Ansu Fati’s meteoric rise – he was stunned to be asked to train with the first team last month, he’s since debuted with them and scored twice – comes after an extraordinary three-club battle to secure his services when he was only nine years old. Now he’s a 16-year-old with the world at his feet, a contract until 2022 and a release clause worth €100million.
His father Bori had played football before moving to Spain in 2001 from the Republic of Guinea-Bissau and settling in Sevilla in a small village called Herrera.
His son Ansu, and Ansu’s slightly older brother Braima, joined their dad shortly before Ansu’s seventh birthday.
‘I didn’t know he was any good at football,’ Bori has said of his gifted son.
Bori told Spanish radio, La Cope in a recent interview: ‘Ansu would ask me everyday: “Papa take me to play football”.
‘In the end I got tired of him asking me and I took him along and left him at the municipal pitches. I said: “When you get tired, come home”.
‘I had to go to work but that night I got home and there were people crowded at my front door and they said to me: “Fati, do you know what you have got here?” I said: “no”. I had no idea.
‘They said: “Tomorrow bring Ansu to the football pitches and you will see him play”.
‘When I went the next day I saw him dribbling past all the others it was him against everyone else.’
It was not long before Pablo Blanco, the director of Sevilla’s youth academy, was at the family’s front door asking to take Ansu and his elder brother Braima.
Ansu signed for local club Escuela Peloteros de Herrera in December 2009 and was soon leading the team to the Under-8 title while training weekly with Sevilla who planned to eventually take him as a full-time apprentice.
Sevilla always do their best to keep the young players they have spotted away from the gaze of Barcelona and Real Madrid but with Ansu it was impossible.
Before long the heads of Barcelona and Real Madrid’s youth academies would also be making trips to Herrera the village of 5,000 inhabitants an hour outside of Sevilla where Ansu’s father listened carefully to their proposals for his son.
‘They [Real Madrid] offered me money and a house in Madrid,’ Bori told La Cope.
But there was one thing Real Madrid’s then Academy director Paco de Gracia could not offer: the club’s Valdebebas training ground still had no on-site residences where young boys could stay overnight and that made the Fati family unsure if the move was right for him.
Albert Puig, who is now assistant coach at New York City FC but was then Barça’s youth football coordinator, also made several trips to the Fati house to speak with Bori and was able to offer what Madrid could not despite the capital club offering more cash.
‘He [Puig] came to my house and sat in my front room and we said that we would think about it and talk about a contract the next day, but he said: “No we have the contract here now”,’ Bori told Cope.
When Sevilla heard the news they were predictably upset and Bori met with Sevilla Sporting Director Monchi in the club’s offices. He asked Bori how much Barcelona had offered him and wanted to make a counter-offer but it was too late.
Ansu was now promised to Barcelona. Sevilla were now reluctant to further his football education because they knew they were not going to benefit from it in the long term.
They stopped Ansu playing matches for them and unable to appear for Sevilla he started playing for a club ran by a Sevilla-based Real Madrid fan club called Sextacampeones de Herrera. But at the end of the season and now aged 10 he moved to Barcelona to join his brother Braima who was already at La Masia. The boys mother had moved there too and Bori also now lives with them in Barcelona
Ansu was a sensation in the Barcelona youth categories – one season he formed a lethal partnership with Take Kubo the Japanese teenager who has since joined Real Madrid and is currently on loan at Mallorca. One year he scored 56 goals while Take netted 73.
The Fati brothers were represented by Junior Minguella the son of renowned Catalan agent Josep María Minguella who played a major part in bringing Messi to Spain.
That relationship has now ended and there were rumours after the embrace that Messi gave Ansu before his first appearance for Barcelona last month that Messi’s brother Rodrigo is now looking after his affairs while Ansu goes about breaking records Messi set as a kid.
This week he could become the youngest player to score in the Champions League if he gets minutes against Borussia Dortmund. And he is already set to be involved in his first club v country tug o war.
Ansu has applied for a Spanish passport and Spain want to take him to the under-17 World Cup which kicks-off in Brazil on October 26 and runs until November 17. The problem is the Clasico is on October 27 and coach Ernesto Valverde will want to have him available for that.
Ansu’s dad Bori has gone on the record saying how much his son wants to play for Spain but he’s also spoken about how playing in the Clasico is a dream for him too.
It maybe that Spain decide there is no point in picking him for the Under-17 World Cup when he has clearly already gone past that level for his club.
If he plays on Wednesday aged 16 years and 304 days he becomes Barça’s youngest debutant in the Champions League topping Bojan Krkic who was 17 and 53 days and Lionel Messi who was 17 and 331 days.
And if he scores he will be the youngest ever to do so in the competition beating the record currently held by Peter Ofori-Quaye who scored for Olympiacos against Rosenborg in 1997 aged 17 years and 195 days. It may seem a big ask for him to play and score – but he managed it with his first touch of the ball on Saturday, he has already showed anything is possible.