No one expected it. His place was in the U19s, as was the case last season when he helped them reach the UEFA Youth League semifinal as the youngest player in the squad. It wasn't even certain that he was going to be part of the B team this season, where he would once again have been the youngest player -- by a distance -- in Garcia Pimienta's squad. But here he is, on the front covers of all the papers, Barça's youngest debutant in La Liga since the 1940s and their youngest ever top-flight goal scorer. Ansu Fati has arrived at Camp Nou shouting "I am here!"
First-team coach Ernesto Valverde was left without Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele after the loss in Bilbao. Both joined Lionel Messi on the treatment table, leaving Antoine Griezmann as the only fit forward for Real Betis. Valverde had to make decisions and he turned to the academy. He opted to give Carles Perez a starting brief and it looked like Abel Ruiz would also come in to strengthen the attack. But Valverde had other plans and instead turned to Ansu.
The teenager started training with the first team on the Wednesday ahead of the Betis game. Despite the nerves, everything flowed on the pitch. His talent was obvious -- Valverde couldn't fail to see that. He was impressed by what he saw: a 16-year-old who did everything well, with a unique talent surrounded by the best players in the world, fitting in naturally. For Valverde, the acknowledgment of that was immediate. Even though he's heard good things, seeing it unravel alongside the first team was different. He had no doubts about Ansu.
BETIS & OSASUNA
He certainly had no doubts when he gave him his debut in the 78th minute against Betis or when he brought him on at half time against Osasuna. Every time he's been given a chance, he's responded, too, offering everything on the pitch. The question now is: what's the best way to manage a case like this moving forward?
Valverde's response to the question is, in keeping with his personality, pragmatic: there's no reason not to keep counting on him given his talent and his performances. So he's going to keep him training with the first team, but also in the squad for upcoming games. The coach has decided not to put the breaks on his growth, but to keep him close at the Ciutat Esportiva and assess his integration on a daily basis with the first team. He likes what he sees in training and even though he's aware of his youth, he also feels there's no barrier to talent.
It seems complicated for Ansu to spend the whole season with the first team, but he will remain with them while they have injuries. While Messi, Suarez and Dembele are recovering, he will remain part of the first team. The moment to drop down to the B team will come, but not yet.
Source: Sport / Iván San Antonio