The final time a participant stood triumphantly towering over a clamour of Camp Nou worshippers it was, after all, Lionel Messi in 2017. Barcelona had simply crushed Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 in the greatest European comeback in history, and the little Argentine genius ran to the followers behind the objective, leaping up onto an promoting hoarding and creating a photograph alternative that, inside days, had damaged all membership data and had been appreciated or “visited” greater than 70 million occasions.
On Sunday, it was Ansu Fati.
His objective, after almost a yr out with an damage that ought to have seen him again enjoying inside a few months, was epic. On the pitch for what felt like a mere handful of seconds, he’d already been acclaimed wildly by the followers each time it seemed like he would possibly make his massively anticipated comeback.
He appeared to have earned his crew a penalty (which was rejected) however, operating into added time, he deftly gained the ball again from Jorge Miramon with an aggressive press and a few fabulous footwork earlier than sprinting 25 metres, twisting Miramon inside out, and thrashing the ball previous Aitor Fernandez within the Levante objective.
Scenes. Outstanding scenes. The Camp Nou exploded. Levante’s 32-year-old veteran defender held his head in his arms. The Ansu Fati issue: It is going to be an extended queue of defenders asking one another, “what simply occurred?!”
Ansu had promised his household that he’d rating on his comeback. Their yr of excruciating agony had included 4 separate occasions when he was given the dangerous information that an operation was wanted — three of which weren’t solely surprising, they had been devastating. The surgeons’ work had failed.
This 17-year-old prodigy — already Barcelona’s youngest scorer, plus the youngest ever to hit the web within the Champions League and for Spain‘s nationwide crew — had been pressured to look at in annoyed distress whereas his membership crew gained the Copa del Rey, whereas they had been dismantled by PSG within the Champions League and whereas La Roja made it to the semifinals of Euro 2020 and had been crying out for a objective scorer who may have helped them beat Italy… after which maybe England within the last.
Up within the stands, the household hugged each other in complete disbelief. Every other itinerant followers in that space, who stood nonetheless lengthy sufficient, obtained sucked into the hug fest. It was human pleasure at its most bare and unrestrained.
Ansu’s mum leapt up and down earlier than, ultimately, singing alongside to the FC Barcelona anthem that bellows out earlier than and after each match. His dad cried. Ansu ran to thank the varied medics and physios, significantly Dr. Lluis Til, who’d not solely obtained him prepared bodily, they’d bolstered him spiritually and psychologically throughout the barren months. The doc’s eyes had been a bit moist too. The entire tableau was lovely.
Ansu ending his utter distress in such extraordinary vogue deserved the human tower, the human recreation of statues that adopted his objective. First Ronald Araujo bear-hugged the little striker and hoisted him skyward. You have seen ballet dancers onstage, certainly you have seen rugby gamers within the lineout do the identical. Then the pair grew to become a cluster. Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia, Nico Gonzalez — they huddled round in worship and Ansu hovered there in midair, above them roaring “Vamos!” and evoking reminiscences of Messi from 4 years in the past.
Nice moments, nice photos — soccer greatness in motion.
However the 3-0 win in opposition to Levante — so essential in opposition to the backdrop of Barcelona having performed cluelessly every week earlier than and within the context of dealing with certainly one of their most financially very important matches of their complete historical past this week in opposition to Benfica in Lisbon — wasn’t Ansu’s match. Not likely.
Regardless of the footballing mercury rising and bursting out of the thermometer when the little prodigy scored, the afternoon had been completely owned by one other teenager. His actual identify is Pablo Martín Paez Gavira, however this being soccer, he is universally known as Gavi. Whether or not you have heard of him or not, please belief me: He is one other little phenomenon.
In actual fact, I will go this far: I don’t recall, certainly I do not consider that, any membership in fashionable historical past have given debuts to 4 such distinctive and ready-for-elite-football 16- to 18-year-olds in comparable to quick house of time as Barcelona have carried out to Ansu, Pedri, Ilaix Moriba and Gavi. Have a go, show me flawed when you can, however this is not merely about their outstanding ages — though that tells an excellent story about expertise recognizing and growth inside Barcelona’s “futbol base” system.
Ansu began for the primary crew aged 16 years and 298 days. Pedri was 17 when he made his full Barca debut. Ilaix two days previous his 18th birthday. And now here is Gavi who, little greater than a month in the past, was 16. I can barely consider we’re seeing such lovely flowers emerge from a barren desert twice inside 20 years — on the similar membership!
