FC Barcelona forward Yamal Lamine (27) is challenged by Milan defender Davide BartesaghiFC Barcelona forward Yamal Lamine (27) is challenged by Milan defender Davide Bartesaghi

Barcelona already have their perfect Dembele replacement – and he’s barely left school

Barcelona find themselves in a tight spot despite winning La Liga last season and are resigned to losing Ousmane Dembele to Paris Saint-Germain, leaving a sizeable gap to fill on Xavi’s right flank.

And with the club still treading thin ice financially, the answer to the problem doesn’t appear all that obvious; a concern with Barca’s 2023-24 getting underway in under two weeks’ time.

The jury remains out on Raphinha who signed from Leeds United last summer, and while Ansu Fati is a generational talent, his knees and hamstrings appear to be made of soured milk. That leaves Xavi clutching somewhat, but not when he realises the answer to his prayers is right in front of him.

That answer is 16-year-old Lamine Yamal. No, seriously. He’s that good and he showed it again in a cameo against Milan in a friendly.

Sixteen years of age and we’re talking about him being a suitable replacement for one of the most talented wingers in the world on his day. Go and grab the anti-sickness tablets before reading on. Honestly. You’ve been warned.

Yamal has spent the bulk of his young footballing career blossoming in the ranks of the esteemed La Masia academy, impressing and overachieving at just about every level thus far and claiming ankles, knees and most likely careers along the way – before those careers had even gotten going.

By the time he was 15, he’d already been hot-shotted into Barca’s under-19 side for the 2022-23 season, jaw-droppingly combining his pursuit of first-team football at arguably the biggest club in the world with, you know, school and the general life of a teenager.

No time for any of that, though, when you’re this astonishingly good at football. After Xavi first laid eyes on him, that was it. Yamal began training with the first-team in September 2022, eventually making his full Barcelona debut the following April, becoming their youngest-ever appearance maker.

Since then, he’s done his absolute best to ensure his legacy is more than a statistic and a pub quiz answer, and it’s fair to say he’s on the right track with his pre-season performance against Stefano Pioli’s Rossoneri outfit.

If Yamal was old enough to drive, we’re pretty sure Barcelona would be saying he can drop Dembele off at the airport himself and wave him goodbye. Frightening potential.

In just 60 seconds or so, it becomes abundantly clear why Xavi is so high on the youngster, who is already dropping shoulders and bursting beyond fully grown men without a thought – a skill many top Premier League wingers struggle to nail down consistently.

Without trying to put too much pressure on him – although we reckon Xavi might have already done the damage in that department – it’s clear as day that he’s ready for minutes in senior football.

The flicks and feints are brilliant, but the tracking back, ability to nip the ball away from opposition forwards, and the link-up with his colleagues is what makes him so special.

Being a flash in the pan is one thing, but coming on and sustaining tactical instructions and providing a genuine outlet for teammates is another challenge entirely. Yamal is already doing that. And he’s 16.

We’re not saying the young Spaniard is ready to slot in and play 60 games on the right-hand side for La Blaugrana next season, but as a rotation arm? Absolutely.

There is plenty to improve, but with a regular spoon-feeding of first-team minutes and the ability to learn on the job with the big guns will undoubtedly encourage such improvement. Strap the rocket to the kid and let him fly.

By Mitchell Wilks

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