Barcelona rediscover Ansu Fati – and hope – when they need it most | the league

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Hope appeared on a sunday afternoon, the light has finally entered. That simple smile would have been enough, this kid’s gaze returning to the field 323 days later, taking everything as if it was the first time; the look of all kid from everywhere entering a football stadium for the first time, overwhelmed but inspired, both tiny and huge.

Ansu Fati does not quite and did not wait, so there was more. The youngest player to score for Barcelona and Spain, the boy who found the net 111 seconds after his first start at Camp Nou, finally returned there the day he said it was as a start and by the time he left he had another goal.

It hadn’t taken 10 minutes and it was impossible not to get carried away by it all. “You are dreaming but I didn’t really imagine it like that,” admitted Fati. Had it been his debut, the shot from the edge of the box in the 90th minute that completed a 3-0 win over Levante would have made him the seventh youngest goalscorer in Barcelona history. Instead, it was his 44th and, with his meniscus torn in November, he had been under the knife four times, had seen doctors in three different countries and had been unavailable for 11 months. A lot has changed since then, a lot about him. He’s still only 18 and looks like it, but he came wearing 10 and soared above it all, his teammates lifting him to the sky to be seen by all and kissed by all. world. They needed that too.

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There is something about Ansu. Not just talent, although there is a lot of it. Not just the timing or the need for Barcelona, ​​although there is still more of it. But something else: something in its history perhaps; something in his age, in the freshness, the excitement, perhaps the simplicity too; something, certainly, about the suffering of the past year. It all creates a bond, a rare affection that even goes beyond Barcelona, ​​a warmth seen in the reaction that makes him feel like part of everyone and that saw his return eclipse all Sunday. As Levante manager Pablo López said: “We didn’t like much but we are happy for football that he’s back.”

This was seen before he even scored. The Camp Nou clock read 79.56 as Luuk de Jong walked right over the bar, but at that point a lot of people inside the ground were not really watching the game anymore, now in a state of disrepair. suspended animation. For a while, the focus had instead been on the sideline where Fati awaited his return. He kissed Ronald Araújo, rubbed his face – yes, it’s really happening – and the 80.21 ran with a wonder smile, a kind of childish wonder, wide-eyed and barely able to believe he was actually there. The 35,334 fans stood up and gave him a standing ovation and he clapped, raised his left hand and placed the right over his heart. Then, for the first time in almost a year, he played.

And, my boy, he played. Levante immediately had three good chances – one over, one saved, one in the side net – as if Fati’s introduction had momentarily shattered Barcelona’s focus, but he was up and running soon, as he always had. . “Bold,” Ernesto Valverde had called him and somehow the injury didn’t change that. “I was waiting, thinking, ‘I can enjoy this again’,” he said and it showed. On 83.53, his first touch, he turned Jorge Miramón, cut inside to the box and landed a shot that was blocked. On 84.12, he rushed into the box and was knocked down by Pablo Martínez. The referee said no when he could have said yes, which was also familiar. The same had happened when he left Camp Nou. “Take a look,” Fati said. The referee didn’t, but everyone did. They couldn’t take their eyes off him.

Every time he got the ball back there was no sign of fear, rust, the weight of responsibility. Instead, there was that spark, an expectation, fans rising, something about to happen. “It was as if he was levitating,” Marcos López wrote in El Periódico. Morales knocked him down, another round came to a halt at the start line and there was a quick rally with Memphis Depay before that happened. A spin in the middle, not quite a roulette wheel but almost, knee holding, the ball running its way, and Fati was gone. Six touches took him to the edge of the box, two defenders backed off and there he applied the brakes, turned to his right, passed Miramón and hit a low shot into the net, a hint of Messi at Wembley on this subject.

It was 9:15 a.m. on September 26, 2021, and his face lit up, gloom lifted. Relief and joy came together, optimism returned. Araujo opened his arms wide and Fati jumped in, the others joining in, disbelief and happiness on their faces. Together they raised Ansu and held him high, offered to everyone, like Rafiki on the rock. The iconography was immediate, a glimpse of something well shared with the community, as if he were the chosen child: it was hope, a future. The similarities between that shot and Messi after PSG haven’t gone unnoticed, with one man – a kid – overseeing everything.

Ansu Fati was one of eight Barcelona graduates to play against Levante. Photograph: Joan Valls / NurPhoto / REX / Shutterstock

Fati kissed Araujo’s forehead and, alone now, walked to the west stand, where his family were in tears. The image of Bori, his father, fingers trying to stem the flow of his eyes said it all. Ansu walked up the stairs and walked over to a man wearing a face mask, a blue polo shirt and an earpiece in: Lluís Til, the doctor. Fati reached out and held it. Then came Jordi Mesalles, the physiotherapist. Above them, Fati’s little brother was running down the stairs, his fist ready to be punched. “Above all, I’m grateful,” said the forward. “I had promised my father and my brother [I would celebrate with them] but the Covid protocol means you can’t ride [further]. They suffered with me and I dedicate this goal to them. Going to the doctor was improvised. He and the physiotherapists have done so much for me all these months. “

“The reaction of the fans speaks volumes: the ground exploded,” insisted Alfredo Schreuder, assistant to Ronald Koeman. “Ansu is a great player who can score a goal from scratch. We knew he could play 15 minutes. This is just the beginning.”

It sounds like a fresh start, and that’s where the risk lies. Fati was one of eight Barcelona graduates to play on Sunday, with Gavi and Nico joining a new generation he is called upon to lead. Projecting him as an heir to Messi isn’t particularly helpful, although when he was told that taking the number 10 shirt brings pressure and responsibility, he replied: “Uh, no. It makes me proud and grateful. The wait will be heavy and Fati insisted that “we are just getting started and his is long”, but it is also inevitable. He represents renewal, symbolizes enthusiasm, pleasure and hope. which are the whole point of the sport – even if you don’t make it in the end.

Quick guide

La Liga results

Spectacle

Sunday: Real Betis 2-0 Getafe, Rayo Vallecano 3-1 Cadiz, Real Sociedad 1-0 Elche, Barcelona 3-0 Levante, Mallorca 2-3 Osasuna

Saturday: Real Madrid 0-0 Villarreal, Seville 2-0 Espanyol, Valencia 1-1 Bilbao, Alaves 1-0 Atlético

On Monday: Celta Vigo vs. Granada

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The good news is that there is something about him too: he has an angel, the Spaniards like to say. It’s almost as if he doesn’t notice all this pressure, isn’t touched by it, a purity in him that just plays that takes others with him, unpolluted by the rest, at least for now. . “I shared my life with him, and he’s special,” Nico said. “He’s a natural talent, he has goals and magic,” said Eric García.

Just his presence felt like it changed everything, his smile all theirs, his return to their relaunch or restart shot, a kid entering a stadium for the first time, humbled by it but their imaginations were unleashed. their imagination. When asked if they could really enter a stadium for the first time, humbled by it, the imagination was let loose. When asked if they could really compete for the title despite Ronald Koeman begging everyone to be ‘realistic’, Fati replied: “Yes, of course. We are Barcelona: we are going to fight for it. the Championship and the Champions League. And for a brief moment, the moment the ball hit the net, emotion took over everyone and anything seemed possible, it didn’t seem so foolish to believe that, who knows, maybe they actually can.



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