Ansu Fati has made a long trip from the fields of Guinea-Bissau, where he played as a child, to Barcelona‘s Camp Nou stadium where the 16-year-old is playing with some of the biggest stars in the world.
Fati has made a stirring start to the season, scoring just two minutes into his full La Liga debut on a magical night when he hardly put a foot wrong in front of over 80,000 astonished Camp Nou fans who gave him a standing ovation as he left the field.
He was just seven years old when he first came to Spain and his startling talent meant he was invited to join Barcelona’s prestigious youth academy ‘La Masia’ aged 10.
It was an incredible achievement for a boy from the impoverished West African nation that has never been known for football.
In Sao Paulo, his home neighbourhood in the rundown suburbs of capital Bissau, the children yell “Ansu Fati, Barca player!” as they run around on ochre soil, under the tropical trees.
Malam Romisio, who coached Fati as a child, told AFP how the boy used to play football wearing only socks or plastic sandals, easily dribbling the ball past bigger, stronger teammates.
When Fati made his debut with Barca’s first team at the end of August, the coach switched his allegiance from Real Madrid.
“If he continues like this, he will be a great player,” he predicted.
In Guinea Bissau, which is one of the world’s poorest and most fragile nations, Fati is a source of national pride.
Born on October 31, 2002, he lived in Bissau until he was six.
In the house where he grew up, Fati’s uncle Djibi Fati shows photos of the footballer as a child, dressed in traditional clothes, recalling how others used to tease him for his love of bread and butter.
“Every time he came back from playing football, he would ask for it,” he recalls.
Family divided, reunited in Spain
When he was still very small, his father, Bori Fati, went to Portugal to look for work, later settling near Seville in southwestern Spain.
Bori picked olives, collected empty glasses in nightclubs and even helped build a high-speed rail track, recalls Amador Saavedra, who befriended him in Herrera, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Malaga.
It was only when the Communist mayor of Marinaleda, a nearby town, hired Bori as a driver and helped him financially, that he managed to bring his young family over in 2009.
“It’s a very beautiful story,” said Saavedra, 53.
Bori ended up training his young son at the Peloteros football school, which is free for thousands of children in Herrera and the surrounding towns.
Cheerful but quiet
When Fati arrived he quickly caused a sensation on the football pitch, said Jordi Figaroa Moreno, his first Spanish coach.
“He had a gift,” he told AFP. “The difference between him and his teammates was just huge, both technically and tactically. Among the youngsters, it’s rare to find children who can play as a team, but he had everything.”
Jose Luis Perez Mena, who runs the Peloteros school, described Fati as “very spontaneous” and “very cheerful” as well as “extroverted, but very quiet”.
His stellar success “has not gone to his head”.
Within a year of arriving in Spain, Fati joined Sevilla. In 2012, at the age of 10, he was enrolled in Barcelona’s youth system.
“Ansu was one of the youngest players ever to have entered La Masia,” said Marc Serra, his first coach at Barcelona.
“From the day that he arrived he was different, the type of player who invents football.”
In August, the teenager became the youngest player to score for Barcelona in La Liga. This month he became the club’s youngest player in a Champions League match.
Spain’s national coach Robert Moreno described Fati’s debut for Barcelona as “mind-blowing”. Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde spoke of him as a “balanced boy” who is “at ease with himself”.
“We want him to learn to know himself, to know the first division, so he sees that it is hard and how much work and dedication it will take to succeed,” he said.
Speaking to Spain’s Onda Cero radio last month, his proud father said he had taught Fati to “be respectful and happy with everyone”.
“Every day I tell him: ‘This is your job: when you have the ball, turn towards the goal, don’t look anywhere else, and just shoot.”
Clement Lenglet has called for Ansu Fati to be given time to mature after the teenager stole the show again for Barcelona.
The 16-year-old became Barca’s youngest ever scorer when he netted against Osasuna prior to the international break and, pushed into the starting line-up, he needed less than two minutes to find the net again.
Fati then set up Frenkie De Jong for the second only four minutes later and, although defensively they were shaky again, Barcelona went on to claim a 5-2 win.
Defender Lenglet told Movistar+ in quotes reported by Marca: “He is only 16 years of age, so we need to be patient with him.
