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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Ansu Fati, Spain’s youngest sensation, could write Barcelona’s future

After making his professional debut last year at the tender age of 16, Ansu Fati has gone on to become the youngest goalscorer for both Barcelona and Spain.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt | Updated: September 8, 2020 6:14:01 pm
Ansu Fati registered eight goals and an assist for Barcelona in all competitions last season. (Source: Reuters)

They call him “pure anarchy” on the field, the type of player “who invents football”. Fitting words for an immigrant’s son, who was helped by a trade unionist mayor of a Communist utopia. Ansu Fati is 17 and has more records than years to his name.

On Sunday, three days after he became Spain’s second-youngest player against Germany, Ansu became the country’s youngest scorer with a “viral goal” against Ukraine during the 4-0 win in the UEFA Nations League.

After multiple marauding runs down the left flank, Ansu collected the ball outside the box, left his marker bamboozled with one audacious sleight of his right foot, and with another ripped the ball into the far corner of the goal off the bottom of the post. The Barcelona winger finished the match with 10 touches in the opposition box, six shots, six attempted dribbles, two chances created and one penalty won.

“When we choose the squad, we do not look at his age. That does not mean that we do not have to understand that Ansu Fati will play bad games and will make mistakes many times,” Spain coach Luis Enrique told reporters after the match. “It is part of his learning, but that self-confidence is not normal.”

Born to footballer parents in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, Ansu grew up playing in the streets with socks or plastic slippers for footwear and balls fashioned out of rags. Father Bori knew that a nation where 69 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and 25 per cent suffers from chronic malnutrition, was no place to harbour dreams of greatness.

Bori first moved to Portugal to continue his lower-leagues football career, before a news article drew his attention to the town of Marinaleda — a self-proclaimed Communist utopia in Spain’s Seville region, where Che Guevara lives on in murals and street signs. Here, Bori met Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, the Palestinian handkerchief-wearing, bushy-bearded mayor of the town since 1979. Gordillo — popularly known as Spain’s Robin Hood who has survived seven jail stints and two assassination attempts — offered Bori a job as his personal driver.

Bori also moonlighted picking olives, cleaning glasses at a nightclub and helping build a high-speed rail track before the family moved to Herrera after eldest son Braima signed for Sevilla. It was in Herrera that Ansu mesmerised local academy coach Perez Mena.

“I’ve been in the football game for 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like him. He’s got a huge personality, he doesn’t fear anyone and you only need to see him on the pitch to see that,” Ansu’s very first coach told Spanish news agency EFE.

All three Fati brothers eventually made it to Barcelona. Braima, 22, plays for the ‘B’ team. Youngest brother Miguel plays for the Under-8s. But it is the prodigious teen Ansu whose terrific first year as a senior has him marked for greatness.

Injuries to Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Ousmane Dembele meant that, at 16 years, 11 months and 25 days, Ansu was fast-tracked to become the second-youngest Barcelona debutant in La Liga. Six days later, he became the club’s youngest scorer, and by the end of the year he was the youngest starter and scorer at Camp Nou, youngest to score and assist in a Liga game, youngest Champions League debutant and goal scorer for Barcelona and the second-youngest player for Spain U21.

But it was when Messi made a beeline for Ansu and embraced the youngster in the locker room that father Bori said, “I can die happy now.”

Ansu Fati celebrating a goal with Barcelona captain Lionel Messi. (Source: File)

The bitter Messi vs management storyline means that Ansu’s meteoric rise has become a subplot in Barcelona’s soap opera. Not necessarily a bad thing at a club where each starlet is a celebrity, juggling pressure, demands, and loss of childhood.

“Ansu was one of the youngest players ever to have entered La Masia,” Marc Serra, his first coach at Barcelona, told AFP last year. “From the day that he arrived, he was different, the type of player who invents football.”

Victor Valdes, club legend and World Cup-winning goalkeeper, was smitten during his stint as Barcelona youth coach. “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.”

Ansu though could be the real deal, with his pace, versatility, instincts, and unguarded approach as a footballer. His has been a dizzying start, and if he stays the course during this historic transition period at Barcelona, we could very well be in the Age of Ansu Fati.

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