Barcelona youth coaches reveal character and mentality behind Ansu Fati's meteoric rise

Andy West 11:01 13/12/2019
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Messi had high praise for Ansu Fati.

After making history by becoming the youngest goalscorer in Champions League history, Barcelona starlet Ansu Fati has been hailed for his determination and will to succeed by his former youth team coaches with the Spanish giants.

The rising star came on as a late substitute for Barca in Tuesday’s meeting with Inter Milan on Tuesday night, and two minutes later he stunned the San Siro with a superbly taken winner. At the age of 17 years and 40 days, that goal saw Fati break the tournament record set by Peter Ofori-Quaye, who netted at 17 years and 195 days for Olympiakos against Rosenberg in 1997.

Fati is already Barca’s youngest scorer in La Liga after recording his first senior goal against Osasuna back in August, and his first coach at the club has revealed that the precocious teen has always set himself extremely high standards.

Marc Serra led Barca’s Under-11s A team when Fati started to come through the ranks, and he recalled: “I remember that after a match he was on the train back to Seville, where his family was waiting for him, and during the journey he sent me an SMS apologising for how he had played and promising to do better the next time. I still have that message. He was only 10 years old!”

Even then, Serra saw qualities in Fati that marked him out as something special, although he had plenty of rough edges to be smoothed off.

“He was a different player, capable of doing things unusual for children of his age,” the coach said. “He liked doing things that were more beautiful than effective, a trait that as coaches we tried to reconcile but never cutting out the creativity.”

A key moment in Fati’s development came at the age of 13, when he suffered a tibia and fibula fracture that could have jeopardised the career of youngsters lacking mental fortitude.

“When a 13-year-old boy has an injury like this, the recovery process is very hard,” explains Franc Artiga, the new coach of Barca’s Under-19s side who previously coached Fati. “At the same time, however, it makes you stronger. He is now obsessed with his health: he does preventive work at the gym, takes care of himself and listens to his body.”

Artiga also hinted that over the next few years, we could witness Fati moving infield from his current position on the left wing, saying: “We coaches like using Lionel Messi’s false nine position, and we could do that with him, because he dropped back a lot, got in between the midfield and broke into the attack.”

Barca’s other scorer at the San Siro on Tuesday night, Carles Perez, is another product of La Masia, the club’s famed youth academy.

Versatile Perez broke into the senior team at the start of this season while Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi were both missing through injury, and the 21-year-old has now registered two goals and two assists over nine appearances during the current campaign.

As a youth, Perez was initially on the books of local rivals Espanyol before Barca swooped to sign him at the age of 14.

Looking back on the decision to recruit Perez and the progress he has made since then, Artiga recalls: “I had asked the club to sign him from Espanyol’s Under-13s A team. We had some doubt until Espanyol played here and beat us with two goals from him.

“They said that he was the typical player who always did the same thing, who always drifted inside. What is needed in these cases is to make the most of this ability but also add other things to it. We have helped him to know how to make better choices and he has improved – especially off the ball.

“He finds space well, moves between the lines and has also made a qualitative leap up in the defensive side of the game.”

Perez had to be patient for his first team chance, spending a long time with Barca’s B team before making the step up, but Francesc Xavier Garcia Pimenta, the current Barca B coach who also oversaw Perez’s progress with the Under-18s, believes that experience made him a more rounded individual.

“His three years at Barca B have gone very well and made him mature,” he said. “The year in the Segunda Division was difficult for him, when he didn’t have many minutes, but last year he did very well. He has been waiting for his moment and rejected some big offers from elsewhere.”

Although Fati and Perez will have to bide their time for the chance to become first team regulars as Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez still occupy the starting positions, on the evidence of this week’s trip to Italy the future of the forward line is in good shape.

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