Ansu Fati’s Chance for Redemption at Brighton

In what has become one of the most spoken-about deals of the 2023 Summer transfer window, Brighton and Hove Albion reaffirmed their status as one of the Premier League’s most desirable locations with the capture of Barcelona’s immensely talented Anssumane Fati Vieira. 


Commonly known as Ansu Fati, the 20-year-old Spanish international holds one of the most remarkable backstories in the game, having previously been declared as the heir to Lionel Messi’s footballing throne in La Liga. But, an array of injuries and sporadic playing time has limited the attacker’s growth, with frustration the primary topic for the Guinea-Bissau-born sensation. 


However, despite several stumbling blocks that could easily dislodge the development of many players, Fati is determined to rekindle his undeniable talents. Under the tutelage of the highly respected Roberto De Zerbi, fans of the world’s most competitive league are but days away from witnessing his Premier League debut against Manchester United.


Before diving into the player’s skill set, metrics, and what he brings to Brighton, it is imperative to understand why there is so much hype around this twinkle-toed boy. As mentioned above, Fati was born in Guinea-Bissau and did not move to Spain until he was six. His father, also a footballer, moved to Portugal in an attempt to pursue his career. He later moved to Spain and settled in a quaint town near Seville. 


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Shortly after Fati and his family followed his father to Spain, the player began to develop a name in the region while playing for his local club, Herrara. His talents caught the attention of Spanish giants Sevilla, and he joined their illustrious youth academy in 2010 at the age of eight. Two years later, he would team up with Barcelona to become the latest talent to enter the iconic ‘La Masia’. 


The attacker quickly took to the nature of the academy and developed a reputation as an elite dribbler with the ability to occupy any position in the attacking line. His speed, size, and confidence, attributed to his sensational ball control, and a sense of belief shone in every attacking phase. 


Such was his ability that he progressed through the age ranks and often lined out against older players. On 24 July 2019, his talents earned a first professional contract, with his first senior appearance coming a month later on 25 August – before he had even featured for the reserve side. 


The late substitute appearance against La Liga rivals Real Betis, aged 16 years and 298 days, solidified him as the second-youngest player to debut for the club after Vicenç Martínez in 1941. Six days later, he scored his first professional goal against Osasuna, aged 16 years and 304 days, becoming the youngest goalscorer in Barcelona’s decorated history. 


Astonishingly, only two weeks later, he became the youngest player in La Liga history to score and assist in the same game, aged 16 years and 318 days, in a home victory against Valencia. He would appear in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund three days later, becoming the youngest player to feature for the club in the tournament.



Fittingly, on 10 December, aged 17 years and 40 days, Fati hit the game-winner in a Champions League victory against Inter Milan at the San Siro, etching his name into record books as the youngest goalscorer in the competition history. In a remarkable opening campaign, the boy dubbed as a possible heir to Messi notched eight goals and one assist in only 33 appearances. Phenomenally, he achieved all of this before his 18th birthday. 


On 23 September 2020, he was officially promoted to Barcelona’s first team and began his second season in imperious form – winning the September Player of the Month award in La Liga. His club performances returned a senior call-up to the Spanish National team for the UEFA Nations League in August. He would register a goal and assist against Ukraine, solidifying his name as the hottest prospect in European football. 


On 7 November, Fati sustained an injury during a fixture against Real Betis and would miss nine months of football following surgery for a torn meniscus in his knee. In what was later documented by various publications, Barcelona’s medical staff allocated a double session per day following his initial surgery. 


That advice went against the specialist’s recommendations – with guidance for a solitary session following an initial recovery period. Subsequently, the resulting inflammation led to three more surgical procedures and the possibility of recurring injuries in the footballer’s future. 


Following a 323-day absence due to injury, Fati would return to the Barcelona first-team with a cameo appearance against Levante on 26 September 2021, scoring within minutes of entering the field. Frustratingly, precautionary measures toward his knee injury saw him sidelined after only two appearances. 


A stop/start campaign would yield further frustration, with the talented attacker suffering a hamstring injury in a Copa del Ray clash with Athletic Bilbao in January 2022. This latest setback would see the superstar out of action for three months while he attempted to regain full fitness. 


