When a player breaks a record previously held by none other than Lionel Messi, the football world is bound to sit up and take notice.
So when 16-year-old Ansu Fati became Barcelona’s youngest La Liga scorer last weekend by equalising against Ossasuna, it was not surprising that the left winger grabbed international headlines.
Born in Guinea-Bissau in west Africa, Fati moved to Spain when he was six, where his family was reunited with his father, who had left for Europe in search of a better life before Fati was born.
The family settled in Herrera, 120km from Sevilla, and the youngster joined the local club before moving on to the youth ranks of the LaLiga club shortly afterwards.
His first coach in Herrera still remembers him.
“I’ve been watching football for 50 years and I’ve never seen anyone like him. He’s got a great personality; he’s not scared of anyone,” said José Luis Pérez Mena.
Within a short time of playing for Sevilla, it became apparent that he possessed a lot of talent, and Barcelona and Real Madrid soon came calling. Although the Madrid club is said to have offered more money, Fati and his family decided that the youngster would join Barcelona as he was offered a place in the famous La Masia academy.
It was there that he developed rapidly and former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdés, who is in charge of the club’s Under-19 side for which Fati played, gave him his nickname.
“He’s pure anarchy when he plays, and you need to give these kinds of talents liberty, not hide them out wide – they need to do what’s natural to them. He’s the Jewel of La Masia.”
Fati started playing for Barcelona’s Alevin A side before rapidly progressing through the teams, becoming the youngest player in the Juvenil A side.
The natural progression would be for him to move to Barça B, but, when a spate of injuries downed the Barcelona forward line, coach Ernesto Valverde called up Fati and, on August 25, he became the club’s youngest La Liga player since 1941, when he came on in a 5-2 win against Real Betis.
A week later, he went one better when he scored against Ossasuna. Valverde explained that he selected Fati because he had many qualities.
“He’s a player who can lose his man, he’s quick and loves one-on-ones. I think he is the youngest player I have debuted. He can give us a good performance.”
Not surprisingly, Fati has been rewarded with an extended contract until 2022 and, should a club be keen to secure his services before that, Barcelona have put in a release clause of €100 million (R1.66 billion). After playing against Betis, Fati said he would remember that day for the rest of his life.
“The dream of any boy at La Masia is to debut at Camp Nou. Sharing the stage with the best players in the world was an unforgettable experience,” the youngster said.
Messi, arguably the best player in the world so far, was watching from the stands as he was one of the players whose injuries gave Fati a chance to play.
The five-time world footballer of the year posted a picture on his Instagram account showing him embracing the youngster. Barcelona’s caption was: “The present and the future.”
It could well be that the future has arrived at Camp Nou as Valverde will most likely keep Fati training with the first team for the foreseeable future and assess his progress.
Even though there is every indication that Fati, who is undoubtedly a precocious talent, will go on to stardom, some of the other players who debuted for Barcelona at an early age have seen their careers stalled.
Bojan Krkic, who was the youngest player to score for Barcelona before Fati, has become a journeyman and is currently in the MLS in the US, having played for several clubs in Italy, for Mainz 05 in Germany and Stoke City in England. Marc Muniesa, who is the club’s fourth youngest player to debut, also tried his luck at Stoke City and Girona before joining Al Arabi in Qatar.
There are, of course, also those who have gone on to have great careers – like a certain Messi – and that is presumably who Fati is keen to emulate.