It was September 2020 when Ansu Fati, 17 years and 311 days old, fired a sensational right-footed shot past Ukraine’s Andriy Pyatov to become the Spain national team’s youngest goalscorer. It was a record that had proudly stood for 95 years – since Real Union’s Juan Errazquin, days shy of his 19th birthday, hit the net in a 3-0 friendly win over Switzerland in 1925.
It’s normally a good indicator of the significance of any record if it has stood for a long time – just think of Bob Beamon’s incredible long jump mark of 8.90 meters which has stood since 1968. So Ansu – also Barcelona’s youngest goalscorer (16 years and 304 days) in La Liga and the youngest to touch the net in the Champions League (17 years, 40 days) – is quite special.
Yet Ansu’s newly set record for Spain lasted just 637 days, until Barca team-mate Pablo Martin Paez Gavira – who you’ll know as Gavi (aged 17 and 304 days) – snatches it from him with a nice left. foot in Prague to equalize against the Czech Republic last Sunday.
It’s the second time in a few months that this feisty and ultra-talented kid has ripped through the national team’s record books. Last November, while starring in a 2-1 victory over European champions Italy at the San Siro, Gavi (17 years and 62 days) broke an 85-year-old record for the precocity of football playing for Spain 222 days younger than the previous record. -titular Angel Zubieta in April 1936.
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Enough stats, for now at least, because what’s so much more exciting about this young lad is his talent, his energy, his technique and his fierce will to win. Precisely the exceptional abilities which, combined, made him the star player of Spain’s last 180 minutes of competition: draws with Portugal and the Czechs that put Spain in a precarious position in Group A2 of the League of Nations. In fact, Gavi has played more minutes for La Roja in both matches than anyone except goalkeeper Unai Simon.
If you haven’t been able to watch Luis Enrique’s tired and injured Spanish side in recent days, I’m going to do you a little favor. To find La Rojagoal against Portugal, but play it from the origins of the movement in the 25th minute.
It starts with a loose ball about 20 yards outside the Spanish penalty area and a sprint. Gavi the Kid shouldn’t get there first, but he leaves Portugal’s Bruno Fernandes in a desperate heap on the pitch. Then he travels about 50 yards with the ball strapped to his foot, before slipping a pass to right winger Pablo Sarabia, who must provide the easiest pass for Alvaro Morata to score.
It’s a thing of beauty. Golden Child; money service.
Started with desire and athleticism, developed with shrewd and technical excellence, then sent to the right destination with all the aplomb of someone who has dominated elite football for a decade… not ending his first full senior season. And who will still be a teenager at the end of Euro 2024 in Germany.
My favors continue: Now look for Spain’s game in the Czech capital. This historic lens I was aiming for is a little gem. With Spain losing, under pressure in general and physically and athletically bullied by a clever counter-attacking team, it’s Gavi the Kid to the rescue.
A dart to the ball to deceive a marker, a right-footed reception of Rodri’s three-yard pass, a lean from his still diminutive frame and a perfect one-inch left-footed finish that curves around the full dive of Tomas Vaclik and out of the post.
In both matches, the Barcelona midfield wonderkid demonstrated a wide range of things that caught Luis Enrique’s eye last November. I was at the press conference the day before Spain’s rematch against Italy in the Nations League semi-finals, having lost to them a few months before in the Euro 2020 semi-finals at Wembley .
Some journalists, especially those based in Madrid, are not supporters of Luis Enrique. They think he’s contrary, provocative, antagonistic (some of them actually think he’s a bit anti-Real Madrid.) And, so, when the match previews were released, many scoffed at the idea. that Gavi, then only a handful of games in his career at Barcelona and having barely played for the Camp Nou B side, deserved a place on the plane to Italy.
Nonetheless, he started and excelled, and after the game the Spanish coach said: “It’s not normal for someone to play like this at 17. Gavi has enviable personality, physique and athleticism. and he plays our style of football. When you watch him, it’s like he’s at school or in his garden. What a pleasure to have a guy with that quality and character with us. Gavi is the present of the national team, not just our future.”
