year-old Geroge Bissell, from FCBE Singapore.
"That's hard. I hope (today, the last day of the tournament) we can at least win one game."
Just a stone's throw away from the Nou Camp, football dreams come alive.
"I'm disappointed with how we've played, but I'm actually still happy," said Julian, as his peers from the Middle East, USA and Spain crowded around him.
"But I'm in Barcelona, and I've always dreamed of going to the Nou Camp."
It's perfect that different countries play with the same system, instructions and methodology, but have their little differences. It's a pleasure to see.
— Xevi Marce, FCBE Football Schools Project Manager