Ansu Fati's last chance? Barcelona starlet must prove himself quickly or he'll be sold to make room for wonderkid Lamine Yamal

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Lamine Yamal Ansu Fati Barcelona 2023-24 GFX
Ansu Fati has until the end of the summer transfer window to prove that he can be a long-term option for his boyhood club

Last March, Ansu Fati's dad, Bori, got on the phone with Spanish radio show COPE to complain about his son's relationship with the club. His grievances were all centred around one singular issue: in his opinion, his son wasn't playing enough. Consequently, Bori had advised his son to leave the club - and speculated that even Real Madrid could be a possible destination.

His outburst dragged Barcelona into yet another public relations saga about their oft-injured forward. Ansu Fati was once the next 'New Messi', a presumptive fixture in the Barca lineup for years to come. He scored more goals in his breakout season than Messi managed in first full campaign in Catalunya. He broke a handful of records set by the Argentine. Throw in the fact that Fati was another La Masia graduate, right when Messi seemed to be on the decline, and the excitement was palpable.

However, a series of injuries, and ensuing inconsistency on the pitch, have seen Fati fail to live up to the promise of his youth. And now, he finds himself at a critical juncture. Fati has recaptured some of his best form since his father's outbursts, and a solid pre-season suggests that he still has a lot to give.

But he might not get the chance. Another, arguably better, teenager has emerged and with the Blaugrana needing to raise money to fund more summer transfer activity, Xavi himself admitted that Fati could be on his way out.

So, Fati effectively has two weeks to save his Barcelona career, and prove that there's still a player in there, one that was once hailed as having the potential to be the best in the world.

  1. A glowing start to his career

    A glowing start to his career

    Fati set expectations from his first goal alone. It was a pretty thing, the then-16-year-old ghosting across the box, and rising above an Osasuna player to flick an angled cross into the far corner. More moments followed over the course of that forgettable 2019-20 season for Barca. Fati scored seven and assisted one, averaging 0.6 goals per 90 minutes in 24 appearances. His game time was carefully managed by then-coach Ronald Koeman, but he played enough to show what he could do.

    Even more exciting was his emerging relationship with Messi. The two appeared to have a crucial understanding on the pitch, the Argentine setting up arguably Fati's most impressive goal of the year with a dink over two defenders.

    There was perhaps an element of overexcitement here. Fati, after all, was a teenager playing for Barcelona. He was their youngest goalscorer ever, a La Masia graduate, and the shining light in an otherwise miserable campaign. It is often the case that youngsters draw the spotlight when big teams go through lulls. Messi, at the time, was struggling (he only scored 25 league goals that year.) Barcelona needed something to cling on to, and in Fati, they had found Messi's heir.

    Of course, things have never really panned out that way. Fati tore his meniscus midway through his second season in Catalunya, and endured three surgeries by the age of 19. When he was finally fully fit, in August 2022, Barcelona had effectively replaced him. Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele, Raphinha, Memphis Depay and Ferran Torres all appeared to be above him in Xavi's pecking order. Ansu's Barca career was over, it seemed.

  2. Last year's Fati revival
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    Last year's Fati revival

    Then, last season, Fati did something interesting: he started to score goals again. Xavi gently increased his minutes, tasking the 20-year-old with a larger role off the bench, and handing him the occasional start. Fati, in return, found something resembling form. He got into the right areas more often, and was more clinical in front of goal than in his sparing spells of fitness in the years since his breakout.

    The result was seven goals in La Liga - his best return in four years. He added a further three assists, all while playing the most minutes of his career. And, perhaps most importantly, Fati avoided a major injury. Xavi, in turn, was full of praise for Fati.

    He expressed his "confidence and total faith" in the player, and rewarded his improved showings with a start in a crucial Liga clash with Atletico Madrid in early January. These are perhaps standard things, a manager rewarding his striker for scoring goals. But for a player whose career seemed to be fading away, they were significant.

