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La Masía Talents: Pablo Páez, Gavi – Episode 21

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An in-depth review of La Masía rising star Pablo Páez, or Gavi. A look at his profile, playing style and expectations for the future.


The history of FC Barcelona is rich with delightful and iconic midfield maestros that have left their mark at the club. Through their deep positional understanding, eye-catching technique and inventive nature, they have captivated viewers while making an impact at the Camp Nou. Adding an extra name to the list would seem easy as the number of successful examples in the past is tremendously large, but the pressure had never been as high.

Football these days has become a continuous search for idols and heroes, thus making expectations terribly high for anyone that has shown promising glimpses in this demanding world of sport. There are times, though, when the journey has been fascinating enough to justify all fine words directed towards an individual. Future is always uncertain with teenagers, but 15-year-old Pablo Paéz Gavi hasn’t needed to take a step in professional football to attract La Masía enthusiasts with his pure quality and progressive evolution.

Profile

Pablo Páez Gavira, also known as Gavi as an abbreviation to his second surname, was born on 5 August 2004 in Los Palacios y Villafranca, a city of fewer than 40.000 inhabitants where, curiously enough, footballers Jesús Navas and Fabián Ruiz were raised too. Los Palacios is located in the province of Seville, in southern Spain. Pablo began playing football in his hometown club La Liara Balompié as a Prebenjamín, but he didn’t last long there, since he soon moved to the academy of Real Betis. That’s where his talent started baking, as he played for Betis from age 8 to 10. His 96 goals in a domestic season with the Benjamín A caught the eye of all Spanish giants, among which were Real Madrid, Atlético de Madrid, Villarreal and, obviously, Barcelona.

Pablo Páez Gavi Barcelona La Masía

Pablo Páez Gavi joined La Masía in 2015, and he hasn’t looked back since | Photo by FC Barcelona

Gavi ended up choosing to wear the blaugrana colours and, ahead of the 15/16 campaign, Pablo Páez made the move to La Masía. However, with the FIFA sanction overflying Barcelona, the boy had to wait until January 2016 to get registered with the Catalans. It was a difficult time for him as he yearned for his debut with the culés, but, once he was finally allowed to play, things weren’t much easier for him either. In the III Torneo Solidario Vicente Ferrer – Sant Cugat Esport against rivals Espanyol, he scored the equaliser of the game but, after an accidental crash with the opposing goalkeeper, he broke his nose. He had to go through surgery and miss roughly over a month of action.

Notwithstanding, Pablo Páez, renowned for his determination and tenacity, won the league title in his first course at La Masía, as Gavi himself scored a brace in the encounter away against Tecnofutbol (5–11) that handed them the domestic trophy. That Alevín A coached by Marc Serra was unbeatable, as they won all 28 games of the competition. That same year he would have to face none other than his former Betis in the final of the Torneig de Falles. The Sevillan kid netted one of the two goals in a 2–1 victory from the azulgranas, as he was also named the hottest prospect of the tournament.

When he started attracting attention from a wider audience, though, was in the prestigious La Liga Promises in December 2016. In the semi-finals against Real Madrid, Gavi was the hero as he scored a brace in a 2–0 victory. The first one came right after kick-off, following a recovery and back heel assist from teammate Xavier Planas, and a calm left-footed shot from Pablo to beat the goalkeeper in the one-on-one. Then, in the second half, he would complete his double with a trademark solo goal, this time with his right foot. After the miniclásico triumph, Barcelona advanced to the final, where Barça’s Infantil B would face and defeat Atlético de Madrid by 6–1.

