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Meet Lamine Yamal, the 16-year-old who is betting his future on Spain and FC Barcelona


These are unusual and fast-moving times in international football, but is there anything more eye-opening than how the sport's most talked-about player in the past few weeks has turned just 16?

Since Barcelona's El Clasico defeat to Real Madrid, Lamine Yamal has been in the spotlight more than some players in their careers.

And yet, as with everything else the Spanish soccer lad does, he seems to handle it effortlessly and in stride, just as he does when he runs with the ball at his feet.

Yamal is quite busy. On 21 April, he “scored” the most famous goal of his new career by touching the ball over the line at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.

What quickly became known as the “ghost goal” was disallowed, becoming one of the most infamous modern incidents in Spain's most historic rivalry. Barcelona club president Joan Laporta, seemingly furious with the team's fan base after multiple (and ultimately fraudulent) angles that the goal should have stood, threatened legal action to overturn the result.

Laporta's outburst was probably just posturing, although La Liga chiefs' decision to eschew goal-line technology still boggles the mind, and in any case, subsequent high-tech analysis suggests the camera angles created a false illusion.

However, this was merely the latest example of Yamal seemingly being the focus of every current discussion, with another controversy brewing with him as well as growing rumblings of a potential transfer that would test the current world record fee.

Unless Spain reach the finals of the Euros this summer, all of Yamal's appearances at the tournament will come before his 17th birthday. Given his rapid development, it is widely believed that for Spain to get this far, he will have to shine.

“There are footballers who can knock on doors in front of others,” Spain head coach Luis de la Fuente told reporters in October. “Remember when (Lionel) Messi or (Diego) Maradona played at 16? It seems insulting to debate whether they should play at 16 now.

“You don't have to set limits for players like that.”

The rise of teenagers to football's biggest stage is not entirely unprecedented. As de la Fuente points out, the youthful brilliance of Messi and Maradona became part of football folklore and still is.

At Euro 2004, Wayne Rooney, aged just 17, proved largely unstoppable for opposition defences, and had he not been injured early in the quarter-finals, many believe England might have won the tournament.

Yamal's progress shows little for convention or the record books.

He holds the record for being La Liga's youngest goalscorer, Barcelona's youngest first team player and youngest starter. He broke Gareth Bale's mark for becoming the youngest man to play and score for Spain and the youngest to score in Euro qualification.

He is doing things at a truly elite level, for one of the best teams in the world, and this summer will arguably be the first or second most important player for a national team that is fourth-favourite to win the Euros.

Again, he is 16 years old.

A stunning rise at this age is a phenomenon largely unknown in American sports, except in extremely rare cases. Both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were much talked about as teenagers; James fronted the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, while Bryant took pop star Brandi Norwood to her high school prom.

But the hype was mainly for what they would deliver in the future rather than what they were achieving at the moment.

Yamal was thrown into La Liga's nest of vipers before he turned 16, making his debut for Barca at 15 years, nine months and 16 days, and has exceeded anyone's realistic expectations.

The next installment of the Yamal Chatterverse centers around a heated discussion about how to best utilize him this summer in Spain. Originally, a spot on the Olympic Games roster seemed like a fine option, given that the tournament was originally restricted to players 23 and under.

However, Yamal's performances for the entire senior national team indicate that he will not only go to the Euros, but will be a key part of the action. When it was said he could make both the Euros and the Olympics, with the Games scheduled for August, cries of condemnation about possible overuse were quickly heard.

“It would be a big mistake to call up any player for two competitions,” former Barcelona youth star Bojan Kricic told Sport. “There are many people in many regions who need to understand that they are children, players who are developing, and what we have to do is that they can play in many European championships and Olympic Games (in the future).”

Barcelona's midfield sensation Pedri was just 18 when he took part in the Olympics just two weeks after being named young player of the tournament at the Euros, having struggled with injuries for the season since.

Recent reports from Spain indicate that a deal between Barcelona in which Yamal and 17-year-old teammate Pau Kuberci will be exempted from Olympic duty is close to being finalised.

Yamal's power is such that the idea of ​​Barca selling him is unthinkable under normal circumstances. However, the club's precarious financial situation has fueled rumors that cash-strapped Paris Saint-Germain could pay more than $248 million for Neymar in 2017.

What a whirlwind Yamal suddenly finds himself in, with such figures and seven million followers on Instagram before he's even old enough to appear in the FIFA 24 video game.

According to Spanish AS Diario, Lamal's agent Jorge Mendes, who has had a healthy working relationship with PSG for several years, told the French club that no matter how desperate Barca's financial woes become, parting with Lamal would only be exercised as a last resort. Resort

No wonder.

Forget age, football has a new superstar, capable of inspiring any new challenge that crosses his path.

He can't seem to avoid the headlines, but no controversy bothers him. Despite being only 16, or perhaps because of it – who knows?

Martin Rogers is a columnist for Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX And Daily newsletter subscription.


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