Barca’s Fati: Big leap from African suburb to probable Spain jersey - GulfToday

Barca’s Fati: Big leap from African suburb to probable Spain jersey

Ansu-Fati

In August, Ansu Fati became the youngest player to score for Barcelona in the League and on Tuesday, the club’s youngest player to play in the Champions League.

Barcelona’s 16-year-old starlet Ansu Fati was granted Spanish citizenship on Friday, a government spokeswoman said, meaning he will be able to represent Spain at international level.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s cabinet approved a request made by the justice minister to give the Guinea-Bissau-born forward Spanish citizenship during its weekly meeting, the spokeswoman said. Fati was just seven years old when he moved to Spain from an impoverished west African family and his startling talent meant he was invited to join Barcelona’s prestigious youth academy ‘La Masia’ aged 10.

In August, he became the youngest player to score for Barcelona in La Liga and on Tuesday, the club’s youngest player to play in the Champions League.

Spain’s national coach Robert Moreno described Fati’s full debut for Barcelona last weekend as “mind-blowing” after he scored one goal and set up another in a 5-2 win over Valencia. His first major tournament for Spain could come as early as October, when the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup kicks off in Brazil.

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’s 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.

Ansu’s startling talent meant he was invited to join Barcelona’s prestigious youth academy ‘La Masia’ when 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, says 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. In Guinea Bissau, which is one of the world’s poorest and most fragile nations, Fati is a source of national pride.

Born on Oct.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.

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.

Jordi Figaroa Moreno, his first Spanish coach, says: “He had a gift. 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.”

Agence France-Presse