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“He is not normal”. Gavi grows of age and writes history at Qatar 2022

Barcelona has a long withstanding tradition of delivering some of the most eye-catching prospects in football, with their La Masia academy creating excellent homegrown players in the last decades.

With prospects turned stars like Pep Guardiola, Xavi or Andres Iniesta nurtured in the La Masia, the conveyor belt of talent has never stopped working, as Barcelona is constantly providing Spain with quality players. The last two names? Pedri, who was the best young player of the tournament at the UEFA EURO 2020, and Gavi, who stole the show in the first match at Qatar 2022, with an excellent display in Spain’s dominating 7-0 win against Costa Rica.

Gavi, who was also named the MVP of the match, wrote his own piece of history after scoring against Costa Rica, becoming the third youngest player to score at the FIFA World Cup, and the youngest one since Pele, in 1958, to have a goal to his name in the top football competition.

But how did Gavi exactly become a star of his own in just the space of one year?

Luis Enrique is one of the most respected coaches at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but in Spain he has a reputation of sticking to his guns. It is his way or the highway for the coach whom himself featured for Barcelona as a player and as a coach, knowing the system inside out.

He has come under intense scrutiny in the past for being stubborn and not giving way to popular choices. Yet he is avenged time and time again by the system delivered on the pitch and Gavi is one of the integrant pieces of the squad now.

Last October, Gavi became the youngest ever player to don the Spain national team shirt, at only 17 years and 62 days old, in a semi-final match against Italy in the UEFA Nations League, breaking a record held by Angel Zubieta since 1936.

“It’s not normal that he plays like that at the age of 17. He’s a player with personality, enviable physical conditions and he plays our style of football. He plays like he’s at school or in his garden at home. It’s a pleasure to have a player with that quality and character with us. We can say that he’s the national team’s present, not [just] the future,” said Luis Enrique.

“This is not a normal case,” added Spain’s coach.

Indeed, Gavi is not a normal player, as only Pele (17 years and 239 days) and Uruguay’s Manuel Rosas (18 years and 93 days) in 1930 were younger when scoring their first goals at the FIFA World Cup.

His ascension has been nothing short than superb for his club, Barcelona, a team that snatched him from Betis Sevilla in 2015, when the midfielder was only 11 years old. Forged in the La Masia, Gavi featured twice for Barca’s B team in 2021 and was promoted to the first squad months later, with the Spanish side in dire need of a makeover, due to financial troubles that kept them from transferring players.

Since that moment, he has featured 66 times in his club team, scoring two goals, being hailed as the next best thing to come from La Masia, with his style compared to Andres Iniesta and Xavi, two former stalwarts, who were crucial in Spain’s win at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, with the former scoring the decisive goal in the final against the Netherlands in extra-time.

Can Gavi emulate their excellent performances? Luis Enrique, who has taken a huge risk by making him a focal point of his squad, really thinks so.

“I don’t know, I hope he’s going and playing every time better and trying to be aggressive with and without the ball. “He’s unique, very different because he’s 18 now, but he has the personality of an experienced player. It is a pleasure to play with the boy, because he is a boy. He needs a bit of calm sometimes but we are very happy to have him on the team. I think he’s going to be one of the stars of football,” said Enrique.

His achievements are excellent, being named the winner of both the Golden Boy trophy and the Kopa Trophy in 2022, both awarded to the best Under-21 player of the year.

And his unique style of playing with the laces of his boots untied has invited comparisons with Diego Maradona, who also used to train the same way. However, the reason is not that difficult.

“Gavi has been playing with his laces untied since he was very young, It’s because he doesn’t know how to tie them well. He doesn’t care and he plays like that”, said his club coach, Xavi.

Laces tied or untied, Gavi is definitely one to watch for the future and Qatar 2022 can only be the tournament in which he announces himself on the biggest of stages. He has just signed an extension of his contract with Barcelona until 2026 and the Spanish club believes he can be one of the best in the world.

Whether that will actually happen, is to be seen. However, the rave reviews Gavi has been getting should not count for anything. He has already proven at the 2022 FIFA World Cup that he belongs in Spain’s squad.

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