Those Inter fans not too bitter about their team’s early exit from this season’s Champions League will recall the night they saw a special player sparkle for Barcelona at the San Siro. That special player, for once, wasn’t Lionel Messi, though. It was the teenage prodigy tipped to one day fill the shoes of the legendary Argentine.
That, of course, is quite the billing, but Ansu Fati has done a lot to justify it since making his breakthrough earlier in the season. He has caught the imagination like no other teenager has at the Camp Nou since Messi, scoring three times in four starts (and eight sub appearances) this season. His winner at the San Siro made him the youngest scorer in Champions League history.
But it’s not just Ansu who has broken through at Barcelona this season. Carles Perez might have flown under the radar, particularly when compared to the impact made by his 17-year-old teammate, but he has also made an impact for the Spanish champions, scoring the opener in the aforementioned game against Inter.
Perez has started six games for Barca this season, most notably filling in for the injured Luis Suarez and Messi over the early part of the campaign. He impressed and has now earned himself a place in Ernesto Valverde’s squad as his fourth-choice striker behind Antoine Griezmann, Messi and Suarez.
Until recently, the La Masia conveyer belt of young talent at Barcelona looked to have slowed almost to a complete stop. Sergi Roberto was the last player to come through the club’s famed youth academy and into the first team squad and that was a number of years ago. Ansu and Perez, as well as Carles Alena and Riqui Puig, prove that things are changing, though.
Messi might have picked up his sixth Ballon d’Or earlier this month, but Barcelona must start to plan for a future without their greatest ever player. To do this they must use the core of their identity as a club and La Masia is centre to this at the Camp Nou. Its rebooting might prove to be very timely.
“I believe that we [Fati and I] are an example to the young players at La Masia, in that they can achieve this if they believe in themselves,” Perez said after the Champions League win at the San Siro. “Barcelona have always trusted in La Masia, and I hope they trust in me.” The 21-year-old doesn’t possess the sparkle of Ansu, but his emergence underlines that La Masia is once again growing in its influence at the Camp Nou.