'One of the chosen ones' - How Gavi became a Barcelona and Spain star at just 17
In Barcelona, they’ve known for a long time that Gavi was destined to make it.
“He’s one of the chosen ones,” people close to the club would say. There was no doubt he would reach the first-team squad in due course.
And yet, given he's already starting to establish himself at 17 years old, the immediacy of his rise has been surprising.
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It usually takes longer for outsiders to become aware of even the best young La Masia talents, but Barcelona and Spain coaches Ronald Koeman and Luis Enrique have thrown Gavi into the limelight this season and he has basked in its glow.
La Liga aficionados purred over his first games for the club, impressing even as the team struggled, but his Spain call-up surprised even them. Luis Enrique, though, showed no fear in naming him in his Nations League final four group.
Spain’s inventive squad list reveal videos saw the coach brandishing FIFA 22 cards to name the squad and Gavi’s rating in the game is a lowly 66 out of 99. It won’t stay that way for long.
Gavi exploded into the wider football consciousness with a dominant display against European champions Italy in the semi-final, going toe to toe with PSG midfielder Marco Verratti – a player he admires – and getting the better of the battle.
Then, in the final against France, he put up another solid display, albeit as part of a 2-1 defeat against the 2018 World Cup winners.
“He played like he was in the school playground or in the garden of his house, and it’s great to have a player of this quality and personality,” said Luis Enrique.
On Sky Sports , Jamie Redknapp was joking that his birth certificate should be checked. “In very little time, he’s shown he has a place with the first team,” said Barca coach Koeman.
In fact, there are already calls for him to be a regular starter at Barcelona, alongside Pedri Gonzalez in midfield, even though it is his compatriot’s injury that encouraged both his club and national team coaches to give him the nod.
Against Italy, Gavi played 83 minutes, more than in any previous appearance for Barcelona – he still hasn’t played a complete match for the Catalans.
That highlights how rapid his rise has been, becoming the youngest ever Spain player and breaking the previous record set in 1936 by Angel Zubieta.
Gavi and Pedri’s performances have brought to mind legendary Barcelona midfield act Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. Most thought it would be impossible for Barcelona to produce two players as good as them but it is now a distinct possibility.
In fact, at 17 and 18, Gavi and Pedri are ahead of where Xavi and Iniesta were at those ages.
Pedri has penned a new deal until 2026, announced with much fanfare by Barcelona on Thursday, in the best piece of news the club have had since Joan Laporta took over in March.
Meanwhile, Gavi’s playing style marks him out as a potential leader of Barcelona’s next generation.
Unlike the icy, meticulous Pedri, he has more fire in his game. Ploughing into challenges, Gavi cheered up the Camp Nou faithful even with the team 2-0 down in their recent Champions League loss to Bayern Munich.
This aggression is part of his game and it is probably part of the reason Luis Enrique felt confident enough to play him against Italy.
Gavi will fearlessly give as good as he gets, despite his diminutive stature, and is more than capable of winning back the ball himself.
It makes him a modern midfielder and, like Pedri, his work rate is exceptional. It’s no longer enough to be fancy on the ball; modern midfielders must have the lungs too.
Of course, Gavi does not eschew the game’s finer arts and is an excellent, watchable dribbler, as well as an inventive and skilful improviser on the pitch, who leaves defenders guessing.
Most importantly for Barcelona fans, he is an emblem of how they believe things should be done.
While the team is weighed down by debts from huge, erroneous signings, Gavi arrived from Betis’ academy at the age of 11 and has played his way to this point.
Watching him soar releases the mounted tension held in Barcelona chests. The economic and institutional problems fade into the background.
Gavi personifies hope and new beginnings while the layered disappointments of the past half-decade still cascade down upon the club.
He represents a restart.