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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Who is Lamine Yamal? Things to know about Barcelona’s academy star

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Every now and then, Barcelona get really excited about an academy prospect.

The next player to have captivated the Camp Nou officials is 15-year-old forward Lamine Yamal, who has already caught Xavi’s eye and is a regular feature in first-team training sessions despite his tender age.

Before he becomes a household name, however, here’s a little cheat sheet for you to get to know Yamal.

Born in Catalonia, Yamal was snapped up by the Barcelona academy before his fifth birthday and has gone on to astound every coach he has worked with. Club officials devised a plan to put him out of his comfort zone to try and get the best out of him, and he is yet to slip up.

Consistently playing above his age, 15-year-old Yamal is part of the Under-19 squad and recently became the club’s youngest player in the history of the UEFA Youth League.

The next step up has been to train with Xavi’s first team. The boss has taken a real liking to Yamal and has regularly included him in the first-team setup, and reports suggest he could be the man to break Ansu Fati’s record for the youngest player in the club’s history.

Still only 15, he is not yet eligible to sign a senior contract and Barcelona will be sweating until the day he puts pen to paper.

Born in Spain to a Moroccan father and an Equatorial Guinean mother, Yamal is eligible to represent all three but has so far been focused solely on the land of his birth, representing Spain from Under-15 to Under-19 level.

He’s yet to make his senior debut, however, and is therefore still free to switch. There have been plenty of suggestions that Morocco could try and convince Yamal, but the World Cup semi-finalists have always been clear that, while they would welcome him with open arms, the decision is up to him.

“Everyone talks about him and asks if we are going to ‘steal him’ from Spain,” said Rabie Takassa, a scout for the Moroccan national team, to Cadena SER. “His technique, his vision of the game, his eye for goals… he is one of the best wingers I have ever seen in my life in academy football.

“Barcelona have a total diamond in their academy. He is a player that I love. But he is a Spanish international at youth level and we respect that. We will not force anyone. When he definitively decides to play with one country or another, the only thing to do is respect his decision.”

A left-footed right-winger, Yamal spent his youth as a striker in seven-a-side teams before transitioning to a wider role later on.

Yamal is comfortable anywhere across the forward line but thrives on the right, where his mazy dribbling skills can be maximised. Scouts see Yamal as the best dribbler in the academy across all the age groups and it’s not hard to see why. Comparisons to Neymar and Ronaldinho have been drawn.

The teenager is an impressive passer but has stood out for his eye for goal, regularly beating goalkeepers well above his age bracket with pin-point accuracy.

Whenever you talk to anybody about Yamal, it’s his technique which will come up first. The 15-year-old just gets football and has figured out how to do things that most players his age are yet to conquer.

He’s not just a proficient dribbler, but an exciting one. Yamal boasts real flair with his movements, weaving his wand of a left foot to breeze past opponents and then move on to the next phase of his game.

In the final third, Yamal’s finishing is excellent but so are his vision and footballing IQ. At every level he’s been tested at, the 15-year-old has shone.

If there is one aspect of Yamal’s game in which he has struggled, it’s his physicality. Playing above his age, the 15-year-old’s still-developing frame really does stand out.

While he’s technically impressive enough to make up for it, Yamal has nothing to offer when it comes to a shoulder-to-shoulder battle, but that’s hardly a concern for somebody his age. Muscle mass will come but, even then, it’s not the end of the world.

Barcelona are eagerly awaiting Yamal’s 16th birthday – July 13, 2023 – so they can offer him a professional contract and secure his future. He could walk away if he wants to, just like Jamal Musiala did with his move from Chelsea to Bayern Munich.

Bayern are among the sides to have been linked with Yamal, as have Liverpool and a number of other top sides, who see a slim opportunity to land potentially a generational talent for pennies.

As it stands, Barcelona are confident Yamal wants to stay and hope this first-team exposure will strengthen their case, but it’s all up in the air until he signs.

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