Barcelona wonderkid Ansu Fati moved from the fields of Guinea-Bissau, where he played as a kid, to Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium where he, at 16-year-old is playing with some world class footballers.
Ansu Fati made a stirring start to the season by netting a goal just two minutes into his full La Liga debut, when he made all smart moves right before over 80,000 astonished Camp Nou fans who gave him a standing ovation as he walked out of the field.
Ansu Fati was only seven years old when he arrived Spain and his startling talent prompted an invitation for him to join Barcelona’s prestigious youth academy ‘La Masia’ aged 10.
Joining the Barcelona academy was a huge achievement considering where he came from; the impoverished West African nation that has never been known for anything next to 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 there.
Malam Romisio, who coached Fati as a little child, told AFP how the boy used to play football wearing only socks or plastic sandals, yet he would dribble the ball past bigger, stronger teammates easily.
When Ansu Fati made his debut with Barcelona’s first team at the end of August, the coach switched his allegiance from Real Madrid. “If he continues like this, he will be a great player,” he predicted.
In Guinea Bissau, which is one of the world’s poorest and most fragile nations till date, Ansu Fati has become a source of national pride.
Born on October 31, 2002, he lived in Bissau until he was six year old. In the house where he grew up, Fati’s uncle Djibi Fati shows some photos of the teenage superstar 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 in the search for greener pasture, 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.
The Communist mayor of Marinaleda, a nearby town, hired Bori as a driver and helped him financially, then he proceeded to bring his young family over in 2009. “It’s a very beautiful story,” said Saavedra, 53.
Bori moved on with training his young son at the Peloteros football school, which is free of charge for children in Herrera and the surrounding towns. When Fati arrived he quickly caused a sensation on the football pitch, said Jordi Figaroa Moreno, his first Spanish coach.
“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,” he told AFP.
Jose Luis Perez Mena, who runs the Peloteros school, described Fati as “very spontaneous” and “very cheerful” as well as “extroverted, but very quiet”.
A beautiful remark made about Ansu Fati is that iis stellar success “has not gone to his head”.
Within a year of arriving in Spain, Fati joined Sevilla. In 2012, at the age of 10, he was enrolled in Barcelona’s youth system.
“Ansu was one of the youngest players ever to have entered La Masia. From the day that he arrived he was different, the type of player who invents football,” said Marc Serra, his first coach at Barcelona.
In August, the teenager made a history of becoming the youngest player to score for Barcelona in La Liga. Next, September he became Barca’s youngest player in a Champions League match.
Spain’s national coach Robert Moreno described Fati’s debut for Barcelona as “mind-blowing”. Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde spoke of him as a “balanced boy” who is “at ease with himself”.
“We want him to learn to know himself, to know the first division, so he sees that it is hard and how much work and dedication it will take to succeed,” he said.
Speaking to Spain’s Onda Cero radio last month, his proud father said he had taught Fati to “be respectful and happy with everyone. Every day I tell him: ‘This is your job: when you have the ball, turn towards the goal, don’t look anywhere else, and just shoot.”