Villarreal, Spain. 27th Aug, 2023. Robert Lewandowski of FC Barcelona celebrates his goal with Lamine Yamal during the La Liga match between Villarreal CF and FC Barcelona played at La Ceramica Stadium on August 27 in Villarreal, Spain.

Barcelona really do have a new Ronaldinho – he even has the standing ovation to prove it

It’s not every day that home fans are so impressed by an opposition player that they applaud them off the pitch. But then again, it’s not every day that talents like Barcelona’s Lamine Yamal emerge. 

The kid – and he literally still is a child – was nothing short of a phenomenon in Barcelona’s 4-3 thriller comeback victory at Villarreal.

Barcelona’s youngest-ever debutant, aged 15 years, 9 months, 16 days when he was handed an 11-minute cameo against Real Betis back in April, Yamal evidently possesses the kind of freakishly prodigious necessary to be fast-tracked to first-team contention two years before he can buy a bottle of Estrella Damm.

It’s been obvious for some time that Yamal possesses ability way beyond his years. You just have to look at the way he ran rings around kids much older than him when he was just 13 years old.

As his manager has stated, he’s not become the youngest player to start a La Liga match this century because of a whim or a gimmick. He deserves to.

But a twist of fate has afforded him these opportunities so early on; he’s bumped up a place in the pecking order following Ousmane Dembele’s shock and sudden departure to PSG.

And he’s getting these starts because Raphinha is serving a three-match ban, having been shown a straight red in Barcelona’s ill-tempered opener at Getafe. God bless that fixture computer.

In just his second start for his boyhood club, Yamal became the youngest-ever player to register a La Liga assist by floating in a cross for fellow La Masia graduate Gavi to head home.

He was desperately unlucky not to score, hitting the woodwork twice, the second time proving instrumental in Robert Lewandowski’s match-winning tap-in.

Yamal was Barcelona’s best and most dangerous player as they compensated for their defensive frailties by coming from 3-2 down to win 4-3. As noted by Sid Lowe, the Man of the Match was no man at all.

Lamine Yamal Highlights vs Villarreal
by u/pussNkush in Barca

“I try to take advantage of every opportunity,” Yamal told local broadcaster Movistar in his first televised interview

“This is precisely what Xavi asks young people, to not be afraid. Luckily I’m not scared. I go out and I play football which is what I’m good at.

“My mother is a little scared when I’m a starter but she supports me a lot,” he added, looking every bit the shy teenager he very much is.

The fans at El Madrigal had seen Quique Setien’s Yellow Submarine fight back from two goals behind, lead, and then blow their chance to register what would’ve been an all-too-rare victory over their reigning Spanish champions.

And yet they got over their frustration to recognise that they bore witness to something genuinely special and applauded Barcelona’s star in the making when he was withdrawn on 75 minutes. He wasn’t even born the night that Ronaldinho unforgettably received a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans.

Xavi Hernandez featured in midfield the night that Ronaldinho gave the performance of his life as Barcelona beat Real Madrid 3-0 at the Bernabeu back in 2005.

Himself a product of the academy that has produced more world-class superstars than any other, the Barcelona manager knows something special when he sees it.

“My expectations [for Yamal] are very high,” Xavi told reporters in his post-match press conference.

“He’s a starter not because of the coach’s whim. His decision-making is almost always correct. He’s intelligent. He’s exceptional.

“I’d like to see him play with the Spanish national team. He hasn’t told me anything about his plans. I hope he stays at Barcelona for many years.

“He has the potential to make a mark. But with patience. I don’t think there will be management issues. He’s delighted and happy. He’s humble, works hard, loves football… I see him ready to play. His age surprises me: just turned 16.”

It’s very early days for Yamal. He only needs to look at team-mate Ansu Fati, four years his senior, to see that there may well be injuries and setbacks after exploding onto the scene so young.

Yet it’s impossible to look at Barcelona’s latest wonderkid and not get very, very excited about what the future holds.

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