Steve Nicol discusses the large expectations on Ansu Fati after he returned from damage with a particular objective vs. Levante.
When Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes emerged on the Camp Nou, their ages ranged from 18 to 20, older than this crop, but it surely’s a millennium too early to suppose that Ansu, Pedri, Ilaix and Gavi can obtain what the previous fab 4 did. Nevertheless, what’s comparable, and wonderful, is that Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol and Valdes got here by at a time when Barcelona had been both starting or deep within the midst of a six-year trophy drought and when the membership was in an enormous monetary disaster.
If this Cruyff-designed system is trusted, maintained and staffed by right-thinking individuals, it’s merely astonishing at producing footballers who’ve been chosen for his or her pure capacity however whose brains, method, maturity and ambition have been ultra-trained. The result’s gamers making prodigious, even historic, impacts at a ridiculously younger age.
However again to Gavi. Born in the identical 35,000-inhabitant Andalusian city as World Cup winner Jesus Navas and European Below-21 Championship winner Fabian Ruiz — how extraordinary is that — the Spanish soccer tom-tom drums have been beating about this child since he was simply 11. This summer time he performed, with stellar outcomes, in opposition to each VfB Stuttgart and Juventus (two wins) both aspect of his 17th birthday. On his Camp Nou debut in opposition to Levante he was, by a distance, the person of the match.
Fast to identify areas, clever about dragging opponents round, limpet management on his proper foot, speedy to pass-move-offer-pass once more; this can be a man who, whether or not he ever reaches their heights, instantly evokes each Xavi and Iniesta. I suppose when you develop up watching the legendary midfield duo, admiring them after which spend a number of years in Barcelona’s youth system, then why would not you?
He is obtained a pleasant flip of tempo, however most significantly it is the ball and his passes which add velocity when he performs. Practically as pleased on the left or proper of a midfield three, Gavi merely shimmers with the enjoyment of enjoying soccer intelligently.
I am not now, nor will I ever, use the expressions “the brand new Iniesta” or “the brand new Xavi,” however the truth stays that Samuel Eto’o’s nice description that these two gamers “made the tough issues in soccer easy” 100% applies to Gavi. Interpretation of house, anticipation of motion round him, the bravery to be at all times providing to obtain a move, pre-knowledge of what to do subsequent, peripheral imaginative and prescient, passes to the ft of a teammate in tight areas, passes in entrance of a teammate when the transition is a counterattack into house (what number of gamers fail at this), good first contact, somewhat flip of pace to get out of tight areas; this 17-year-old Andalusian has all these items — as did Xavi and Iniesta.
Whereas this was his dwelling debut, those that’ve been watching this season had seen clues of what was to return. A revelation in opposition to Gimnastic Tarragona and Stuttgart, Gavi was merely terrific within the win over Juve within the Gamper. Then he pulled off that pretty lofted chip in a massively crowded penalty field, which introduced the yearned-for equaliser at dwelling to Granada, when Araujo’s 90th-minute header saved Ronald Koeman’s bacon.
Then got here the cameo in opposition to Bayern Munich. With the sport already lengthy gone, Gavi got here on for a half hour. This spindly, inexperienced teenager was, it transpired, filled with the identical fury, vigour and aggression as the vast majority of the followers.
Barcelona dedicated 9 fouls all night time; in his 30 minutes on the pitch, Gavi was chargeable for 4 of them. Sequentially he knocked over Leon Goretzka (26, treble winner), Thomas Muller (World Cup winner, twice a treble winner), Joshua Kimmich (see earlier) and Dayot Upamecano (twice Gavi’s dimension).
After the fouls on Goretzka and Muller, the gang chanted his identify, time and again. Referee Michael Oliver warned him about his behaviour; moments later Gavi totalled Kimmich and earned his debut first-team reserving. The Camp Nou roared approval at his chippy, “not on my patch” spirit.
No matter occurs to Koeman — and the choices are many and diversified — solely fools will fail to recall that on the day Ansu made his comeback, Gavi and 19-year-old Nico had been on the pitch flying the flag for Barcelona’s good academy soccer. Not even defeat in Lisbon, ought to it happen, have to be allowed to obscure the beginning of some shimmeringly lovely futures.