Lionel Messi has revealed just how impressed he was by 16-year-old Ansu Fati’s first training session with the Barcelona first team.
The Guinea-Bissau born youngster has undergone a monumental rise to prominence this season, becoming the Blaugrana’s youngest player since 1941 when he came off the bench against Real Betis last month.
Who is Ansu Fati? Five key facts…
- Position: Winger
- DoB: 31/10/02
- Nationality: Spanish (born in Guinea-Bissau)
- Senior apps: 5 (2 goals)
- Career path: Herrera, Sevilla, Barcelona
Fati – who has also represented Herrera and Sevilla at youth level – followed that up with his first-ever senior goal in Barca’s next match, a 2-2 draw with Osasuna, making him the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer.
And to top off a record-breaking start to his senior career, Fati then became the youngest player to feature in a Champions League match for the Catalan giants, being named in the starting XI for their goalless draw with Borussia Dortmund.
Injuries to Messi and Ousmane Dembele have given Fati unexpected opportunities to feature for the first team, and thus far the teenager has repaid Ernesto Valverde in full.
And Messi, speaking after receiving Fifa’s The Best Men’s Player award on Monday, has revealed just how impressed he was by Fati’s first training session, although he has called for pressure to be taken off his young shoulders.
“Ansu Fati got my attention from the first time I saw him training, but you have to go step-by-step because he is 16 years old,” he told reporters.
“He still doesn’t have the responsibility that others want to put on his shoulders. He has the potential to be a very important player but we have to help him.”
Fati’s emergence has been a ray of light in an otherwise dull season for Barca so far, with Valverde’s side sitting eighth in the La Liga table having won just two of their five games.
Barca host Villarreal on Tuesday.
Messi’s word of warning
Messi’s call for caution regarding Fati is both wise and borne of what he has witnessed with previous failings from famous La Masia graduates.
Arguably the most famous case is that of Bojan Krkic, who – according to the Independent – scored over 900 goals for Barca’s youth sides after being picked up as a nine-year-old.
However, an initial burst into the first team had him earmarked as the “next Messi” and Bojan quickly became a target. Defenders started to go out of their way to shut him down via some often robust techniques.
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Before long, his influence waned and his confidence was drained. Spells with the likes of AC Milan, Roma, Stoke City and Ajax followed, but Bojan never recovered. Nowadays, he plies his trade in MLS with Montreal Impact where, in his own words, he simply wants to “live his football”.
But Bojan is just one of a host of players who came through La Masia – alongside the likes of Giovani Dos Santos and Marc Muniesa – and looked destined for stardom, only to fall away under the immense pressure.
Messi’s roadmap to success might just be one that could steer Fati to greater heights than those who came before him.