Pablo Páez Gavi Barcelona La Masía

Pablo is the leader and most prominent figure of an extremely exciting 2004 generation | Photo by FC Barcelona

From being considered the best Alevín in Andalusia – the large autonomous region of the south of Spain –, to being one of the most exciting gems in Barcelona’s academy. Gavi‘s progression in the past years has been very steady and satisfactory, and it doesn’t look like he will slow down anytime soon. In fact, Pablo Páez has quite clearly been one of the best players at La Masía this season as he has been shining in Sergi Milà’s Cadete A. While being part of a very promising 2004 generation that includes Diego Almeida, Arnau Casas, Marc Jurado, Biel Vicens, Xavier Planas, Aleix Garrido, Antonio Caravaca, Ilias Akhomach or Ángel Alarcón, Gavi may be the best of them all.

Moreover, at international level Pablo has already debuted with Spain’s U–16, alongside several other teammates from Barcelona. With him turning 16 this year, he will have many big European clubs on his back looking for him to sign his first professional contract with them. It is indispensable that Patrick Kluivert seals his renewal as soon as possible to avoid what could be a catastrophic departure. Thankfully, the work for his renewal seems to be underway already.

Playing style

A magician is defined as someone that spreads magic, that invents, that produces the unexpected or unimaginable. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it can be a person who performs tricks for entertainment. We used the term wizard to describe Brian Peña already, but Brian has more aggressive and sharper moves as he seems to have the Brazilian flair in his veins in spite of being Spanish. By contrast, Gavi pulls rabbits out of his hat too, yet he does it in a different way. He has more lightness, more softness, even more elegance. He glides past defenders smoothly, easily. His tricks are not only for entertainment, though, but to produce something. Pablo Páez is very thorough and wants, above everything, to help his team for a common goal.

Pablo Páez Gavi Barcelona La Masía

He could be a classic number 10, but Gavi has become tailormade for the middle line | Photo by FC Barcelona

Gavi could simply be described by the number he wears in his back: 10. He fits that role like a glove as he has enormous technical quality and creativity that gets exhibited when he carries the ball glued to his feet. To any feet, actually, as the 15-year-old is ambidextrous. A huge advantage that makes him even more unpredictable and indispensable, as opponents never know which direction will he head to. This offers him and the manager more tactical flexibility too. While he has a singular and exceptional feet, football is in his head. He doesn’t care if he usually is one of, if not the, smallest player on the pitch, as he always has his head raised up and is continuously scanning his surroundings and options ahead of him.

Even if he could perfectly be a traditional number 10, Gavi has also been changing his game and has become even more complete over the years. His future seems to clearly lie in the interior or central midfield position, the spot he has mostly occupied in 11-a-side football. He can be a mediapunta, winger or secondary striker, but his evolution has led to him being closer to the base of the midfield. Now, he not only playmakes and scores, but he is very involved in the build-up and is never afraid of asking for the ball in his own half. Pablo has an immense personality and has a strong character too, being motivated and ready to carry the team on his back whenever needed.

Occupying a deeper position in a 4–3–3 doesn’t seem to have affected his goalscoring figures much either. At the time of writing, he has 9 goals this term, being the second top goalscorer of the Cadete A after Ángel Alarcón, with 15. Gavi has the capacity, intellect and gift to influence the play in any zone of the pitch, at any moment. He is clever and quick thinking, with a phenomenal reading of the game and decision making. He understands which space he has to occupy and which choice he has to make.

Pablo Páez Gavi Barcelona La Masía

A remarkable first touch to redirect the ball and evade the press from the rivals | Photo by FC Barcelona

In some ways, he could be related to Riqui Puig. Riqui used to be a false 9 in his beginnings but, while being very tiny, he matured into an all-round interior. Gavi is similar, in terms of having a small stature, a pinpoint passing accuracy – mostly through passes – and control of the ball that is very pleasing to the eye. Pablo, like Riqui, oozes class, luxury and delicacy, but productivity as well. In defence, he’s very active and attentive. Having such a wide set of skills while also being such a specialist in the creative aspect is what could make a difference between him and all the other footballers.

What does the future hold for Gavi?

