At this point in time, one cannot be blamed to think that FC Barcelona is sinking in every sense of the word. Their start to the season has been the worst in decades. While they have won all their group games in the Champions League so far, when it comes to La Liga, they are languishing in the middle of the table.
Their backline has been frail and they have been conceding goals galore. And now to worsen it further, they have lost three out of their four first-team central defenders to injury. It is therefore easy to give up on this team.
Then again such is life, the day gives way to night and vice versa. This dark night that FC Barcelona are shrouded in — as scary as it is — has also unearthed some streaks of light. A young crop of torchbearers who can lead the team into the daylight. Leading them from the front would be Ansu Fati, who recently finished runner up in The Golden Boy, an award handed out by Italian newspaper Tuttosport to the best U21 of a season in men’s football.
The Rise to Stardom
Anssumane Fati began pulling on the Blaugrana shirt at the age of ten when he joined the Sevilla youth team set up to join La Masia in 2012. Within a matter of seven years, the youngster from Guinea Bissau lined up with the senior team.
This rise, in such a short span of time in itself, is an achievement. But what makes it all the more striking is that when he debuted with the senior side of the Catalans last year, he had not even played a minute with Barcelona B team, which plies its trade in the Segunda B division (third division of the Spanish La Liga).
In other words, Fati made a giant leap from the Barcelona Juvenil A side (Barcelona’s Under 19 team) to the senior team, skipping an entire level on the way! Add to this the fact that in between all this, he also suffered a grave injury to his right leg, that sidelined him for almost a year, and the meteoric rise of this wonder kid becomes all the more clear.
Valverde took a risk trusting Ansu Fati, but Barcelona has become better for it. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
When Ernesto Valverde handed a young 16-year-old his first steps in the Nou Camp, even the Barcelona faithful thought it to be a temporary fix. The team acutely lacked width and the young player from the Juvenil side fit the bill. But apart from being an academy player, he was not among the more talked about ‘next big things’ like Take Kubo or Xavi Simons. But all that changed since that night at the Nou Camp. Fati has since been breaking records left, right and centre.
The rest, as they say is history. He is barely into his first proper season as part of the senior side at Barcelona, and he is already a key element as far as the team is concerned. Under Ronald Koeman, who employs a 4-2-3-1 formation, Fati has been taking up that wide left position, alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Philipe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann.
It is to Fati’s credit that whenever he took to the field, Barca’s left-wing seemed more dynamic and creative as opposed to the right-wing. Needless to say, his absence following the injury that he sustained during Barcelona’s 5-2 win over Real Betis has affected Barca as Fati has been their most potent attacking threat this season.
His tally of five goals this season is only behind Messi’s six (five of which were penalties). This is not to say that Fati is on par with Messi or even close to the level of the legendary Argentine. But when a kid who is barely eighteen years old has been sparkling in a side that boasts big names like Messi, Griezman, Coutinho and Dembele, his craft and potential has to be understood and respected.
Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati have developed an understanding on the pitch, which seems to benefit Barcelona in multiple ways. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Having said that, what is probably as important – if not more – is taking care of this gem. His talent and potential has to be allowed to grow, yes; but Barcelona and its manager has to make sure that Fati does not burn out before hitting his peak.
It would be wise to ease the youngster slowly when he gets back from injury. For Fati has shown us enough for us to believe that this is all just a start and there is much more to come. Within a span of a year, Fati has risen from 6th position on the Golden Boy list to 2nd. With three more years left for him in the competition, he may well turn out to be the next Barcelona player to win the said award, after Lionel Messi did it in 2005.