Gavi: Barcelona’s 17-year-old wonderkid

Very few people can say that they have featured in La Liga, the Champions League, Europa League, Supercopa and represented their national team all before their 18th birthday. But Gavi is not like most people.

Hailing from Andalusia, Gavi has become one of the latest players to emerge from La Masia’s never-ending production line of talent. Forced to look towards the academy after a summer full of departures, Ronald Koeman ensured Gavi and Barcelona fans would forever remember a 2-1 victory over Getafe at the end of August, as it was the day that the 17-year-old first donned the famous colours of one of the most illustrious clubs in the world.

Not content with playing a role of an extra in Barcelona’s campaign, Gavi introduced himself as one of his side’s main characters in his second league appearance. With the hosts drifting towards an embarrassing home defeat against Granada, Gavi dug out a beautifully weighted chipped ball that presented Ronald Araújo will the simple task of nodding home. Big teams require star players to produce in the crucial moments, and not long after his 17th birthday, Gavi demonstrated to those in attendance at Camp Nou that he was born for such moments.

Since that game-saving assist against Granada, Gavi has progressed from an unknown quantity to a name that those who follow La Liga are all familiar with. Both Ronald Koeman and Xavi have recognised the youngster’s prodigious talent, resulting in Gavi appearing in over 30 matches across all competitions this season.

Although eyebrows may be raised about the amount of game time given to a 17-year-old, any sceptic would soon be converted once they had spent just five minutes watching one of the most exciting young players that Europe has to offer.

Graced with a low centre of gravity, Gavi’s impressive agility gives him the upper hand in most one-on-one duels, with the capacity to spin away in an instant, resulting in opposition players being left in his wake. Possessing a salesman-like ability to entice and draw in defenders, he instills a belief into the opposition that they can take the ball from his grasp, but they are quickly left feeling like a victim of a scam as the youngster utilises a mix of immaculate close ball control and acceleration to race away. Leaving the opposition with two options – let him by or bring him down. It is not surprising then that Gavi features in the top ten for the most fouled players in La Liga this season.

Not only can the young prospect evade defenders with his mesmerising footwork, but he also has an astute eye for a pass, which is crucial in a Barcelona side that has averaged more possession than any other team in La Liga this season. Having played more through balls than any player in the league, while boasting a passing percentage of 89.3%, it is not surprising to see that Gavi has outperformed his expected assists of 2.6 by assisting four goals in the league this term. Only Ousmane Dembélé and Jordi Alba have more La Liga assists for Barcelona this season.

For a player that does not turn 18 until August, it is unsurprising that there is still room for improvement, especially in the final third, with Gavi netting only twice in 22 league appearances. However, he did open his Barcelona account with a sublime solo effort, which offered a glimpse of the quality that he can offer in front of goal. Spinning away from Omar Mascarell, Gavi drove with conviction towards the edge of the box, where he showed the finishing qualities of a veteran striker to beat Édgar Badía in the Elche goal.

There is still a need to develop his game off the ball, with his youthful exuberance sometimes coming to the fore. On occasion, the desire and hunger to win the ball back have spilled over into ill-discipline, leading to the midfielder picking up nine yellow cards across all competitions this season, while he has also received his first red card in his senior career this term.

Despite possessing a couple of weaknesses, Gavi’s mannerisms on the football pitch and the way he looks after the ball have led to comparisons to Andrés Iniesta and his current boss Xavi. Barcelona fans will hope that such comparisons do not weigh too heavy on their young prospect, and the signs so far suggest that if anything, he embraces the pressure and the attention that being a Barcelona player brings.

He may have played a key role in his team’s revival this season, but there is still much work to do and he will be crucial to his side in the closing stages of the campaign as they bid to finish in the top four, while they also look to go all the way in the Europa League.

On a national level, Gavi will be eyeing a place in Spain’s World Cup squad for Qatar 2022, which starts in November, having already made four appearances for the national team. Although a place in the World Cup squad is likely, the balance of workload between the club and national sides will be one of Gavi’s biggest challenges in the next couple of years, however, it will not be a problem that he can solve by himself.

For all of his talent, he still has a long career ahead of him, so Luis Enrique and Xavi must take responsibility to manage his workload to avoid a scenario similar to that of Pedri, who was troubled by injury issues in the latter part of 2021 after playing far too many games in the 2020-21 season for club and country.

If managed correctly and if Gavi can continue his current upward trajectory, we could be witnessing the rise of not only a Barcelona great but the ascent of one of the best players in Europe and perhaps, the world.

Ben Sully

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