La Masia graduate becomes youngest Nou Camp starter at 16 years and 318 days - and scores again
Sunday 15 September 2019 19:07, UK
"Remember the name - more records are bound to fall," was the verdict on Barcelona's website.
As injured Lionel Messi watched on from the sidelines, Ansu Fati was serenaded by the Nou Camp faithful after another record-breaking night.
The teenager became Barcelona's youngest ever scorer when he netted against Osasuna before the international break - and he set more milestones in Saturday's 5-2 win over Valencia.
Fati - at 16 years and 318 days - became the youngest player named in a Barcelona starting XI at the Nou Camp, beating Marc Muniesa's record set in 2009, and on his first senior start, took just two minutes to leave another mark.
Timing a run to perfection to meet a Frenkie de Jong pass, Fati beat ex-Barca goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with a smart finish to become the Nou Camp's youngster goalscorer.
Barca's No 31 then turned provider, showing quick feet at the byline to set up De Jong and establishing himself as the youngest player in La Liga history to claim a goal and an assist.
He might have had more, his direct running causing Daniel Wass frequent problems, but Fati had made enough of an impact to bring the swathes of supporters to their feet.
Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde spoke of Fati's "special" qualities after an eye-catching performance to justify the academy player's swift promotion.
"[Fati] is a player that has something special," Valverde, who gave the teen his debut against Real Betis on August 25, said. "He is a striker who is mature beyond his years. He trains like he plays."
Barca defender Clement Lenglet echoed his manager's words of praise for the quick, tricky winger but urged caution.
"He's a great kid who deserves what's happening to him. He is only 16 years of age, so we need to be patient with him. We always tell him to listen, work and learn".
Asked about excitable comparisons with Lionel Messi, Valverde himself added: "That is going to be built up a lot and we've got to bring that down a little bit and try and protect the player."
Fati might be the hottest new thing out of Barca's famed La Masia academy but he learned the game in youth teams of Herrera and Seville when he moved with his family to Spain from Guinea-Bissau aged just six.
"I've been watching football for 50 years and I've never seen anyone like him - he's not scared of anyone," said Fati's first coach, Jose Luis Perez Mena of Herrera, in quotes reported by UEFA.
His own father, Bori, had not spotted his talent, recently telling Spanish radio station Cope: "I knew he liked football but they told me I was not aware of how good my son was and that he was dribbling by everybody."
Despite a more lucrative offer from Real Madrid, La Masia lured him aged 10 and in the club's U12s, he forged a blistering partnership with Takefusa Kubo - now at Real Madrid - before injuries and a club transfer ban halted his progress.
But the striker, who was morphing into a left winger, scored 56 goals in 29 games last season and helped Barca to the semi-finals of the UEFA Youth League, netting twice against Chelsea, to catch Valverde's eye.
Barca youth coach Victor Valdes, who sorted his prodigious talent out with new boots in the summer - "they were a complete disaster, they were causing him pain so we had to buy him some new ones" - was expecting to watch Fati in his U19 side this season, with the occasional loan to Barca B.
But the Catalans' former goalkeeper admitted he was thrilled to see Fati given a first-team chance following injuries to Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.
"I'm so happy for him," Valdes told reporters after Fati's debut against Betis. "He represents hard work. He has the mentality of an elite player and he's a predator in the box."
Valdes might have seen Fati's goalscoring instincts up close but believes the youngster needs positional "freedom" to shine.
"He's strong, he fast… he's total anarchy when he gets the ball and when you see talent like that, you have to give those players complete freedom - don't constrain them.
"He shouldn't be tied down to playing only on one wing and made to suffer. You have to let them express themselves through their own natural instinct."
Albert Puig, La Masia's former technical director, has also spoken of Fati's valuable versatility.
"His quality is that he can play in all of the attacking positions," Puig told Bleacher Report. "He can play at 9, 11, 7, 10. He's very versatile. It makes a difference. He's fast. He's got a great imagination. He's got this natural talent… this kind of player who plays so freely on the streets for hours and hours."
Fati's emergence has alerted the Spanish football federation (RFEF), with national coach Spain coach Robert Moreno admitting chiefs were "working" to lure the player ahead of the U17 World Cup next month.
"It's not an issue which I am in control of," Moreno said. "People at the RFEF are working on that to get Ansu [to play for Spain] and it will be the player's decision. The RFEF are working on having the best players."
A tug-of-war with Guinea-Bissau over Fati's international future might be brewing and while Valverde could have his stars back soon - Messi has returned to training - expect to see plenty more of the teenager this term.
Barcelona have been quick to tie Fati down to a new three-year deal that reportedly includes a €100m release clause.
As they themselves say: remember the name.