Pablo Páez Gavi really seems one of the chosen ones. While he floats across any part of the field with great beauty, he wreaks havoc when he’s at the edge of the box too. With an innate quality, he has the mentality of a leader as well. It may be too early to tell this, but it looks crystal clear that Gavi was born to do big things in this game called football. As he transitions to a number 8 role, Pablo may be another delicious midfield maestro in the making.


As someone once said, football is the most important of the least important things in life. Football, though, is a passion lived 24 hours, 7 days a week. My life could not be understood without Barça. Having always lived in Barcelona, the deep love for this club was transmitted to me from before I can remember. With an affection that can be found in my most profound roots, my goal now is to share this admiration with other football enthusiasts.

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La Masia

Best starting XI of ex-La Masía players

Jan-Michael Marshall

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Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

With the once-glorious academy ignored in the last few years, Barça Universal attempts to put together a starting XI of the best ex-La Masia players in the world, based on their ability and form.


FC Barcelona’s fabled La Masía is often regarded as one of the best academies in world football. Having produced players like Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, and Xavi Hernández, to name a few, it’s no question why.

The Blaugrana are in a fortunate spot where they can integrate promising youngsters from their youth teams into their senior squad; however, in recent years, there has been a divergence from this approach. Consequently, Barça have seen their fair share of homegrown starlets slip through the cracks.

In this piece, we at Barça Universal will be forming a starting eleven of the best active ex-La Masía players in the world. Based on their quality and recent performances, these are the best eleven players who either left the Catalan club at a young age or never cemented a place in the first team. We have decided to go through with a 4-2-3-1 formation for the team.

GK: André Onana

Between the sticks, there are few better than André Onana. The Cameroonian international left Barça at 19, and has not looked back since. He’s developed into a premier goalkeeper and has been linked with a move to big clubs all across Europe.

“I think André [Onana] is fantastic. He came to Ajax aged 18 or 19 and the way he developed, and the natural attributes that he already had, his speed, his reaction… I think he set himself as a great goalkeeper.”

Edwin van der Sar, 2018

Onana has decisive command of his box, quick reflexes, and is a great shot-stopper. Across 31 appearances last season, he had 11 clean sheets and a formidable 75.5% save percentage. He has also led the Champions League in the last two campaigns with post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed, a stat that measures how well a keeper fares against shots that are expected to go in. He achieved a mark of +4.5, meaning he prevented Ajax from conceding almost five extra goals. 

The Catalans would surely regret letting him go if they did not have Marc-André ter Stegen taking charge of the gloves.

RB: Héctor Bellerín

Héctor Bellerín is a clear choice at right-back, edging out the only other realistic option, Real Betis’ Martín Montoya. The Spaniard left Barça in 2011 for Arsenal, after spending 8 years at the club. Although injuries have derailed his recent progress, he’s become a key asset for the Gunners. 

Bellerín is quite talented, consistently blistering down the right-hand side with his pace and influencing all aspects of the game. He’s finding his footing after being in and out of the lineup for the last few seasons but already has two assists this campaign. He also earned his first national team call-up since 2016; a positive sign of things to come, maybe.  

CB: Eric García

Whether due to his ability or the fact that he left La Masía for a Manchester club, Eric García has been dubbed by some to be the next Gerard Piqué. He spent nine successful years in Barcelona’s academy before joining Manchester City in 2017. 

Eric Garcia ex-La Masía

Pep Guardiola wooed Eric Garcia away from Barcelona, and the teenager has proved him right. (Photo via Getty)

Despite being only 19 years old, García plays with poise and composure beyond his years. As a ball-playing defender, he’s comfortable in possession and sharp with his passing, averaging a 96% completion rate last season and 93.8% this season. His high tactical awareness and high-grade positioning make up for lack of aerial prowess.  

“He’s so smart, so intelligent. His physicality is not so, so strong, but he resolves the situation by thinking. I like to work with smart people, intelligent people. He is one of them. I can count on him.”

