At just 16 years and 45 days, Lamine Yamal became the youngest player to provide an assist in a La Liga game in the 21st century, which earned a standing ovation from the Villarreal fans.
Sunday afternoon’s La Liga duel between Villarreal and Barcelona was a thriller, which finished 4-3 to the Catalan side and which featured so many world-class players. There was the World Cup winner Juan Foyth, the reigning Pichichi Robert Lewandowski, the current Zamora Trophy holder Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the two-time Zarra Trophy recipient Gerard Moreno, the former Golden Boy Gavi… yet the MVP of the match was 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, making just his fourth appearance for Barcelona’s first team.
Lamine Yamal was simply spectacular at the Estadio de la Ceramica. The La Masia graduate had already impressed on the right wing in Los Blaugrana’s matches against Getafe and Cadiz and he was given another start by coach Xavi Hernandez. The coach’s faith in the youngster immediately paid off, as Lamine Yamal assisted Gavi for the opening goal with a perfect cross just 12 minutes in.
With that assist, and given his age of just 16 years and 45 days, Lamine Yamal became the youngest footballer to provide an assist in a La Liga game in the 21st century, taking that record from his teammate Ansu Fati, who’d provided his first assist aged 16 years and 318 days.
Despite entering the history books in the opening stanza of the match, Lamine Yamal was only just getting started. He also completed all three of his dribble attempts in the game, found his target with 34 of his 37 passes (92%), won a pair of freekicks, made one tackle, pinched one interception and hit the woodwork twice.
The first time the teenager struck the woodwork, it was with a fizzing blast from the edge of the area after a move which he himself had started. Following a one-two with Marcos Alonso, the youngster demonstrated just how powerful his shooting is by hitting the corner of the goal frame and leaving it rattling.
Later, in the 71st minute and with the scoreline locked at 3-3, Lamine Yamal hit another shot from the edge of the area, which was tipped onto the post by Filip Jorgensen and turned in by Robert Lewandowski. Even if that didn’t count as a second assist of the afternoon for the youngster, his effort was vital in producing the game-winning goal.
When he was substituted off minutes later, Lamine Yamal received a standing ovation from the La Ceramica crowd. Although he’d orchestrated what turned out to be a defeat for Villarreal, their fans understood that they’d just witnessed something special.
Xavi understood this too. In his post-match press conference, the Barca coach said of his player: “He is extraordinary. He is surprising us all and continuing to grow. The growth he showed today was impressive. He was given the start because we believe he is capable of making a difference. He is very humble, he works hard and he likes football. He is smart, and he makes good decisions. Lamine Yamal’s decision making is almost always correct and right. That’s surprising for someone who just turned 16 years old. I hope he will be here for many years at Barca because I think he is a player who can define an era, but let’s take it easy.”
It’s true that there’s a need for patience given this player’s young age, but it’s hard for Barcelona fans not to get excited about this player who has already looked so sharp in his four outings with the first team. The first of these appearances came towards the end of last season, when he was still just 15 years and 290 days old, then becoming the youngest player to feature in a La Liga match for Barca.
Raised in Mataro in Catalonia, where he was born to a father of Moroccan origin and mother of Equatorial Guinean origin, he joined La Masia at 7-a-side level and, due to the pandemic and the fact that he has always been ahead of his age, he has barely had three seasons of experience in playing 11-a-side football.
That makes what Lamine Yamal is doing all the more incredible, especially the fact that he is taking on the best defenders of La Liga without fear. As he explained after Sunday’s game: “Luckily, I don’t get scared. I try to forget about that and play football, which is what I’m good at. My mother does get nervous when I’m a starter, but she supports me a lot.”
With the support of his family, teammates and coaching staff, and the backing of the Barcelona fans, the sky is the limit for Lamine Yamal. In just his fourth senior appearance and at just 16 years of age, he has already masterminded a victory for one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Image via Fran Santiago/Getty Images
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