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Momentum plays a fundamental role in the development of any young footballer, with the character of Ansu Fati tested beyond measure. An array of injuries have seen the player struggle to solidify a place in Xavi’s first team. Following his return in May 2022, his game time has decreased as he battles to win over the manager. 


With Gavi and Pedri, alongside Raphinha and Ousmane Dembélé, Barcelona’s attacking line was predominantly built around a settled fulcrum, meaning Fati saw a reduction in his minutes and far fewer chances than in previous seasons to cement his name amongst the best in Europe.


Fast forward to the present day, and the player sealed a season-long loan move to the youthful and exhilarating Brighton side of De Zerbi. While the deal does not include an option to make the switch permanent, it will allow the player to test himself in an unfamiliar setting – while rebuilding his stock toward his return to the Spanish giants. 


This Seagulls plays a brand of football that has elevated them into the conversation for the sides seeking qualification for the Champions League. It is a squad brimming with confidence in their ability, as they showcase an attacking strategy with expansive and commanding transitions. 


The arrival of one of Spain’s brightest talents offers a new dynamic, with a player providing an electric base level with an undeniable skillset easily transferrable to his new side. So how will he fit into one of English football’s most promising sides? 


Player Analysis: Igor


Fati has started 81% of his senior games as a left winger. His ability to occupy the flank while utilising his scintillating dribbling skillset has terrified opposition defenders, with a dogged desire to attack his primary aim. Additionally, his positional sense is exceptional, and his versatility across the attacking line has remained a regular feature from his time at La Masia. He has averaged over 10 progressive passes received per game throughout his La Liga career, with a leading figure of 16.39 per game during the 2019-20 campaign. 


His versatility will be a requirement from his new manager as he steps into a side that has seen attacking starlet Julio Enciso ruled out for an unspecified period. Like Fati, Enciso began his career as a wide player and earned plaudits for his dribbling and ability to chase into the channels, creating overloads in the attack. 


However, under De Zerbi, the Paraguayan has often been utilised in the number ten role, with his movement and finishing ability exploited with devastating results. News of his injury setback sent shockwaves through the Seagull’s support, having witnessed the departures of Moisés Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister during the window. 


But the arrival of Fati received widespread applause, and supporters recognised the promise of a natural goalscorer to help with the burden of loss. The Spanish international achieved a remarkable conversion rate of 21% at the age of 16 in his opening season. He grew with his duties at the club and achieved an average conversion rate of 25% throughout his predominant seasons at Barca. 


Kaoru Mitoma and Evan Ferguson are a pair of the game’s most sought-after talents. In Mitoma, Brighton has a uniquely stylistic winger who offers flair, trickery and a forward-thinking approach down the left flank. In Ferguson, the club has an 18-year-old prodigy, setting the Premier League alight with performances that resemble a player far beyond his years. 


Solly March will often occupy the right wing for De Zerbi, and he offers an alternative dynamic – but one that is every bit effective. It is a joyful attacking dynamic that buys into the philosophies of Barcelona. At its heart is a control-based strategy that implements maximum pressure in the final third. 


At 20 years of age, the boy from Bissau will enter the fray as a rather big fish with a pedigree unlike anything the Seagulls have experienced. The starlet who has been put on a platform to replicate the art form of the great Lionel Messi will take his talents to the most-watched league in world football. 


Having fought off adversity through early childhood and endured several frustrating injury setbacks, he now faces an integration into a side cultivating worldwide acclaim. This latest chapter will be fascinating as his journey begins at the Theatre of Dreams against Manchester United – faith, some may say. 


As Samuel Eto’o once said, “He’s already doing fantastic things. I really hope the club takes good care of him, and let’s hope he is the one to take over from Messi.” While some may view this loan move as a step back in his career, the majority will argue that it is the perfect platform to accelerate his growth and rekindle the dazzling dribbling of that fearless 16-year-old boy. 


By: Shaun Connolly / @shaunconnolly85

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Steve Bardens / Getty Images

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