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Ansu Fati is 17 years old. He can’t yet legally drink or drive in Spain, but he can certainly play football. He can play it so well, in fact, that he is beginning to generate a huge amount of hype.
It’s hardly surprising given what the teenager has achieved before even turning 18. Fati became Barcelona’s youngest player in 78 years last season, emerging as a fresh faced 16-year-old not yet cynical and jaded by the politics at the Catalan club.
That alone was impressive, but then he started scoring. After putting his name in the record books as Barcelona’s youngest ever La Liga goal scorer, Fati added another seven in all competitions, with the added bonus of becoming the youngest ever scorer in the Champions League.
Now he has turned his preciousness to the international stage. On Sunday night, in Spain’s Nations League victory over Ukraine, Fati broke a 95-year-record to earn his place as the country’s youngest scorer.
He did it in style, too, curling a shot from the edge of the box against the post and in to put his side 3-0 up.
All of this will bring with it pressure, of course. Barcelona are a club in desperate need of some inspiration, of a figure to turn to other than Lionel Messi. Fati may be young, but he has already proved himself capable of taking on that responsibility.
He does not seem the type to fold in difficult circumstances. Instead, he appears unerringly focused on nothing but the ball, his eyes fixed, determined to make an impact with every touch.
That probably explains how he managed to score with what was effectively his first touch having come on as a substitute on his Barcelona debut. Shortly after, he set up a goal.
“It’s not normal,” his former manager, Ernesto Valverde, said after that game against Valencia last September. “It’s all a bit exaggerated: it’s not normal that his first touch is a goal, it’s not normal that his second is an assist and his third almost goes into the top corner; everything will go back to normal.
“This will get bigger and bigger; between us we have to deflate it a bit and protect the player.”
A year on and expectations could hardly be higher. This is almost unheard of for a player of Fati’s age. But that’s because no one has really burst onto the scene like him before. Whatever he touches seems to turn to gold.
There will be more tests to come, of course, more challenges to face. He will likely be a part of the Spain squad for Euro 2020, held next year, and it will be interesting to see a year from now how much he has developed.
From fans, of both Barcelona and Spain, and from the media, some patience will be required. Fati’s emergence is exciting but he still has at least 15 years at the very top level, and is some way off his prime.
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As Valverde emphasised, it is important that his early achievements for Barcelona, and now Spain, don’t result in the kind of expectations that can overwhelm a young player.
That seems unlikely, though. There is something different about Fati, who moved to Seville from the country of his birth, Guinea-Bissau, at six years old and grew up in the ‘communist utopia’ of Marinaleda.
Fati’s story is already a significant one. Who knows what the next chapters hold for one of European football’s brightest talents of the century.
- La Liga
- Barcelona FC
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