MADRID (AP) — A 16-year-old forward born in Guinea-Bissau has become the next promising soccer star in Spain.
Ansu Fati, who made his debut with Barcelona this season, has quickly attracted everyone’s attention and is already touted by many as the next big thing for the Spanish national team.
Fati played his first match with Spain’s under-21 squad on Tuesday and the next day shared front-page headlines with the senior squad, which had sealed its place in the 2020 European Championship on the same night.
“I’ll never forget this moment,” said Fati, who recently gained his Spanish citizenship. “I truly enjoyed it.”
There is already talk he could be part of the main Spain squad at Euro 2020, or at least make it to the Olympic team for the Tokyo Games.
“It’s extraordinary what has been happening to this kid at this age,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We are all thrilled with him.”
The Spanish soccer federation moved quickly to make sure Fati was eligible to play for Spain following his rapid rise with the Catalan club. He has been living in Spain since a young age but reportedly also could have chosen to play for Portugal.
Fati played his first professional match less than two months ago, coming off the bench in Barcelona’s 5-2 victory over Real Betis in the Spanish league. In his following game, Fati became the club’s youngest player to score in the Spanish league, and then was also the youngest to score at Camp Nou. Fati later played in the Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund, becoming Barcelona’s youngest player to appear in a UEFA competition.
Fati has racked up nearly 240 minutes in six appearances with the Catalan club so far, most of them coming off the bench.
He was brought up from Barcelona’s academy to the main team after a wave of injuries to players in the senior squad at the beginning of the season, including Lionel Messi.
“Ansu Fati caught my attention the first time I saw him practicing,” Messi said. “But this takes time, he is only 16 and shouldn’t be taking on the responsibility that people want him to have. He has the potential to become a very important player, but it takes time and he needs help.”
Fati has great skills and moves that make him especially dangerous in one-on-one situations. The speedy forward has impressed the most with his maturity on the field, though, not showing signs he has been affected by the pressure to which he has been exposed to since starting to play professionally.
Fati, whose full name is Anssumane Fati Vieira, moved to Spain with his family at an early age and joined Barcelona’s academy when he was 10. There he was a teammate of Japanese teenager Takefusa Kubo, who is playing for Mallorca on a loan from Real Madrid.
Fati played only about 10 minutes off the bench in Spain’s 2-0 win over Montenegro in qualifying for the 2021 Under-21 European Championship on Tuesday, but it was enough for him to get a glimpse of what could lie ahead.
“It’s time to keep working so I can keep having more opportunities,” he said on Instagram, where he has already gained nearly 1.8 million followers in the few months since his professional debut.