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Adversity has created opportunity for FC Barcelona so far this season. Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembele's injuries in the summer were cause for concern for most Barça fans, but those at La Masia were confident that there were talents available to cover in their absence.
They situation presented an enormous chance for two young players who, to that point, had shone at youth level: Carles Pérez and Ansu Fati.
Just a few short months later, that opportunity has become a reality. Pérez hs scored goals in his LaLiga and Champions League debuts, against Betis and Internazionale, and has signed a new contract, whilst Ansu Fati has also inked a new deal and has broken several records, including becoming the youngest player to score in the Champions League.
Such immediate success was almost unthinkable, but Franc Artiga, the new coach of the Under-19s side who has worked with both players, was one of the most optimistic, and says: "I thought they would have their chance with the first team and I'm not surprised that they have got there, but I’m more surprised that they have shown such a high level of performance from the beginning."
Ansu Fati: Patience and non-conformity
Ansu Fati’s story is one of a humble, patient child who refused to settle for anything but the best. Despite signing for Barça in 2012, aged just 10 years old, he would not debut with the Under-11s A until the next season. He used the time to wait patiently and play in a non-federated team, Peloteros FC. "He came here to play friendlies and tournaments from time to time. I remember that after a match he was on the train back to Seville, where his family was waiting for him, and during the journey he sent me an SMS apologising for how he had played and promising to do better the next time. I still have that message. He was only 10 years old!" explains Marc Serra, coach of the Under-11s A team and Fati’s first coach.
Marcel Sans, the new assistant for the Under-19s A side, also coached him for the Under-16s B team, recalls his determination.
“He had a series of 3 or 4 missed penalties and we suggested that he stop taking them for a while. He refused to stop taking them until he scored,"he remembers. "He was one of the players who asked the most questions; he had a huge desire to learn.”
Ansu Fati’s current style of play is the same as when he started out, but has evolved in aspects.
"He was a different player, capable of doing things unusual for children of his age. He liked doing things that were more beautiful than effective, a trait that as coaches we tried to correct to reconcile the two things -but never cutting out their creativity," explains Serra.
Artiga explained the role Ansu Fati played in the youth teams: "We coaches like using Messi's false 9 position and we could do that with him, because he dropped back a lot, got in between the midfield and broke into the attack."
The young talent has also overcome a tibia and fibula fracture, suffered at the end of 2015.
"When a 13-year-old boy has an injury like this , the recovery process is very hard,” explains Artiga. “At the same time, however, it makes you stronger. He is now obsessed with his health: he does preventive work at the gym, takes care of himself and listens to his body.”
Carles Pérez: Ability and maturity
Carles Pérez joined Franc Artiga’s Under-15s B side from Espanyol.
"I had asked the club to sign him from their Under-13s A team. We had some doubt until Espanyol played here and beat us with two goals from him," Artiga remembers.
"They said that he was the typical player who always did the same thing, who always drifted inside. What is needed in these cases is to make the most of this ability and add other other things to it. We have helped him to know how to make better choices.”
"He has improved -especially off the ball. He finds space well, moves between the lines and has also made a qualitative leap up in the defensive side of the game."
Francesc Xavier Garcia Pimenta, the current Barça B coach who oversaw Pérez’ progress in the Under-18s A team, highlights the maturity he gained.
"His three years at Barça B have gone very well and made him mature. The year in the Segunda División was difficult for him, when he didn’t have many minutes," recalls the coach, who that same year was in charge of the UEFA Youth League side for which Pérez was a standout.
"He has been waiting for his moment and has rejected some big offers from elsewhere. Last year he did very well," comments Pimienta.
Talented and non-conformist by nature, Carles Pérez and Ansu Fati represent those born between the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s better than anyone. Generation Z is the present and the future.
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