A little bit of history was made on Sunday evening as Barcelona handed a debut to their youngest player in 78 years with Ansu Fati coming off the bench to feature against Real Betis. The Guinea Bissau born winger showed glimpses of his talent in the closing stages of the game and there are high hopes that Fati will go on to succeed where recent La Masia graduates have largely failed and firmly establish himself as part of the club’s first team set-up.
That will take time of course. A number of injuries contributed to Fati’s promotion to the bench at the weekend and Fati will fall back down the pecking order when the likes of Leo Messi and Luis Suarez are fit and firing. However at just shy of 16 years and 10 months old, time is something that Fati has firmly on his side.
His development will be fascinating to follow over the coming years as he looks to follow in the footsteps of some of Barcelona’s other recent teenage debutants and perhaps avoid the pitfalls of one or two others.
Barcelona’s Youngest Players
These are Barcelona’s youngest players according to their age when they made their debuts for the club in competitive competition (La Liga era onwards). Their ages are on the day of their Barça debut according to transfermarkt:
1. Vicente Martinez (16 years, 9 months, 7 days) vs Real Madrid – 1941/42
You have to go back almost 80 years to find Barcelona’s youngest ever league debutant. While the rest of Europe was gripped by the horrors of World War II causing the cessation of football across the continent, top flight action did continue in Spain and it was during the 1941/42 season that Barcelona handed a debut to Vicente Martinez.
It wasn’t just any game that he was thrust into action either. The young defender had something of a baptism of fire as Barcelona were beaten 4-3 away to Real Madrid at the Estadio de Chamartin. He would make 7 league appearances that season but would ultimately fail to establish himself as a first team regular with moves to Sabadell, Gimnastic Tarragona and Linense following. He worked as a taxi driver in later life and died in Barcelona in October 2018 at the age of 93.
2. Ansu Fati (16 years, 9 months, 25 days) vs Real Betis – 2019/20
All you need to know about the “jewel of La Masia” – 16-year-old Barcelona wonderkid Ansu Fati ???
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 27, 2019
Fati was only two and a half weeks older than Martinez when he made his debut against Betis on Sunday. He’s the only other 16 year old to appear in La Liga for the Catalan giants. However records suggest Barcelona once fielded someone far younger than both players. According to the club’s official records, Albert Almasqué was aged just 13 years, 11 months and 6 days when he featured in a Macaya Cup match in November 1902 as Barça beat Hispania 2-0 but that was well before the league era when football in Spain turned professional.
3. Bojan Krkic (17 years, 19 days) vs Osasuna – 2007/08
There has been an increasing trend for Barcelona to field younger and younger players in recent years. Few debuts have generated more excitement than that of Bojan Krkic who made his first appearance against Osasuna in September 2007. Dubbed the new Messi by some (curious given Messi himself was only just out of his teenage years at the time), Bojan replaced Giovani Dos Santos in the 79th minute of a 0-0 draw at El Sadar. He made his first league start a month later against Villarreal and became Barça’s youngest ever goalscorer in the match.
However as the years went by, Bojan failed to live up to the early hype and following a mixed spell with Stoke City in England, he joined MLS side Montreal Impact earlier this month. He actually ended an 11 month goal drought on the same day Fati made his Barça debut.
4. Marc Muniesa (17 years, 1 month, 26 days) vs Osasuna – 2008/09
There is a curious symmetry between the career paths of Bojan and Marc Muniesa. Both made their league debuts against Osasuna with Muniesa making his bow the season after Bojan, in a 1-0 loss to the Pamplona club in an end of season game at Camp Nou.
The centre-back would have to wait another two years for his next league appearance though and when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament at the start of the 2012/13 season, the writing was on the wall for his Barcelona career. Like Bojan, he also headed to Stoke before returning to Catalonia and finally seeing some game time in La Liga with Girona. He has since moved to Qatari club Al-Arabi following Girona’s relegation last term.
5. Leo Messi (17 years, 3 months, 22 days) vs Espanyol – 2004/05
Nothing better than Lionel Messi showing you appreciation after your first team debut ? pic.twitter.com/1y1GasRRAh
— 433 (@official433) August 25, 2019
Like Fati, a certain Leo Messi become Barcelona’s second youngest league debutant when he appeared in the derby against Espanyol in October 2004. The fresh-faced Argentine replaced Deco, scorer of the game’s only goal, in the 82nd minute at the Olímpic Lluís Companys.
