Gavi: Can Barcelona's shining light be future for Spain too
There is not a lot of positivity coming out of Barcelona right now, but one notable ray of light through the storm clouds is provided by teenage midfielder Gavi.
The 17-year-old has made only seven first-team appearances, but has already demonstrated enough to convince Spain boss Luis Enrique of his international suitability.
Not only has he been called up for the upcoming Nations League finals – starting Wednesday with a semi-final against European champions Italy – he has been handed the La Roja number nine shirt in the latest squad.
Before the game at the San Siro, BBC Sport profiles a stellar talent on the cusp of becoming the youngest player to feature for Spain in their history.
A native of Los Palacios y Villafranca near Seville, Gavi (or Pablo Martin Paez Gavira, to give him his full name) was recruited at the age of 11 by Barca from Real Betis’ academy. His growth in the six years since has been rapid and impressive.
His technical ability, close control and speed of both thought and movement have been clear from an early age, as can be seen in a video posted by Barca last month on YouTube.
And the showreel highlights a gritty quality in Gavi’s game, displaying a brave header and another goal scored with a wedge of padding shoved up one nostril to stem some bleeding.
The last couple of seasons have seen quick progress, with Gavi going from under-17s straight to under-19s football – a rare transition for a player at La Masia – before graduating to a first team in dire need of spark and longing for a new homegrown hero.
Barca’s financial woes are well documented, their loss of talismanic academy-product Lionel Messi even more so, and their struggles on the pitch this season all too painfully clear to see.
In the brief periods he has been on the pitch Gavi has provided that missing spark.
Under-siege manager Ronald Koeman has said the player has already shown he “has a place in this team”.
He was man of the match in his first home start against Levante and assister of the last-minute equaliser against Granada, showing a calmness and execution that had eluded more experienced team-mates with a cross for Ronald Araujo to head in.
Against Bayern Munich in their Champions League opener, Barca were utterly outclassed in a 3-0 home defeat, but Gavi at least brought some fight to the table, getting in the face of and knocking over Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Muller and more in a fiery 30-minute cameo.
With his background, prodigious talent and name, it is no wonder people are quick to draw comparisons with one of La Masia’s greatest ever graduates, Xavi.
And with fellow teenager Nico Gonzalez emerging as understudy to Sergio Busquets and the ludicrously talented Pedri already operating in the Andreas Iniesta role for club and country, there are wildly optimistic hopes that a new version of that world-dominating triumvirate could be forged in the future.
For now, though, let’s stick to the present and a potential international bow for Gavi, something former Barca player and boss Enrique has no reservations about handing out.
“For me, what’s dangerous is taking a risk with kids who you don’t think are good enough, and exposing them,” he said. “I’ve known him for years.
“Seeing how he’s played, I don’t have any doubts that he can be a very important player for his club and the national team.
“Is it too early? Yes, it could be. But he could start against Italy, depending on what I see in training.
“Age isn’t important, it’s your attitude, and if you adapt to what the coach wants.”