    It was, in fact, strange that his father would criticise Xavi when he did. His tirade came in the middle of an extended spell of playing time for Fati, a period where the Spaniard was just recapturing his form. By the end of the season, Fati appeared to have done enough to salvage his career. A Spain call-up followed, and although his name cropped up in the back page transfer rumours every now and then, Raphinha seemed the more likely of Barca's wingers to be sold.

  3. A valuable asset for a broke club

    A valuable asset for a broke club

    Things have changed since then. There was an assumption around Barcelona that they would be able to make some financial moves this summer without needing a major clearout. La Liga had already accepted their 'financial viability plan' to bring Lionel Messi back to the club, while president Joan Laporta had assured fans that new signings were on the way. Throw in the activation of one more 'lever' - a sale of a large chunk of digital content provider Barca Vision to bring in €120 million (£104m/$131m) - and everything seemed set up nicely.

    Barca, of course, didn't sign Messi. Meanwhile, they have operated on the cheap, bringing in free agents and spending minimally on Oriol Romeu. So, with two weeks remaining in the transfer window, no further levers available, and ambitions to further strengthen the squad, outgoings seem likely. And Fati is reportedly top of the list.

    Xavi has conceded that the forward may leave. Interest from the Premier League has only fueled that speculation. AS has reported that Arsenal are in for Fati, with Mikel Arteta hoping to add more firepower to his front line - and offer valuable cover for Bukayo Saka. It is unclear how much Fati will fetch Xavi's side.

    However, at just 20, with four years still left on his contract, Fati could command a handsome fee. And for a club needing an injection of cash to pursue further signings - namely Man City's Joao Cancelo - moving him on might be the correct, if rather ruthless, decision.

  4. Why Lamine Yamal is such a threat
    Barcelona Twitter

    Why Lamine Yamal is such a threat

    The situation is perhaps made easier by the cover available to Barca in the forward line. While Ferran Torres appears to be much improved, and Ez Abde has shown flashes, another La Masia product seems ready to come into the fold. There has been hype around Lamine Yamal for some time now. The winger was called up to first team training in September 2022, shortly after his 15th birthday.

    But, according to The Athletic, the plan was to shield him from the spotlight, and allow Yamal to play with Barcelona Atletic, the club's second team, for much of the season. There was always the chance of the occasional appearance in the Copa del Rey, but the reserve side seemed a perfect option for at least a few months.

    However, when Dembele left, Yamal was forced into action. And his performance in the Joan Gamper trophy - a 10-minute cameo that proved influential in Barcelona turning a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 win - made him impossible to ignore.

    He, accordingly, appeared in Barca's La Liga opener, and created arguably their best chance of the game- one that, in a cruel twist of fate, Fati failed to convert. Ironically, though, it has created something of a problem for Xavi.

    Yamal is not, and can never be, the new Messi. Fati, of all people, knows that it's improbable. But he is, at this point, too good to ignore - and being blocked by another youngster who drew the same praise at a similar age.

  5. Changing one 'New Messi' for another

    Changing one 'New Messi' for another

    Perhaps, then, Fati is a cautionary tale for Yamal. He, too, was arguably too good, too young. Knee injuries and an outspoken father certainly haven't helped his case, but there remains a real concern that Fati will never live up to the hype piled on him as a 16-year-old.

    Still, this is a thin Barca squad. With Dembele gone, Lewandowski potentially on the decline, Ferran Torres unreliable, and Raphinha now suspended, Yamal perhaps has his chance. If Barca weren't struggling financially, the logic here would be to start Fati, and entrust Yamal to provide a spark off the bench - at least for the next two weeks.

    But Fati has a real value in the transfer market, and is one of the few moveable assets that Barca have. Add the strong enough reported interest from teams who have money to spend, and a Fati exit makes a lot of sense. There is talk of his agent trying to drum up interest. Whether that is a sign that Fati wants to leave, or classic rumour-mongering remains to be seen.

    Either way, this is Barca's choice. After four years of trusting in one of their most promising talents, they now have to make a tough decision, one that might mean ditching the former 'new Messi' for the current one.