Pep Guardiola, 2019

In recent months, García has been linked with a move back to his boyhood club, a testament to his abilities and a sign that Barça repent letting him go. His quality and high-ceiling make him an unquestioned choice at centre-back for this list.

CB: Marc Bartra

The other player in the heart of the defence is Marc Bartra. The 29-year-old could never quite cement a spot in Barça’s first team and was often a backup for Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, and Javier Mascherano. Consequently, he left the club in 2016 for Borussia Dortmund, after making over 100 appearances for the first team and winning 13 trophies. 

Like most La Masía-bred defenders, Bartra is lauded for his passing ability. He adds to that with his top-notch aerial ability and solid tackling.

He now finds himself playing in the La Liga with Real Betis, where he’s a key member of their squad, and one of the first names in the list for the Seville outfit. Admittedly, there aren’t a lot of centre-backs to choose from, but Bartra still deserves his spot on this list.

LB: Álex Grimaldo

Rounding out the defence is Álex Grimaldo. He was revered as a youngster, making over 100 appearances for Barça’s B-team, but ended up leaving for Benfica in 2016 in search of more playing time, when that spot became Jordi Alba’s to lose.

Grimaldo is quick, intelligent, a great dribbler, and is a persistent threat going forward, fitting perfectly into Benfica’s expansive, attacking side. Since the 2018-19 season, he has 23 assists and eight goals across all competitions. 

“For me, Grimaldo is one of the best five left-backs in Europe. Many Benfica players are ready to, someday, play in a world-class team. Grimaldo is good enough to play for any side right now.”

Tiago Pinto (Benfica Sporting Director), 2020

The left-back has quietly developed into one of the best in the world at his position and is certainly someone Barça should wish they could have right now. He’s one of the best players in this list, and his inclusion goes with little to no fuss.

CM: Thiago Alcântara

Thiago: the one that got away. Despite his immense talent, he was unlucky in his first few years at Barça having to find a spot in the first team midfield that was dominated by the likes of prime Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. A certain Cesc Fabregas was left as an outcast in this team; there was only so much Thiago could do. As a result, he left the Catalan giants in the summer of 2013 for Bayern Munich, where he would cement his status as one of the best midfielders in the world. 

Thiago Alcantara Barcelona ex-La Masía

One that keeps the Barça administration and fans up at night all the same. (Photo via Imago)

The Spanish international is lauded for his technical prowess and intelligence. He’s a great passer, averaging over 89% completion rate for the past four seasons, has fantastic vision and is a treat to the eyes on the ball. He’s not only an ideal Barça midfielder but a world-beater by any metric. 

Thiago was a key part of Bayern’s treble-winning side last season and now finds himself at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield. He’s a player Barça should have tried to sign back and will be remembered as one of the best La Masia graduates of the last decade. 

CM: Oriol Romeu

Oriol Romeu may not be a familiar name to most, nor is he someone fans are clamouring to have back, but his performances this season for an impressive Southampton have earned him a spot in this XI.

Romeu left the Catalan side in 2011 for Chelsea but struggled to settle anywhere before moving to Southampton in 2015.  

The Saints are currently sitting fourth in the Premier League heading into the international break, in no small part thanks to Romeu. He’s played in all eight league games this season and is third in total minutes played for his side. The Spaniard is an anchor in the midfield, aggressive in tackles and inept at stopping plays. He’s leading the Premier League in tackles this season, averaging 4.42 tackles plus interceptions per game. 

He’s not what you could call the idea player for Barça or one the club necessarily laments selling, but he has been truly incredible this season and deserves recognition all the same. 

RW: Adama Traoré

Adama Traoré followed the path of many before him, leaving the Camp Nou for greener grass. He made his first-team debut at only 17 years old and managed to grab one goal in four appearances, but the front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez would see him get little-to-no playing time.

