Madrid, Nov 21, 2022 (AFP) – Gavi has just turned 18, but his journey from the dusty playing fields of Andalusia to starring Barcelona and now the World Cup bears all the hallmarks of a great potential.
“He still thinks he’s in the playground,” joked his father Pablo Paez, when asked about the irresistible rise of a boy playing with his shoelaces undone and his tongue firmly stuck in his cheek.
A combative and urgent presence on the pitch, Gavi tackles challenges with the work-rate of a midfield ax man, but on the ball delivers the creativity the world demands of a Barcelona playmaker.
“Nobody can say they don’t like Gavi,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique, who has accelerated the teenager’s international career.
The youngster who took to the stage at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris to receive the Kopa Trophy for the best young player in the world in October is the same player remembered by his first coach.
At the La Liara Balompie sports club 30 kilometers south of Seville, Manuel Basco, known as Batalla, remembers a boy “reserved, introverted, but a joker” who “already had this habit with his tongue. I believe that Pablo does not will never lose him,” he told AFP.
As he rummages through his phone and examines Gavi’s faded photos, Batalla, now 64, narrows his eyes and purses his lips.
“He stayed with us for two years, from six to eight. Then (Real) Betis saw him play, and boom, they took him,” recalls the coach, who continued to follow his prodigy during his stay in Seville.
“Eight out of 10”
But he couldn’t follow the starlet’s progress for long. In 2013, while Betis were playing in a tournament in the Algarve, Barca scouts spotted an 11-year-old Gavi, who was voted the tournament’s best player and flew to Catalonia.
“At a young age, he wasn’t always the most amazing player on the pitch, but he was always very consistent. He was rarely worth nine out of 10, but always eight out of 10,” said a United States-based scout. Spain for a Premier League club told AFP.
Even her own parents struggled to keep up with her rapid rise to fame. His father, who ran a bar in the village of Los Palacios y Villafranca, was hired as a handyman at Betis when his son was recruited there.
Then they decided to move to Barcelona at the start of their son’s trip to La Masia, a bet for an 11-year-old boy who was already very confident.
“Don’t worry. I’ll already be signed up for a big club when I’m 12,” Batalla told his parents.
His former Barca youth coach Franc Artiga, currently U20 coach of the United Arab Emirates, told AFP that as a teenager Gavi’s competitive spirit was such that defeats brought him to tears.
“The competition motivates him more than anything,” Julen Guerrero, coach of the Spanish under-17 team, told AFP.
“When the pitch was small, bumpy, the game intense and difficult, most players struggled. Gavi, he loved it,” Guerrero said.
Even today, he has trouble sleeping before and after games. But despite these flashes of anxiety, Gavi has kept a close bond with La Masia. When he started for the first team and the national team at 17, he was still living in the same small room provided by Barca.
However, his daily life has changed. He extended his contract with Barca until 2026 with an astronomical release clause of one billion euros and is driven to train by his teammates in luxury vehicles.
But he often stops for the fans and returns regularly to see his former teammates’ progress with Barcelona’s second channel.
Gavi is just getting started but his career has accelerated in the space of a few months at a dizzying pace. His professional debut, La Liga, the Champions League. Then the Spanish national team, where he became the youngest player to score for his country.
And now he is one of their main heroes and big hopes at the Qatar World Cup.