This is precisely what Gavi the Kid has proven in these last two games and will have to do it again, if called, in Switzerland in a must-see match this Friday. Time and time again it’s La RojaHe’s a guy who shows for the ball in tough times and tough times. Notice how he always has a plan for what he’s going to try to do with the ball long before he gets it. And how often, compared to most footballers more experienced than him, his first instinct is to push the game forward to test and stretch opponents. There’s a built-in urgency, but not a hint of haste.
Looking at Gavi, it’s easy to see why he always, without fail, names Andres Iniesta as the player who always inspired him. It’s not fair, by any means, to start comparing them but, in terms of role model, young Gavi has followed the good man.
However, in football, as in life, every silver lining has a cloud. This time for the Gavi club: Barcelona. He follows in the footsteps of Xavi and Iniesta not only because of his positions on the pitch, his style of play and his club colours; Gavi replicates its own troubled introductions to top-flight football.
Xavi and Iniesta had to break through, grow, get tougher and ultimately dominate world football amid initial chaos and deprivation at Camp Nou. Their small stature, the pursuit of their best position, decorating the squad with the right kind of talent around them, club debt, trophyless seasons – both men now considered all-time greats had to navigate their way through it all 20 years ago. .
Gavi, at least, had Ronald Koeman and now Xavi implicitly trusting talent over age and height. But Camp Nou’s financial chaos has returned with a vengeance, meaning academy-bred players like him, obtained and developed at minimal cost, are like rain in the desert.
The key issue is that Gavi is represented by someone who has seen it all. Do you remember Ivan de la Pena? Developed at La Masia, he was sublimely gifted, his head shaved and the same height and weight as Gavi. De La Pena made his debut for Barca aged 19 – a debut celebrated with one goal – and was first revered by a needy club and a needy Camp Nou crowd.
For various reasons, which need not be detailed here, things did not reach their natural peak for De La Pena – known as the Little Buddha. He only spent two full and fully fulfilling seasons with the Blaugrana, during which he won six trophies. But then he ricocheted like a pinball between Lazio, Marseille and Barcelona before, most recently, getting revenge by playing for Catalan foes Espanyol.
Today, Little Buddha is wise enough to know several things.
First: Whatever his client Gavi’s huge fanfare is at the moment, there’s no guarantee, zero, that it will automatically lead to seven or eight glorious years of Iniesta style at Barcelona.
Second: that there is a huge market for the child right now. A handful of top Champions League clubs would sign him (for the price of his €50m release clause) tomorrow if they received the slightest bit of encouragement from a player or agent.
Third: Barcelona’s current contract offer, which they will try to push on Gavi and his entourage again this week, is low – based on the horrible financial situation Barcelona have allowed themselves to drift into.
Fourth: While that was by no means what drove Gavi on those last two great performances for Spain, it’s already been a week that has sent his transfer value and contract value skyrocketing!
Alejandro Moreno wonders if Barcelona will be able to maintain their quality of play next season.
De La Pena will no doubt lead Gavi to conclusions based on what is happening around him. That while there will be reinforcements at Camp Nou this summer, they will nonetheless fall short of the breadth of excellence and experience with which the team must be imbued. Barcelona simply can’t afford it.
That, while it is a club that trusts and promotes youth, Pedri was played until his young manager said “no mas” and is absent from the Spain squad so he can recuperate. This Ansu is with Spain but doesn’t play as he is still recovering from several months with a meniscus problem. This Nico Gonzalez, who broke through for Barcelona as a Gavi contemporary, has been increasingly sidelined and may now need to be loaned out to get more playing time.
Life is sweet at the moment, but Gavi will be warned: “It’s not always like that – and we have to fight in our own corner before deciding the future.”
De La Pena will tell the 17-year-old he’s in the electric seat and won’t renew on disadvantageous terms out of emotion or naivety; that time is on their side as other clubs hover – waiting to find out if Barcelona finally come to terms with the fact that they have to fend for themselves or lose a generational talent brutally early.
What a bittersweet dilemma for Xavi, the Barcelona coach. He is in charge of a talent that can fortify his quest for trophies, of a player whose position and skills he is uniquely placed to guide and develop, and of a child who is both precocious and prodigious. Someone who can naturally produce Xavi’s own idea of football.
But the more Gavi stars there are for the Spain national team, the greater the price his cash-strapped bosses at Camp Nou will have to pay to keep him. An unpleasant truth that they had better recognize and address immediately.