Barcelona, the cathedral of football, has long been an enchanting beacon that radiates a commitment to nurturing its talents, where creativity is cultivated and authenticity is celebrated.
Each player contributes their unique degree of creativity, quality, inspiration, and genius while learning the Barça way. The art of La Masia is to incorporate variation into a timeless design.
The academy has essentially been a breeding ground for talents since its inception, and every year, like the unfurling petals of a timeless bloom, a new generation emerges from its embrace.
One of the players who has recently come out of this bustling nest of talent is Lamine Yamal, and it is safe to say he embodies the values of La Masia with every balletic move on the pitch.
The Moroccan sensation has only started two games for the Blaugrana senior team, with sporadic minutes off the bench prior to that, and has already dropped jaws across the globe.
But what is it that makes this mere 16-year-old so captivating to watch? Onlookers are well aware of the alchemy of greatness taught within the hallowed halls of La Masia, but it is still a rarity to witness a teenager draw comparisons with the legendary Lionel Messi.
How has Lamine Yamal managed to make such a quick impression at his tender age?
This article aims to answer those questions, highlighting the facets that make him so special and why he has the potential to leave an indelible mark in the annals of football history.
A devilishly-deft dribbler
There are times when the pandemonium of a game traps players in a suffocating circumstance. One-on-one dribbling gives you the chance to stand out from the crowd, a vital skill to break out of confined areas.
Nonetheless, one must always choose their moments with maturity. Forcing take-ons can prove to be counterproductive and perhaps unneeded in the context of the game.
Yamal understands when to glide past defenders and when to combine with teammates.
In his first-ever start against Cadiz, particularly, instead of incessantly trying to beat his marker, he played swift one-twos, but when he saw the slightest ounce of opening to blitz past players, with a deft flick and a burst of acceleration, the sensation carved his path through the opposition.
Such refinement in an aspect Yamal has practically mastered explains why he comes out on top so often.
Barcelona’s gameplan of overloading the left side and prolonging the spell of possession means isolations are regularly created for the youngster. In such a context, the right-winger sees less of the ball, but his responsibility heightens considerably as he must be the one finalizing the play.
Against Cadiz, the youngster had 3 out of 4 successful dribbles, and against Villarreal, he completed 3 out of 3. At 16 years old, Yamal has the most dribbles in La Liga thus far with 85% accuracy, a testament to his awe-inspiring fundamentals.
With his dribbling prowess, close touches, and sudden shifts in acceleration, he is impossible for any defender to neutralize.
The La Masia gem is driven and aggressive, despite not being an individualist. He’s determined, and whenever he gets or asks for the ball, he aims for goal, with a forward or diagonal run, a vertical pass, or a strike from range.
Pep Guardiola once famously said, “My first question is always: Can this guy dribble? I only want players who can dribble. Because you can learn control and good passing. Dribbling is the key.”
Lamine Yamal’s left foot oozes class. Apart from being an electric dribbler, the youngster is capable of clipping diagonals inside the box or launching crosses with surgical precision.
In merely two starts, Yamal has recorded three big chances, including an immaculate assist for Gavi in his most recent appearance against Villarreal.
The youngster dribbled the ball backward to create separation, feinted and still managed to provide a perfect cross to Gavi on the far post, an invaluable skill that encapsulates how effectively he utilizes his strengths.
Even in the U-17 Euros this year, Yamal was a menace in the creative department, creating more than 10 chances, which was the most in the tournament.
Now his meteoric rise has raised the possibility of a call-up to Spain in the upcoming international break after he decided to represent La Roja over Morocco.
Since Xavi arrived at the club, he has invariably given preference to creative right-wingers, who possess no shortage of innovation in their arsenal. As a consequence, Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha have been Xavi’s go-to options since taking over the club.
Now, with Dembele having departed the club, Yamal is capable of fulfilling the role to a tee, as he is not solely a specialist in dribbles or goals but a superb playmaker.
Yamal can seamlessly create chances for himself by weaving through defences, but he can also create for others, and in fact, he has been renowned for his selflessness in the youth ranks.
An eye for goal
Yamal has yet to unleash himself in the scoring department, but based on his years in the academy and the Spanish youth setup, it is evident that rattling the back of the net regularly runs in his veins.
The prodigy wields an incredibly polished left foot that enables him to drive past players easily and swiftly to display what is likely his best quality: finishing.
Lamine is a master at finding the proper angle and fusing precision with power to beat the keeper in one-on-one scenarios or from a distance.
In the Under-17 Euros for Spain, Yamal was unable to taste victory at the finish line but concluded the campaign with the joint-most goals in the tournament (4), which included some scrumptious finishes from range.
For the first team, Yamal has lacked his typical sharpness in front of goal owing to the major leap in quality of the goalkeeper he finds himself facing.
Still, the rising star has come awfully close this season. After forcing a tough save out of the Cadiz goalkeeper in his first start, he clattered the woodwork twice against Villarreal, with one of the shots leading to Robert Lewandowski scoring on the rebound.
Yamal has clocked six shots in just two games, and despite having no goals to boast of yet, the technique he uses indicates the net will inevitably bulge sooner rather than later.
With a sturdy, planted foot, he manages to get his body over the ball and has the perfect follow-through. He keeps his head held high and does not waver while striking the ball.
A star in the making
Lamine Yamal has been a major revelation for Barcelona after the club had to deal with the unexpected departure of Ousmane Dembele.
The player is exceptionally advanced in his development and it would be safe to say that he is the next big thing, but he still has a long way to go before he can be touted as a success story.
The player is keen to commit his future to the Blaugrana, with a new deal potentially seeing Lamal stay at Barcelona until 2026.
Ensuring Yamal’s minutes are managed while he keeps his head in the game will be crucial to certifying he lives up to his tremendous potential.