Adama Traore Barcelona ex-La Masía

Culés still remember Adama Traore’s fantastic solo goal in the Copa del Rey. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP)

Traoré settled in at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2018 and has realised his potential there. He had a breakout season last year, with 6 goals and 10 assists, as well as an astounding 5.22 successful dribbles per game — one of the highest in Europe. This season, the Spanish International is leading the Premier League in terms of the number of players dribbled past — 30 in eight matches. 

The 24-year-old is a magnificent player. His physical attributes stand out, being one of the strongest and fastest players in the world, and unstoppable at his best; but he’s much more than that. His technical ability and close control are excellent, and that coupled with his physical gifts make him a sight to behold on the pitch.

The Spaniard’s inclusion in this list is fairly straightforward. He’s on a meteoric rise and is the type of squad option Barça wish they could have right now.

CAM: Dani Olmo

Filling in behind the striker is Dani Olmo, yet another starlet Barça that slipped through the cracks. He spent seven years at La Masía before a shocking move to Dinamo Zagreb in 2014, but the decision has fared well for him. He dominated his spell with the Croatian side, tallying 34 goals and 28 assists in 124 appearances. 

The 22-year-old is now a squad member at RB Leipzig, where he’s dazzling the Bundesliga with his dribbling, creativity, and vision. He has three assists in seven Bundesliga appearances this season and is only getting better. 

Olmo is one of the brightest young Spaniards in the world and is currently in their squad for the international break.

LW: Marc Cucurella

Marc Cucurella never had a chance to prove himself at Barça, and he’s now excelling at Getafe. He was developed as a left-back but has now been successfully converted into a wide midfielder, playing on the left of a 4-4-2, since making a permanent move to the Madrid outfit in July this year.

Cucurella is a work-horse on both sides of the ball. Defensively, he’s a pest who consistently tracks the ball and fights for it, making up for any lack of physical prowess. He’s also great at pressing and tackling for a physical Getafe side, averaging 3.38 tackles and interceptions per game last season.

Offensively, he darts down the left-hand side and utilizes his pace and stamina along with his noteworthy off the ball movement. He had five assists last campaign and will be looking to improve upon that. 

Cucurella may not be the flashiest name here, but much like Oriel Romeu, his recent performances are commendable, thus earning him this spot at left-mid.

ST: Mauro Icardi

Rounding out the team is Mauro Icardi, a name some might not recognize as an ex-La Masía player. Although he has off-the-field issues, his sheer talent alone sanctions his spot in this draft. Not to mention, his prolific goalscoring record as well.

The Argentine left the Catalans in 2011 after a brief 3-year stint. After a few seasons in Sampdoria, he moved to Internazionale Milan, where he broke out, gathering 124 goals and 28 assists in 219 appearances. In his current club PSG, the goals have continued raining in as he has scored 22 times in only 38 appearances. 

The 2018 Serie A Player of the Year is a classic #9 who prefers to do all his damage in the penalty box. As a forward, he’s lethal in front of goal and always makes the right movements to get into scoring positions. 

“In my opinion, Icardi is the second-best striker in the penalty box who I’ve ever marked.”

Giorgio Chiellini, 2018

Icardi may not be a player Barça would desperately want to return, give his multiple tantrums or one that fits their style, but he’s the best ex-La Masía striker in the world, and that stands almost without question. 

Closing Thoughts

If this starting eleven indicates anything, it’s that Barça should be diverting more attention to La Masía and the gems they produce. Promising youngsters like Grimaldo, Olmo, and Traoré should have never departed without being given ample time to prove themselves, and the club should hope that history doesn’t repeat itself with prospects like Riqui Puig.

ex-La Masía players best XI

There are plenty of good players – Munir El Haddadi, Rafinha Alcântara, Cristian Tello, for instance –who didn’t make this list due to positional constraints or being edged-out by better options, and they serve as a further example of how much talent Barça has let slip through the cracks in recent memory. This is not to say that all La Masía graduates will grow up to reach the heights of Messi or Xavi, but they should all at least have the chance to stake their claim in the first team.

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