For Ansu Fati, 2020 is full of surprises

Alejandro Panfil @AlePanfil

2020 will be an unforgettable year for the wonderful Ansu Fati, beyond the disappointing performance of his team, FC Barcelona, that after being slaughtered 8-2 by Bayern Munich, finished the season with no titles and almost without Lionel Messi.

For Ansu, the young promise who was born on October 31, 2002 in Guinea-Bissau, life in soccer has been a true meteoric rise. After his (very) early days playing for Herrera and Sevilla FC, he arrived at the age of 10 in Barcelona, a club where he’s shown all his talent as a striker ever since. At 16 years and 298 days, he broke into the first team and thus became the second youngest player in the history of the club making his debut, after Vicenc Martinez Alama, who made his at 16 years and 280 days of age in October 19, 1941 against Real Madrid. The magic day for Ansu took place August 25, 2019 in a 5-2 against Betis.

After that winning debut, Lionel Messi gave him a hug that was immortalized in a picture admired worldwide. Ernesto Valverde, coach of FC Barcelona in those days, described him with enthusiasm and joy: "Ansu has a lot of self-confidence, determination, and speed and he is able to run into pockets of space. I know he's very young, the youngest I've asked to debut. But if we don’t ask about the age of the older players, we are not willing to ask about his age either. He has surprised us all. We'll see what happens". Valverde was happy to witness personally what many other coaches had said about Fati. He has dribbles, scores, and he can play in both flanks and also as a center-forward.

 

 

Barcelona was still unaware of the upcoming disastrous ending of the season, collectively, but Ansu continued to break individual records: one week after his debut he scored his first goal as a professional in 2-2 against Osasuna and became the youngest player ever scoring a goal in the first team of Barcelona and the third one in the history of the Spanish League, following Fabrice Olinga (ex Malaga player) and Iker Muniain (Athletic Club of Bilbao). Moreover, he was the youngest Barcelona player making his debut in the Champions League on 17 September against Borussia Dortmund, and on 10 December he became the youngest-ever goalscorer in the Champions League (17 years and 40 days old) when he netted in a victory 2-1 over Inter Milan. In addition, on 2 February, 2020 he was the youngest to score twice at a League match (2-1 against Levante). Finally, Ansu completed his first and unforgettable season in FC Barcelona having played 33 games, scored 8 goals and made 1 assistance.

Last year, he also received the legal authorization for competing with the Spanish national team, giving up the option to play for the national team of Guinea Bissau or Portugal. But, despite what many suspected as a move to let him play at the U17 World Cup in Brazil, he was left out.

"We believe that the aim of the federation when beginning the process to nationalize Ansu was that, at some point, he could be available for the national team and not for a given national team squad. Having made a general sporting analysis, we consider that the best thing is for the kid to stay and to have an option in the upcoming November callups to take part in a higher category. For that to happen, he can't go to the World Cup", explained Francis Hernández, sports director of the junior national teams of Spain.

There was a long-term plan in mind for his future but sometimes soccer can’t wait and, on 16 October 2019, he made his debut in the U21 La Roja, wearing the jersey number 11 in a game against Montenegro. “It's a moment I will never forget and when I see the shirt I will remember the day of my debut with the U21 team. I'm going to frame it and hang it in my room”. 

In 2020 he got two more jerseys to frame. Aged 17 years and 308 days, Ansu Fati replaced Jesús Navas in 1-1 against Germany for the UEFA Nations League, making his debut in the Spain National Team, being the second youngest to come into play behind Angel Zubieta, whose debut was in 1920, ¡100 years ago! Three days later, at 17 and 311 days, he scored his first goal wearing the red jersey in a 4-0 against Ukraine, and while he was at it, he became the youngest scorer ever of La Roja, leaving behind Juan Errazquin, who in 1925 had scored at 18 years and 344 days. “He’s special and different. He has demonstrated all we already knew about him”, said Luis Enrique, current coach of the Spain National Team and who is very well-versed on FC Barcelona. Under his management, Barça won the Spanish League, Copa del Rey, Champions League and World Cup Clubs in 2015.

Lionel Messi, who is like an older brother to Ansu, has recently confirmed he will remain with Barcelona for at least one more season to avoid any legal conflict with the club. For Fati, the 17-year-old player who’s considered by many the future of Barça, it means at least one more year of training, playing and learning side-by-side next to the best player on the planet.

Maybe not for Leo, but for Ansu Fati it’s been a great year so far.

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