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Ansu Fati and Lionel Messi: A hug with a much deeper symbolism

Elvis Ume O
ANALYST
Feature
30 Aug 2019, 01:03 IST

A symbolic moment for Ansu Fati
A symbolic moment for Ansu Fati

Having watched Barcelona's 5-2 victory over Real Betis from the stands, Lionel Messi had no impact on the game, but was on hand to witness a piece of Barcelona history being rewritten.

At the age of 16 years, 11 months and 20 days, Ansu Fati stepped onto the field with 15 minutes left and in the process wrote his name into the Barcelona folklore as the second youngest player to represent the club in LaLiga and the third youngest in history.

The Guinea-Bissauan had impressed everyone with his brief cameo, and in the immediate aftermath of the match, Lionel Messi was quick to head to the dressing room to give the youngster a big hug, later releasing the image on social media along with some words of encouragement, and it was no surprise that the post went viral.

In many ways, this was a symbolic gesture reminiscent of two of the most iconic figures in Barcelona's history, as it drew flashbacks on Messi himself some 15 years ago, but before we delve into that, first a brief history on the record breaking teenager.

Ansu Fati was born in Bissau, the capital of Guinea Bissau, and like most footballers, grew up in abject poverty and did not meet his father Bora until he was six years old.

This was not a deliberate act of carelessness by the older Fati, as he had gone to Spain as an immigrant soon after Anssumane was conceived to seek a better life for his young family.

While in Spain, he settled in the Southern part of the country and soon found himself working as a driver to Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo who was the Mayor of Marinadela in Seville.

With Gordillo's help, Bora was able to bring his wife and a six-year-old Ansu over to meet him in Spain, and it was while there that the young Ansu was able to showcase his footballing skills.

News of his talent level spread, and it was not long when professional clubs came calling, with Sevilla finally acquiring his services aged eight in 2010.

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Even then, his legend only grew bigger and Spain's bigger clubs namely Real Madrid and Barcelona came circling, with both going heads on in their clash to acquire Fati's services.

He almost joined Real Madrid
He almost joined Real Madrid

His parents were taken on a tour of both club's academies, and rejected Real Madrid, settling on Barcelona instead due to the fact that La Masia offered boarding facilities for their young players. Crucially, this was the same factor that tipped the scale in favor of the Catalans numerous times in the past, including in the case of Andres Iniesta and Ivan de La Pena but to name a few.

Sevilla's then director of football Monchi offered Ansu's parents more money, likewise Real Madrid, but their minds had been made up, and as punishment for his rejection of the former, Ansu was forced to sit on the bench for one full year without getting selected for Sevilla's Under-10 side.

In 2012, he finally joined La Masia, and soon established himself as one of the most exciting prospects there, which is saying something, as La Masia is arguably the highest regarded football academy in the world.

Together with Takefusa Kobo ('the Japanese Messi'), the pair struck up a devastating partnership in attack, and scored 130 goals between themselves in their first season together.

Fati in action
Fati in action

Barcelona's transfer ban in 2014 saw the pair broken up, as Kubo joined a host of other talented youngsters in departing La Masia owing to the club's inability to register players, but Ansu remained, despite the fact that he could not play until 2015.

A year later, he finally made an appearance after the ban was served out, and he continued from where he stopped, but a horrific injury kept him out for 10 months and halted his progress.

A broken tibula and fibia stalled him, but upon recovery, he was promoted to the Juvenil B side and once more showcased his immense talents.

Having played the entirety of his youth career as a central striker, it was suggested that Fati be deployed out wide to hone his dribbling skills, and he once more excelled in this role, finishing as the league's top scorer for the Juvenil A last season.

Fati is the prized gem of La Masia
Fati is the prized gem of La Masia

Impatience soon set in, as Fati believed he should be progressing faster and promoted into Barcelona B to fast-track his integration into the senior side, and having seen some of their highly rated young players including Xavi Simons and Sergio Gomez depart in the last one year, Barcelona were not willing to let another prized gem leave and tied Fati down to a new contract which will keep him at the club until 2022 with a buyout clause at a whopping €100m.

Fati signed a contract extension with Barcelona
Fati signed a contract extension with Barcelona

Ansu has always been a step above the rest of the competition from his early years, with his first coach at Sevilla Jose Luis Perez Mena stating that he had not seen anything like him in his 50 years of coaching youngsters.

Speaking after Fati made his Barcelona bow, an excited Mena enthused, "He's got a huge personality, he doesn't fear anyone and you only need to see him on the field to see that; I spoke to him right before the match, and he was not even nervous.''

Highlighting further, he said, 'In Guinea, he was used to playing with balls made of rags, but when he got a real ball for the first time, it was incredible to see him.''

Praises have continued to pour in for the 16-year-old, with his proud coach at Under-19 level the legendary Barcelona icon Victor Valdez calling him 'pure anarchy' that should not be constrained.

Perhaps the biggest praise came from the greatest of them all Lionel Messi as first touched upon, the 32-year-old went into the dressing room and gave the young debutant a hug, while releasing the picture on social media along with some words of encouragement.

Messi's post read, 'A great match from everyone and the first three points in LaLiga. I'm very happy to see the boys from the academy complete their dreams of playing for the first team and scoring in an official match at the Camp Nou.'

Messi
Messi's post went viral

His message of praise also extended to Carles Perez, but the fact that the legend decided to include it with the picture of him hugging Ansu Fati is much more symbolic than at first glance.

In many ways, it bears a resemblance of Messi's own story from 15 years ago, with the roles reversed this time around.

Back in 2004, Ronaldinho was the undisputed star of Camp Nou, and the best player in the world. The Brazilian had helped transform Barcelona's fortunes from the doldrums of the end of the 20th century and start of the 21st, and helped lay the template for the success enjoyed today.

Lionel Messi was the prodigiously talented youngster who was breaking records at will and was widely acknowledged as a star of the future.

The more senior Ronaldinho recognized Messi's immense talents, and took him under his wings, ensuring he sat next to him in the dressing room and told anyone who cared to listen that the Argentine would go on to be even better than him.

Ronaldinho took a young Messi under his wings
Ronaldinho took a young Messi under his wings

As it happened, Ronaldinho's words have gone on to fruition, as Lionel Messi not only surpassed him, but also arguably everyone else in history.

Messi and Fati's stories are similar in many ways. They both left home at young age and went to a new culture on another continent to aid their football development. They also each showed an immense amount of promise from a young stage and went on to represent the first team in their teenage years.

Messi must have realized as such, and with Ronaldinho having played a fatherly role to him all those years ago, he must have taken it upon himself to act as a mentor to Fati.

The Rosario native went on to surpass his mentor, and while it might be otherwise impossible for Fati to step into Messi's extraterrestrial boots, Barcelona's record goalscorer would be there each step of the way to make the passing of the mantle as smooth as possible.



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