Lamine Yamal during the European Championship qualifier between Spain and Cyprus at Nuevo Los Carmenes in Granada, Spain, September 2023.

Barcelona’s teenage Messi regen has been destroying opponents for sh*ts & giggles again

It’s not uncommon to see a graduate from Barcelona’s La Masia academy leave the footballing world quivering with excitement, but Lamine Yamal is fast becoming something else entirely.

Lionel Messi is the obvious example, but a closer look at Xavi’s squad indicates many homegrown talents are making waves for both club and country.

Gavi and Alejandro Balde, both 19, are already regulars with Barcelona and Spain. Pedri is already regarded as one of the world’s best midfielders.

However, when considering the 16-year-old Yamal and his meteoric rise, perhaps Ansu Fati’s emergence in 2019 is the most similar example.

“The academy player who had surprised me the most was Ansu, but the way Yamal has burst onto the scene is a different story,” Barca youth coach Albert Puig told ESPN. “But you can’t compare them, they are players with different profiles, even if both of them love to attack the opposition.

“It would be a mistake to get into comparisons. As for Messi, he is the best player in the history of the game and Yamal’s just turned 16. Leave him to grow and develop.”

Jordi Roura, the former director of Barca’s academy agreed: “He is the biggest talent I have seen in La Masia in a long time, but it would be a mistake to make comparisons with Messi.

“Yamal can beat players, dribble, has confidence and is a great goal scorer. Physically, he still has to finish his development.”

Dampening expectations around him is understandable, but how many players could tie opposition defenders in knots for bloodsport? At 16? An age where most lads are tying themselves in knots trying to talk to the opposite sex.

In Granada’s Nuevo Estadio de Los Carmenes, a gorgeous mid-sized stadium in one of Spain’s most beguiling cities, Yamal was given his first international start for the European Championship qualifier against Cyprus.

It was the perfect setting and perfect opponents; Spain eased to a 6-0 victory to enhance their chances of playing at the finals in Germany next summer.

But it also felt like one of those matches that’ll gain significance in the future as Yamal’s career unfolds.

He produced the most jaw-dropping moment of the night after receiving the ball on the right flank, almost licking his lips at the anticipation of the damage he was about to cause.

Hitting the accelerator button, the Barcelona forward motored away from two Cypriot defenders but appeared to have sped into a dead end. One opponent dived in to dispossess him, mentally preparing for the following goal kick after literally taking candy from a baby.

But world football’s latest sensation left him with a substantial amount of egg on his face after checking himself, dragging the ball back and watching his opponent slide off the pitch.

If he’d scored with the cheekiest attempt on goal since Pele in the 1970 World Cup, we could’ve feasibly ended the sport there and then.

“The best and most remarkable thing about Lamine is his football intelligence,” Barca’s former sporting director Ramon Planes, now at Real Betis, told ESPN.

“He plays like nobody else. People class him as a winger, but he can play whatever he wants. He is an all-round footballer, without a doubt. He’s a wonderful kid, with a great personality for a 16-year-old. He’s a footballer in every sense of the word.”

Managing the spotlight is the challenge facing Yamal and everybody now. Watching him dance around defenders on his full international debut, it’s easy to forget how young he is.

“Lamine Yamal seemed very good to me, watching him on TV. But now that I’m working with him, I think he’s much better,” Luis de la Fuente told reporters after calling the 16-year-old up.

La Masia has done it again with Yamal. We fully understand the hype.

By Michael Lee

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