It’s not Bojan Krkic or even Lionel Messi. No, Ansu Fati is the youngest player to score at the Camp Nou – his goal for Barcelona against Valencia, aged 16 years, 10 months and 13 days ensured that.
It’s the latest in a growing roll-call of records for the Barça talent that’s now almost dizzying to read, presenting a challenge for player and club to manage.
Before those landmarks were achieved, he had already become Barcelona’s youngest goalscorer in LaLiga, coming off the bench against Osasuna on matchday three at the age of 16 years and 304 days to find the net and break Bojan’s record (the striker first scored in the league at 17 years and 53 days old).
For those wondering, Lionel Messi was 17 days and 331 days old when he scored his first league goal for Barça.
There’s more still. By entering the field of play on matchday two against Real Betis at the age of 16 years and 298 days old, Ansu became the second youngest player ever to feature for Barcelona in LaLiga, only missing Vicenç Martínez’s all-time record by an 18-day margin.
The succession of benchmarks combined with two goals and one assist in three games ensures a player, who just a month ago was only known to those who follow Barça’s academy closely, has now been catapulted to the front-pages of the Spanish sporting press, with Sport asking “Ansu, what planet did you come from?”.
It’s not a normal situation to be in, but there’s nothing usual about Ansu’s story, one founded on a brave risk and plenty of hard work.
Originally from Guinea-Bissau, the first domino in the chain reaction that brought his family to Spain came when his dad chanced upon a newspaper article about a town near Sevilla where the mayor was determined to help immigrants.
Bori Fati eventually packed his bags and headed to Marinaleda in the hope of finding a better life for his wife and kids, but would soon end up asking for food on the streets, Diari Ara’s Toni Padilla explained.
Until one day, Fati senior finally met left wing mayor Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, and was given work as a garbage truck driver. That was enough to bring the rest of the family over, and the Fatis started to build their life in Spain.
It’s a journey that eventually resulted in three of the children being picked up by Barcelona’s academy, and now, one of them hailed as an otherworldly talent by the Spanish sporting press.
The image of an extra-terrestrial in a Barça shirt is one previously assigned to Messi, and the comparison isn’t coincidental. Even with a production line as excellent as theirs, it has been a long time since Barcelona produced a youngster who looks as mature beyond his years as Ansu, with decision making that, at his age, has to at least in part be explained by genetics.
The teenager was a sight to behold against Valencia, repeatedly tormenting seasoned Denmark international Daniel Wass on the wing and taking only two minutes to score the opening goal.
By the time the clock ticked past the six-minute mark he had played a huge part in putting the ball in the net again, dribbling away from two opponents before providing a perfect cut back for Frenkie de Jong, delivered with the accuracy and cool-headedness of someone who knows Barça’s approach like the back of his hand.
In just 60 minutes on the pitch the youngster received the ball 50 times in total, a level of participation usually reserved for Messi in a Barça shirt. Antoine Griezmann, by comparison, was involved 51 times in 90 minutes.
The euphoria is huge, but for Ansu’s benefit it has to run out, and the big question now is what happens next? Yet another record held by Bojan – Barça’s youngest debutant in the Champions League – could soon be broken, but of more significance is how Ansu’s role changes now Luis Suárez, Messi and Ousmane Dembélé are fit again.
The teen sensation has been thrust into first team action due to a plague of injuries up front, but things are about to become far more congested in that area of the pitch.
In all likelihood, the 16-year-old will soon have to drop down to Barça B. Will he be able to handle that shift, playing on third division pitches in front of meagre crowds after thrilling the Camp Nou – a comedown other youth talents have struggled with in the past? Encouragingly, his former youth coach thinks so.
“He has his feet on the ground. If he has to go back to the B team, he’ll go back. We’re lucky to have a great player but also one with his head in the right place,” former Barça Juvenil A coach Denis Silva told Catalunya radio.
Barcelona will have to help, too. Certainly more than they did with Bojan, the last player who looked this likely to match Messi’s rise, but who ultimately suffered from too much, too soon, and did not feel confident opening up about the anxiety that the huge pressure on his shoulders was causing as a 17-year-old.
So far, Ernesto Valverde is managing the situation with great skill. “Taking on the idea of being a Barça player isn’t an easy thing. He should be happy, but understand it’s very tricky regardless, and he has to take on his work. It’s a long road,” the Barça boss advised following the Valencia win.
If Barcelona can help Ansu to manage that work, they have a potentially decisive talent on their hands.
Barcelona travel to Dortmund to begin their Champions League campaign and you can hear it live on talkSPORT 2 at 8pm.