Wonderkid Fati: from African suburb to Barcelona’s Camp Nou

Barcelona’s Anssumane Fati faces a phalanx of Real Betis defenders at the Camp Nou. (Reuters)
Updated 20 September 2019

Wonderkid Fati: from African suburb to Barcelona’s Camp Nou

  • Fati scored just two minutes into his full La Liga debut on a magical night when he hardly put a foot wrong in front of over 80,000 astonished Camp Nou fans who gave him a standing ovation
  • In Sao Paulo, his home neighborhood in the rundown suburbs of capital Bissau, the children yell Ansu Fati, Barca player! as they run around on ochre soil, under the tropical trees

BISSAU: Ansu Fati has made a long trip from the fields of Guinea-Bissau, where he played as a child, to Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium where the 16-year-old is playing with some of the biggest stars in the world.
Fati has made a stirring start to the season, scoring just two minutes into his full La Liga debut on a magical night when he hardly put a foot wrong in front of over 80,000 astonished Camp Nou fans who gave him a standing ovation as he left the field.
He was just seven years old when he first came to Spain and his startling talent meant he was invited to join Barcelona’s prestigious youth academy ‘La Masia’ aged 10.
It was an incredible achievement for a boy from the impoverished West African nation that has never been known for football.
In Sao Paulo, his home neighborhood in the rundown suburbs of capital Bissau, the children yell “Ansu Fati, Barca player!” as they run around on ochre soil, under the tropical trees.
Malam Romisio, who coached Fati as a child, told AFP how the boy used to play football wearing only socks or plastic sandals, easily dribbling the ball past bigger, stronger teammates.
When Fati made his debut with Barca’s first team at the end of August, the coach switched his allegiance from Real Madrid.
“If he continues like this, he will be a great player,” he predicted.
In Guinea Bissau, which is one of the world’s poorest and most fragile nations, Fati is a source of national pride.
Born on October 31, 2002, he lived in Bissau until he was six.
In the house where he grew up, Fati’s uncle Djibi Fati shows photos of the footballer as a child, dressed in traditional clothes, recalling how others used to tease him for his love of bread and butter.
“Every time he came back from playing football, he would ask for it,” he recalls.
When he was still very small, his father, Bori Fati, went to Portugal to look for work, later settling near Seville in southwestern Spain.
Bori picked olives, collected empty glasses in nightclubs and even helped build a high-speed rail track, recalls Amador Saavedra, who befriended him in Herrera, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Malaga.
It was only when the Communist mayor of Marinaleda, a nearby town, hired Bori as a driver and helped him financially, that he managed to bring his young family over in 2009.
“It’s a very beautiful story,” said Saavedra, 53.
Bori ended up training his young son at the Peloteros football school, which is free for thousands of children in Herrera and the surrounding towns.
When Fati arrived he quickly caused a sensation on the football pitch, said Jordi Figaroa Moreno, his first Spanish coach.
“He had a gift,” he told AFP. “The difference between him and his teammates was just huge, both technically and tactically. Among the youngsters, it’s rare to find children who can play as a team, but he had everything.”
Jose Luis Perez Mena, who runs the Peloteros school, described Fati as “very spontaneous” and “very cheerful” as well as “extroverted, but very quiet.”
His stellar success “has not gone to his head.”
Within a year of arriving in Spain, Fati joined Sevilla. In 2012, at the age of 10, he was enrolled in Barcelona’s youth system.
“Ansu was one of the youngest players ever to have entered La Masia,” said Marc Serra, his first coach at Barcelona.
“From the day that he arrived he was different, the type of player who invents football.”
In August, the teenager became the youngest player to score for Barcelona in La Liga. This month he became the club’s youngest player in a Champions League match.
Spain’s national coach Robert Moreno described Fati’s debut for Barcelona as “mind-blowing.” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde spoke of him as a “balanced boy” who is “at ease with himself.”
“We want him to learn to know himself, to know the first division, so he sees that it is hard and how much work and dedication it will take to succeed,” he said.
Speaking to Spain’s Onda Cero radio last month, his proud father said he had taught Fati to “be respectful and happy with everyone.”
“Every day I tell him: ‘This is your job: when you have the ball, turn toward the goal, don’t look anywhere else, and just shoot.”


