Lamine Yamal: Barcelona's record-breaking wonderkid and best La Masia product since Lionel Messi

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The 15-year-old has been tipped for the very top of the game for a number of years, and has now broken into Xavi's first-team squad at Camp Nou

It takes something special to be the youngest Barcelona player ever named in a matchday squad. The club's famed La Masia academy has yielded some true legends of the game, but none of them — not Lionel Messi, Xavi or Carles Puyol — cracked the first-team earlier than Lamine Yamal has.

Yamal won't turn 16 until July, but he's been around the Barca senior squad for a while now. Xavi called up the winger to train with his team last year, and he's clearly impressed enough to earn a crack at the big time, having been named on the bench for Sunday's meeting with Atletico Madrid.

Yamals' performances at youth level have already led to dreaded Messi comparisons, not least because Yamal is a talented inside forward with a wonderful left foot.

But he's proved himself a potential star in his own right, carving out a path different to that of La Masia's biggest legend.

So, who is Yamal, and why is he in Xavi's first-team plans at such a young age? NXGN takes a closer look at the Barcelona's latest jewell...

  1. Where it all began
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    Where it all began

    Yamal joined Barcelona at just five years old after scouts from La Masia spotted the youngster. He is the son of a Moroccan father and Guinean mother, but grew up in Mataro, a suburb of Barcelona.

    Yamal was identified as a top talent early on, and was playing three or four years above his own age-group from early in his football development.

    Since then, he has been rapidly accelerated through the Barca ranks, and tested with far older players from as early as possible. It certainly didn't hurt that the young player was a left-footed right-winger with a skill set similar to that of a club legend.

    He was playing Under-16s football at just 13, tearing through the league with relative ease, and Barca knew they had someone special on their hands.

  2. The big break
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    The big break

    In the summer of 2022, Yamal skipped a whole age group, and was installed into Barca's U19s squad. Although he wasn't an immediate starter for the Juvenil A team, Yamal began to catch the eye with a string of star showings.

    The one that stands out most was his brace against Ebro on September 10, as he became the youngest Barcelona player ever to score in a Juvenil A game — eclipsing a record previously held by Ansu Fati.

    After his memorable performance, Juvenil A coach Oscar Lopez highlighted Yamal's quality: "He is always asking questions, he has a very good predisposition to evolve. You have to treat him calmly and not rush."

    It was that showing which convinced Xavi to call Yamal up for first-team training for the first time.

  3. How it's going
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    How it's going

    Yamal is yet to crack the first-team proper. However, since September, the Spaniard has been training with Xavi's side and playing for Juvenil A.

    He's made relatively easy work of his U19 opponents, racking up plenty of goals and assists. Most recently, he bagged a brace against Mallorca, including a fine run and strike reminiscent of another left-footed Barcelona youth product.

    There have been some blemishes, though. Yamal was sent home from the Spanish youth national team camp after allegedly getting into an altercation with team-mates — and faced disciplinary action from Barcelona as a result.

    That did not stop him from being called-up by Xavi to take his place in the matchday squad against Atletico, and though he did not make it onto the pitch at Camp Nou, he will again be involved when the Blaugrana face Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday.

  4. Biggest strengths

    Yamal is a forward or winger, and is at his best cutting in from the right onto his stronger left foot.

    While Barcelona have tried him at numerous different positions, Yamal has been most effective out wide — although he can play through the middle if needed.

    He's an excellent dribbler, considered the best in La Masia by some distance, and is adept at accelerating away from defenders.

    The 15-year-old has also been praised for his shooting ability, and vision in the final third. As such, he has developed the kind of highlight reel usually reserved for those far older than him.

    There's a reason that Xavi has called Yamal into the Barca ranks at such a young age: the club view him as a near perfect all-round forward who has earned a crack at the next level.

  5. Room for improvement

    Room for improvement

    There are very few areas of notable improvement for Yamal, as one might expect for a player so hyped at such a young age.

    Indeed, the only clear weakness to his game is his lack of physicality. Yamal stands at only 5'5 (165cm), and although he has time to grow, his stature might cost him at the top level if he doesn't fill out suffieciently.

    The Spaniard has relied on his technical ability for so long that he can often be barged off the ball, especially by bigger players.

    He's also not terrific in the air, but that's seldom an issue for Barca sides that like to keep the ball on the ground.

  6. The next... Mohamed Salah?
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    The next... Mohamed Salah?

    The temptation with every Barcelona youngster, especially left-footed wingers, is to compare them to Messi.

    And there's certainly a lot of the Argentine in Yamal's game. His body feints, mazy runs, and ability to find the tiniest of spaces to exploit are all reminiscent of the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner.

    But right now, a more appropriate comparison might be Mohamed Salah. Yamal is incredibly direct, and like Salah, loves to go towards goal, often finding short passes from the edge of the box. He has a similarly magical left foot, too.

    As with any young Barcelona winger, though, there is a real danger of pressure being piled on the youngster. One only has to look at cautionary tales, such as that of the recently-retired Bojan Krkic, to see that comparison can be very dangerous.

  7. What comes next?
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    What comes next?

    Whether he makes his first team debut before the 2022-23 season is out remains to be seen, but with Barcelona cruising towards a first La Liga title in three years, Yamal figures to get his chance between now and early June.

    There have been concerns that his promotion is in response to him not yet having committed his future to the club, but Yamal himself has shown no signs that he wants out of Barca anytime soon.

    It is likely he will pen a professional contract when he turns 16, which will come as bad news to the slew of top European clubs who were hoping to pounce if he did look to move on.

    Instead, Barca might finally have found their own Messi heir. Maybe they don't need the great man to come back this summer after all!