“He makes the most of his minutes and is a great kid who deserves what’s happening to him. We always tell him to listen, work and learn.”
Fati was a threat throughout the 60 minutes he was on the pitch and could have scored again.
In the end it was his replacement, fit-again Luis Suarez, who added two more after defender Gerard Pique had tapped in the third.
The result gave Barca their second league victory of the season but they again looked shaky at the back, with Kevin Gameiro making it 2-1 and substitute Maximiliano Gomez adding a late second.
Lenglet added: “It was a good win against a tough opponent. They play football differently to us. We did things well from the start. We let in two goals again, but I think it was a good performance overall.”
It has been a turbulent week for Valencia, with head coach Marcelino axed by owner Peter Lim and Albert Celades installed in his place.
Celades admitted his side paid for poor starts to both halves, saying on valenciacf.com: “We had a start to the game where we conceded two goals very fast, and against a team like this it is difficult to turn it around.
“But the team responded well, we scored and we could have scored some more. We left with good feelings at half-time, but the start of the second half hurt us. Despite the result, we showed desire to the end and scored a goal in injury time because the players still desired.”
Provided by Press Association Sports
Barcelona’s thumping 5-2 win over Valencia on Saturday night provided plenty of talking points, starting with the emergence of a new superstar. So let’s look back on a dramatic night at the Camp Nou.
A star is born
After scoring from the bench in his team’s previous game against Osasuna, 16 year-old winger Ansu Fati was elevated into the starting line-up for the first time..and to say he took the opportunity with both hands would be an enormous understatement.
The teen star needed less than two minutes to record his first goal at the Camp Nou, running onto a square pass from Frenkie de Jong and applying a confidently struck rising shot from just inside the box. And five minutes later he created the second, dancing down the left to the byline before picking out De Jong for a simple finish.
He then came very close to a second goal with a curling strike after 15 minutes, was narrowly off target with a fierce strike from 20 yards just past the half-hour mark, and thrilled the crowd with a glorious flick over his own head…all before half-time.
Fati wasn’t entirely perfect – he squandered possession with loose touches on a few occasions and didn’t always make the best decisions on the ball, and was replaced after an hour. But those negatives can be overlooked for the overwhelmingly positive aspects of his attacking impact, which gave the distinct impression of being the start of something very special indeed.
Suarez back, De Jong settling
With Lionel Messi still sidelined by a calf injury, Luis Suarez instead stepped up to send a reminder that the old guard are not ready to be usurped by the prodigious Fati just yet.
After starting the game on the bench upon his return from injury, Suarez was brought on after an hour and – rather like Fati himself – wasted no time in proving his point…he scored just a minute after his introduction, firing home a brilliant low shot off the left-hand post from a standing start. Looking lean and hungry, Suarez followed that up with another fine strike for his team’s final goal, and it’s clear he is determined to remain the team’s chief centre forward despite the arrival of Antoine Griezmann.
Another big plus by provided by De Jong, who delivered by far his best performance in Barca colours to date. The Dutchman assisted Fati’s opener and then powered home the youngster’s cross for the second, and continued to excel in the centre of midfield by combining poise, drive and precise use of the ball. Adding mobility and dynamism to a rather one-paced midfield is a major priority for Barca this season, and De Jong can also add quality on the ball. On this evidence, he will be a major asset.
Debut defeat for Celades
Albert Celades was taking charge of Valencia for the first time following his shock midweek appointment to replace the fired Marcelino, and the rookie coach followed the tried and trusted methods of his predecessor by naming a predictable starting eleven and following the team’s familiar ‘sit deep and strike on the counter’ tactics.
After Barca’s lightening start, Valencia initially responded well and Kevin Gameiro provided hope by pulling one goal back before the break. But Los Che completely fell apart after the break, looking a completely demoralised bunch after quickfire goals from Pique and Suarez sent the game out of reach with half an hour still remaining.
Long before the end it appeared clear the tumultuous events of the past week have taken their toll, and club owner Peter Lim should be hoping that his shock decision to dispense with a popular and successful manager will not throw his team’s season into too much turmoil. On this evidence, he has plenty of reason to be very worried – especially with a daunting Champions League opener against Chelsea coming up this week