Bulgarian soccer chief quits after racist chants mar England game

Updated 27 min ago

Bulgarian soccer chief quits after racist chants mar England game

  • Prime Minister Boyko Borissov had called earlier for Mihaylov, a former goalkeeper and Bulgaria international, to go

SOFIA: Bulgarian soccer chief Borislav Mihaylov resigned on Tuesday after fans taunted England’s black players with Nazi salutes and monkey chants during a Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia, prompting match officials to halt the game twice.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov had called earlier for Mihaylov, a former goalkeeper and Bulgaria international, to go.
The fallout from what English FA chairman Greg Clarke described as “probably one of the most appalling nights I have seen in football” also triggered calls for urgent action from anti-racism campaigners and politicians.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said European governing body UEFA — the tournament organizers — needed to do more to tackle “vile” racism.
The issue has long been a blight on European soccer, with racist incidents during matches reported sporadically and abuse levelled at players on social media.
UEFA, the administrative body for the sport in Europe, had already ordered the partial closure of Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium for the England game after racist behavior by Bulgarian supporters in June’s qualifiers against the Czechs and Kosovo.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said that soccer could not solve the problem on its own, and politicians must play a greater role.
“Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honor will we make progress,” the Slovenian said in a statement.
FIFA, the global governing body for soccer, threatened to extend punishments levelled against sides globally in light of events at the match in the Bulgarian capital.
“FIFA may extend worldwide any sanctions that a Confederation or Member Association imposes for racist incidents, such as those which occurred in Sofia during the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifier match between Bulgaria and England,” the Zurich-based organization said.
Monday’s match was temporarily halted by the Croatian referee under a three-step UEFA protocol, but the stoppage did not go far enough for some anti-racism activists who felt the England players should have walked off.
Anti-racism organization Kick It Out said UEFA’s existing sanctions were not fit for purpose and called for Bulgaria to be booted out.
“There can be no more pitiful fines or short stadium bans. If UEFA care at all about tackling discrimination — and if the Equal Game campaign means anything — then points deductions and tournament expulsion must follow,” it said.
UEFA said it had opened disciplinary proceedings against Bulgaria on a number of charges including racist behavior and the throwing of objects.
England were also charged for disruption of the national anthem and an insufficient number of traveling stewards.
Mihaylov had previously defended Bulgarian soccer from accusations of racism and criticized England for what he saw as a “fixation” on potential incidents that could raise tension.
His departure came just hours after a Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) spokesman said Mihaylov would not resign because the state had no right to interfere in football.
A later statement said that Mihaylov’s formal resignation would be presented to the Executive Committee on Friday.
“His position is a consequence of recent tensions; an environment that is detrimental to Bulgarian football and the Bulgarian Football Union,” it said.
Reuters was not able to reach Mihaylov by telephone on Tuesday.
More than 20 police officers swept into the (BFU) headquarters on Tuesday afternoon.
But the Bulgarian chief prosecutor’s spokeswoman said that the operation was part of an investigation conducted by the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, and so not directly related to the racism row.
“It’s about crimes against sport,” Rumyana Arnaudova told Reuters. “We’re talking about corruption offenses, connected to the work of the BFU’s referee commission and the appointment of referees on football matches.
“The investigation is still under way and it’s too early to say if there’ll be some arrests.”
Mihaylov, captain of the Bulgarian national team that made it to the World Cup semifinals in 1994, has been heavily criticized by local media and soccer fans for failing to lead the BFU out of years of corruption and controversy.
Bulgaria have failed to qualify for a major tournament since 2004, while Mihaylov’s tenure has been marred by allegations of cronyism. He has denied such allegations in the past.
There have been widespread reports of match-fixing in Bulgaria in recent years but little in the way of progress in holding anyone accountable.