August 20, 2022

“Gavi is still an unknown in Spanish football, even to the people around him,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said. “He doesn’t just run and fight and work defensively. In attack and with the ball, he is a very special player. He scores goals, you’ll see him soon, shoots, has surprising physical power and plays with both feet. He is a single player. »

Luis Enrique was speaking after Barcelona midfielder Pablo Martin Paez Gavira’s outstanding performance in the 1-1 UEFA Nations League draw with Portugal last Thursday. Of course, you will know it as Gavi and the still The 17-year-old had been the standout figure in the game, displaying tremendous personality and playing intelligence to eclipse experienced Portuguese midfielders like Joao Moutinho and Bruno Fernandes.

Gavi’s attacking quality was particularly evident when he led the counterattack that led to Spain’s goal in that game at the Estadio Benito Villamarin. Recovering the ball from a Portugal corner, he carried it deep into the opposition half before timing perfectly and directing a pass into Pablo Sarabia’s path. The ball arrived with instructions on what to do next, and Sarabia obediently obeyed to give Alvaro Morata a simple finish. Gavi also created clear chances which were missed by Morata and fellow midfielder Carlos Soler. Portugal’s equalizer came a minute after leaving the field.

Three days later, the Andalusian was one of only three players to remain in the XI for another Nations League game against the Czech Republic. He was again an outstanding performer in an uneven team performance as they needed a late header from Inigo Martinez to draw a 2-2 draw.

La Roja’s other goal of the evening came when Gavi received the ball from Manchester City’s Rodri in the Czech penalty area, well covered by two defenders. His first touch made just enough space for his second to be a perfectly guided low shot just inside the far post.

At just 17 years and 304 days, Gavi became the youngest goalscorer for the Spanish senior international team, overtaking Barca team-mate Ansu Fati (who was just a week older when he scored his first international goal). senior against Ukraine in September 2020).

Such precocity and personality surprised most observers, but not Luis Enrique, who was Barcelona’s first-team coach in 2015 when the Catalan side dropped the 11-year-old from the youth ranks of the club. Real Betis. Luis Enrique has been following his progress closely, and just two months after his La Liga debut came a first senior Spain international call-up for October’s UEFA Nations League semi-final against Italy. The debutant was supernaturally good as Spain probably gave their best overall performance since the Euro 2012 final.

Gavi started all six competitive games Spain have played since, overtaking rivals for a starting spot in the preferred 4-3-3 form, including Liverpool’s Thiago, Atletico Madrid’s Koke and Marcos Llorente, Valencia’s Soler, Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz and Real Sociedad’s Mikel Merino. . Unless there is a change of heart or circumstances, the Spanish midfielder at the World Cup next winter will be Gavi alongside Barca teammates Sergio Busquets and Pedri.

“If there was a convinced player in the Spanish team against the Czech Republic, it was Gavi,” said Luis Enrique on Sunday night in Prague. “Either he shoots himself or he gets into the area. This belief is priceless. How much is it worth?”

The former Barcelona player and manager has denied sending a message to his former employers. But all the talk about Gavi’s “invaluable” qualities, and some people not recognizing what they had, seemed pointed. Especially since Luis Enrique’s former team-mate and still friend Ivan de la Pena is now Gavi’s agent, and talks with Barca’s hierarchy over a contract extension and salary increase are currently ongoing. deadlocked.

The teenager is still on the contract signed in 2020 which sees him paid around €100,000 a year. His side believe he now deserves a salary similar to that of his emerging teammates Pedri and Fati. Barca’s hierarchy claim Gavi are still one rung below that level, a status reflected in their latest contract offer.

The Gavi camp aren’t the only ones intrigued by Joan Laporta and sporting director Mateu Alemany who plead poverty over current players’ contracts, then speak publicly about the possibility of being able to land some of the biggest earners. of the game, like Bayern Munich. Robert Lewandowski.

With Gavi’s current deal only having 12 months left to run, the situation is increasingly difficult, as Barcelona president Joan Laporta has openly admitted.

“(Gavi) has had an offer for some time now, and we still have no news that he has accepted it,” Laporta told L’Esportiu in late May. “The situation hurts us because we do not understand what his agent is playing. Our proposal, within our salary range, is more than acceptable. Now, it looks like his agent is pushing back on the decision. I don’t like what is happening. »

Meanwhile, Gavi’s performances for club and country have put him on the radars of Europe’s biggest and wealthiest clubs. Catalan press centers have credited Liverpool, Chelsea, Everton and Bayern with interest and talked about offers of €40m.

The argument that Gavi deserves to be appreciated by Barca as an important first player, and not as a young player in the team, is backed up by the numbers. Xavi’s preferred first-choice midfielder when everyone else is available may currently be Frenkie de Jong alongside Pedri and Busquets. Yet Gavi still played 47 club games last season, including 36 as a starter. If De Jong leaves this summer, possibly for Manchester United, his workload next year could be even higher.

That may not be a good thing for anyone involved. Including 45 minutes for Barca B in September, Gavi has played a total of 3,135 minutes for his club in 2021-22. Only Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Busquets, Jordi Alba, De Jong and Ronald Araujo have spent more time on the pitch. Add 110 minutes with the Spain Under-21s last September, then 569 minutes in senior international football during the season, and the teenager has already logged 3,814 minutes in his first season at the top level.

Luis Enrique has admitted replacing him against Portugal last Thursday as the player felt a possible muscle problem. However, he was back in the XI three days later in Prague. He could also now feature in Spain’s other Nations League fixtures this window – against Switzerland on Thursday and against the Czech Republic in Malaga on Sunday.

It’s reminiscent of fellow whizz-kid Pedri’s incredible 2020-21 season, which stretched into the European Championship and Olympics last summer, and should give Xavi and Luis Enrique pause for thought. The Canarian paid for this overwork (which was evident at the time) with a series of muscle injuries which hampered him throughout the 2021-22 season.

Gavi turns 18 on August 5, a week before the start of the La Liga season. It really should be in everyone’s interest to sort out his contractual situation well before that.

After an incredible 10 months, Gavi looks set for an incalculably bright future. To have the best opportunity for a stellar career, he needs physical and mental rest now, as next year will likely be even busier.

(Top photo: Quality Sports Images/Getty Images)