15 years, over 600 Barca goals and 5 Ballon d’Ors later, it’s safe to say he has done alright for himself.
6. Nano (17 years, 3 months, 26 days) vs Valencia – 1999/00
Another teenage prodigy to make his Barcelona bow very early was Nano, a Galician native who first appeared for the Catalan giants at centre-back in the Supercopa in the 1999/00 season before making his league debut on the opening weekend against Zaragoza.
However this was another case of a player breaking through early but then failing to kick on and get anywhere near establishing himself as a first team regular. Nano subsequently moved to Atletico Madrid following only a handful of further appearances for Barça. He featured more regularly for Atleti before being loaned out to Getafe in 2005 which started his decline towards something of a journeyman career. He currently plays in the lower leagues back in Galicia with Racing Ferrol.
7. Oriol Riera (17 years, 5 months, 14 days) vs Murcia – 2003/04
Congratulations to Oriol Riera who nets his 15th goal of the season, setting a new Wanderers record for most goals in a season!
— Fox Sports Lab (@FoxSportsLab) April 15, 2018
The journeyman tag may also be applied to Oriel Riera. He came off the bench to make his debut as a 17 year old against Murcia in 2003. However the striker’s Barcelona career was otherwise spent with the B and C teams in Spain’s lower leagues.
Riera did go on to forge a decent career for himself though. After a few decent seasons in the Segunda Division, he was one of Osasuna’s few bright lights in La Liga during the 2013/14 season, scoring 13 goals. However relegation saw him sold to Wigan and following an unsuccessful spell in England, Riera never fully rediscovered the goal touch, scoring just 10 goals across the next 3 seasons in La Liga with Depor and back at Osasuna. He has subsequently moved to the A-League where he has been much more prolific with Western Sydney Wanderers.
8. Alfonso Navarro (17 years, 6 months, 19 days) vs Real Oviedo – 1946/47
Back to the 1940’s for the next one of Barcelona’s teenage prodigies. Forward Alfonso Navarro made his debut for the club in a 2-0 win over Real Oviedo on match-day 6 of the 1946/47 season.
He would go on to make a real name for himself, once scoring five goals in a 10-1 victory over Gimnastic Tarragona in 1949. However, he left the club following year to join arch-rivals Real Madrid only to return to the Catalan club in 1954.
9. Gerard Deulofeu (17 years, 7 months, 16 days) vs Mallorca – 2011/12
A more recent graduate of La Masia is Gerard Deulofeu who is currently maturing into a very good player at Watford in the Premier League. However despite opportunities, he struggled to fully breakthrough into the Barcelona first team on a regular basis.
Like many recent Barça youth prospects, Deulofeu ultimately began to lose patience with the series of loan deals and buy-back clauses in the years that followed his debut in a 5-0 win against Mallorca in October 2011. He’s unlikely to be seen in Blaugrana colours again but at the age of 25 still looks to have a very decent career ahead of him and he’s already outshone quite a few of the other young Barca debutants.
10. Adama Traore (17 years, 9 months, 29 days) vs Granada – 2013/14
Adama Traoré made more interceptions (5) than any other player on the pitch from Wolves 3-2 win vs. Torino despite playing 63 minutes.
*AND* he provided an assist. ? pic.twitter.com/allL9h6j2i
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 22, 2019
The jury is still out to some extent on Adama Traore. Blessed with explosive pace and a natural ability to run with the ball, Traore made his Barça bow when he replaced Neymar in the latter stages of a 4-0 win over Granada in 2013. He scored his first goal for the club in the 8-1 demolition of Huesca in the Copa del Rey the following year.
Traore was still very raw though and for all his assets, he seemed to lack the ability to pass the ball, the most commonly associated trait with La Masia graduates. He would sign on a permanent deal for Aston Villa in 2015, a stint which ended in relegation and with Barcelona opting against activating a buy-back clause in his contract. Now 23, Traore still has his flaws but does seem to be getting closer to developing into a better all-round player in the Premier League with Wolves.