Ansu Fati exclusive: 'I will fight very hard to be at the World Cup'
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"I will fight very hard to be there," says a determined Ansu Fati, just days before making his highly-anticipated comeback against Mallorca. "To be with the national team is always a dream of mine, especially during a World Cup. I've dreamt about winning that trophy my whole life, so let's see."
On November 23, 2022, in their opening game of Group E, Luis Enrique's Spain will be hoping to improve on their last World Cup performance when they face Costa Rica or New Zealand at the 40,000 capacity Al Thumama stadium.
Germany, an often reliable pick to go far in the competition, will follow before a difficult clash against Japan four days later.
It is a group that many are calling the toughest in this year's competition, but it has been an encouraging build-up to this year's tournament in Qatar for the Spanish national side. La Roja finished top of qualifying Group B, four points ahead of their closest challengers Sweden, and played some solid football throughout.
But some feel they are missing a certain something. A spark going forward. A player that can score a goal out of nothing, or produce a moment of brilliance to clinch a game.
His name is Ansu Fati.
After picking up multiple injuries over the past 18 months, including a torn medial meniscus of his left knee, the Guinea-Bissau born teenager has been forced to watch from the sidelines. It was, for the most part, a frustrating journey.
He struggled to sleep at one stage because of the pain in his knee but looking back, Fati can see how much of a character-building process it has been.
"You gradually get better and stronger every day," he tells SPORTbible after becoming the face of Nike Underwear's collection and their 'Move to Zero' plans. "With total effort and hard work, you can fix everything in the end. I've learned so much about myself during the recovery process.
The past couple of years have been challenging ones for Ansu Fati. In November 2020, he took a serious knock against Real Betis and later on, the 19-year-old suffered two hamstring injuries. But in some difficult times, he has found great comfort in his faith and those closest to him.
"During my injuries, I have prayed a lot," he recently told BarçaTV+. "I would ask for good health for my family, and the last thing I ask for is for myself. My family and I are Muslims. We believe. I think that with hard work and with the help of God, anything is possible."
Time and time again, Fati has credited his family for their unwavering support. From his early days playing football on the streets of Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau - one of the poorest countries on earth - to moving to Europe in search of a better life; they have always been there, by his side.
"My father and mother, and all my family, fought hard during their lives to give me and my siblings a good education and the right values," the 19-year-old tells us. "They were an inspiration to us all growing up and they continue to be an incredible presence in my life today."
Ansu's father, Bori, moved to Marinaleda, a small town located near Seville, when Ansu was just six-years-old. He worked tirelessly to provide for his family while his son's played football wearing only socks or plastic slippers. Even today, people remember how much Ansu and his brother, Braima, chased the ball for hours on end.
"We dreamt about becoming professional footballers someday," he remembers. "I'm so lucky and grateful that I've managed to achieve my dreams."
Now, after a spell in the ninth tier of English football with Biggleswade United, older brother Braima, who spent his younger years in La Masia with Ansu, is back in Spain. "He is now helping me in my daily life," the Barcelona forward says. "He's done well in his career and I love how supportive he is."
Those special years spent with his brother, playing in one of the world's best youth academies, began in the summer of 2012.
While playing for local club Sevilla, both of the Fati brothers were spotted by Barcelona's former academy director Albert Puig. Ansu eventually moved to the Catalan club, aged 10, and his mother, Lurdes, joined him there.
At the time, Lionel Messi, whose famous number 10 shirt was passed down to Fati after he left for Paris Saint-German last summer, was cementing his legacy as one of the all-time greats. In that 2012/13 campaign, Barcelona were crowned La Liga champions and Messi picked up his fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or.
"When I was in La Masia the first team was one of the strongest sides in our club's history, so it made sense for us to use those players as a reference," Fati says about that talented Barca squad. "We followed and analysed everything they did, and all of the players in that side especially.
"I also followed Didier Drogba a lot when I was younger, he was incredible," he continues. "But rather than looking at one player, in particular, I prefer to look at footballers more generally and enjoy all of the great players we've seen over the years. I always take inspiration from the best."
The pacey forward would flourish in Barcelona's youth setup and after spending pre-season with their second team in the summer of 2019, Fati's world was turned upside down when manager Ernesto Valverde delivered some news every young player dreams of hearing.
Back when he was playing on the streets in Bissau, he would fantasise about becoming a professional. Never did he expect the opportunity to come so soon.
"I remember training with the Barcelona B and suddenly, I was called to train and eventually play with the first team," Fati says. "It was a dream come true that was almost impossible to understand at the time. I remember it as if it was yesterday, genuinely. It was one of the most special moments in my life so far."
He quickly called his father, Bori, to tell him the news. Bori jumped for joy when he found out his son was going to be part of the first team but initially, Ansu thought the call-up was a joke and according to his father, he couldn't eat or sleep properly.
Days later, as Barcelona held a 5-1 lead against Real Betis at the Camp Nou, Fati was given the opportunity to make an impression by the supportive Valverde. He came on in the 78th minute to rapturous applause. At the age of 16 years and 298 days, he had become the youngest player to play for the club since Vicente Martínez in 1941.
We all know what happened next. Fati quickly established himself as one of the biggest talents in world football - and also one of the most in-demand. A number of top European teams expressed an interest in the talented forward before he penned a new deal until 2027 that includes a €1billion release clause.
At one stage, he was linked with a transfer to England but that was never an option for the La Masia product. When SPORTbible asked Fati if he had ever thought about leaving Barcelona, the 19-year-old was very clear. "No, honestly," he said. "Barca have given me everything. That is my club.
"My main ambition is to win titles with Barcelona," he added. "To achieve that for the club and the fans is my number goal. If this means I also achieve personal records, then amazing. I'll work hard and stay dedicated. Hopefully, trophies and records will come after that."
Barcelona president Joan Laporta, meanwhile, was recently asked about the prospect of signing a big-name player in the summer transfer window. "We already have a superstar and his name is Ansu Fati," he said. "We are waiting for him."
Now, after a spell on the sidelines, the teenager is back and raring to go.
At the end of March, he was given a standing ovation from his teammates at the Ciutat Esportiva as he took part in his first group training session and just over a month later, Fati was given another standing ovation; this time, by around 60,000 Barca fans in the Nou Camp as he came on to replace Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang with 15 minutes remaining.
The Catalan side would pick up all three points after a 2-1 win against Los Piratas on Sunday night but for many, the highlight of the night was the eagerly-awaited return of their number 10 - a player that Barca manager Xavi cannot wait to manage in the coming days, weeks and months.
"He is smiling and he is a difference-maker," Xavi said ahead of Sunday's game against Mallorca. "I'm happy to have him. He sees different things, he's a special player and it will be really good to have him back, but we must take care of him."
Fati, a hugely popular member of the squad, has only been back a matter of weeks but he has already seen a different mindset within the Blaugrana ranks following November's appointment of Xavi - an individual he has huge respect for.
"It's a privilege to be able to train with someone who knows the club so well," he says when asked about how it feels to play under the former midfielder. "He was so elite when he played and always gave everything as a player. It's great to know how much he cares about Barcelona."
Xavi, Barcelona fans, supporters of the Spanish national team and those who enjoy watching one of the world's best talents in action, cannot wait to see him flourish again on the big stage.
The future is bright.
Ansu Fati is the face of Nike Underwear's collection and their 'Move to Zero' plans - a journey toward zero carbon and waste to help protect the future of sport. The collection is available to purchase now at JD Sports.