Fans of the Football Manager franchise will be all too familiar with this scenario. Picture it: You’re in the midst of guiding Ross County to UEFA Champions League glory when you stumble upon something rather bizarre in the game that simply defies the laws of reality.
“Wait a minute, Ansu Fati is signing with Brighton and Hove Albion? Now that’s one peculiar simulation twist!”
Then it dawns on you that you actually paused the game an hour ago, and here you are, scrolling through your social media feed in the not-so-virtual world.
Yes, you read that right. Barcelona’s very own sensation, Ansu Fati – once hailed as the rightful successor to Lionel Messi – is apparently en route to Brighton on a season-long loan deal.
The question that arises is not so much about Fati’s potential interest in joining Brighton. After all, everyone has witnessed the remarkable ascent of the club in recent times, consistently showcasing some of the most captivating football in Europe under the guidance of Roberto De Zerbi.
What’s truly intriguing is why Barcelona is permitting this young star to depart Camp Nou, even if it’s just a temporary arrangement.
Cast your mind back to August 25, 2019 – a day etched in history. At the tender age of 16, Fati was granted his debut in the first-team by Ernesto Valverde, facing off against Real Betis. This made him, at that moment, the second-youngest debutant in the club’s history. But that was just the beginning. A mere six days later, he found the back of the net against Osasuna, becoming Barcelona’s youngest-ever goal scorer and the third-youngest in La Liga history. The meteoric rise was undeniable.
In only his third appearance, Ansu Fati found himself in the starting lineup against Valencia, and what a memorable match it turned out to be. In a thrilling 5-2 victory, Fati wasted no time, slotting the ball into the net within just two minutes. Not content with just that, he went on to provide an assist for Frenkie de Jong a mere five minutes later. This extraordinary feat made him not only the youngest player to both score and assist in a La Liga game but also the youngest to score at the iconic Camp Nou stadium.
His incredible journey continued just three days later when he took the field against Borussia Dortmund. In doing so, Fati etched his name into the history books once more, becoming the youngest player ever to represent Barcelona in the prestigious Champions League.
And the record-breaking didn’t stop there. In their following group game against Inter, Fati came off the bench and, with a touch of magic, netted the winning goal. This remarkable achievement crowned him as the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Champions League. Ansu Fati’s rise to stardom was nothing short of breathtaking.
Ansu Fati’s Rollercoaster Journey: From Record-Breaking Beginnings to Injury Setbacks and Tactical Shifts
International football was beckoning for Ansu Fati, and he didn’t disappoint. He became Spain’s youngest player since 1936 when he graced the field against Germany. Not stopping there, he etched his name in history as Spain’s youngest-ever goalscorer, delivering the goods in a resounding 4-0 triumph over Ukraine.
The intrigue around Fati continued to grow. Some speculated that he might have also become the youngest scorer in El Clásico history when he netted a goal during a 3-1 home defeat to Real Madrid in October 2020. However, there was a debate about whether Alfonso Navarro achieved this feat three days younger back in 1947. Regardless, it was undeniable that the world had its eyes on Fati, and his potential seemed limitless.
But then, fate took a cruel twist. In a match against Betis in November 2020, the same team he had made his debut against, Fati suffered a devastating injury—a ruptured inner meniscus in his left knee, caused by a challenge from Aïssa Mandi. His road to recovery was far from smooth, requiring not one but four surgeries and nearly 11 months before he could return to the pitch. When he finally did, he did so wearing Messi’s iconic number 10 shirt, an immense symbol of trust and responsibility.
Unsurprisingly, Fati marked his return with a goal within just 10 minutes of coming off the bench against Levante. However, the remainder of his 2021-22 campaign was marred by recurrent injuries, leading to a start-stop pattern in his career.
The 2022-23 season began on a positive note, with Fati making a notable impact against Real Sociedad. He became the first Barcelona player in the 21st century to directly contribute to three goals in a league away game as a substitute (one goal and two assists). Throughout the previous season, he made 51 appearances, but only 14 of those were as a starter, often playing second fiddle to players like Ousmane Dembélé and Gavi in the frontline alongside Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha.
Fati still managed to contribute with 10 goals and three assists, aiding Barcelona in securing La Liga. However, keen observers noted that he appeared to be dribbling less frequently than before. While his explosive pace remained, it seemed tempered, possibly due to a lack of trust in his body post-injury.
In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 5.1 dribbles per 90 minutes, but this dropped to 3.3 per 90 in the last season. His dribble success rate, though, remained consistent, hovering around 42.3% in 2019-20 and 42.4% in 2022-23.
Furthermore, Fati evolved into a more goal-hungry player post-injury. Before his knee injury, he averaged 3.1 shots per 90 for Barcelona, a number that rose to 4.5 shots per 90 since his return in September 2021. However, his creative contributions dipped slightly from 1.4 chances created from open play per 90 pre-injury to 1.0 after his comeback.
Despite his involvement in attacking sequences, Fati faced challenges in convincing Xavi to grant him regular starts.
The ongoing season has brought with it a persistent lack of confidence from his manager. Ansu Fati’s playing time has been a mere shadow of what one might expect, featuring in just three substitute appearances that barely added up to 47 minutes. The twist of irony lies in the fact that the spotlight has shifted to 16-year-old prodigy Lamine Yamal. This emerging wonderkid recently etched his name in the record books as the youngest player to provide an assist in La Liga for Barcelona in the 21st century, surpassing Fati’s previous achievement.
Given these circumstances, it should come as no great shock that both Barcelona and Fati have reportedly come to a mutual agreement. This arrangement entails Fati’s temporary move to the Premier League for the remainder of the current campaign, signaling a significant shift in his career trajectory.
Where Exactly Does He Slot into the Brighton Setup?
Reports indicate that the potential loan agreement doesn’t come with an option for Brighton to make the deal permanent. Instead, they will shoulder a substantial 80% of Ansu Fati’s sizeable wages. This arrangement strongly suggests that Fati is intended to be a prominent figure in their lineup. However, the intriguing twist lies in the fact that arguably Brighton’s standout player currently occupies the same role.
Kaoru Mitoma has been nothing short of spectacular since his return from a loan stint at Union Saint-Gilloise. He’s been a dribbling sensation in the Premier League, boasting an average of 4.8 dribbles per game since the previous season, with a success rate of 48.5%. Not only has he dazzled with his dribbling, but he’s also contributed significantly with eight goals and seven assists.
A glance at our player comparison reveals some intriguing differences between Fati and Mitoma. Fati, known for his direct style, registers more shots on goal, attempting twice as many as Mitoma. In contrast, the Japan international excels in creating chances for his teammates. This sets the stage for an interesting dynamic in the Brighton lineup.
One might make the case that either of them could potentially adapt to the right flank, but it’s worth noting that neither has significant experience in that position. Ansu Fati did occasionally take up the role of a central striker under Xavi’s management last season, accounting for 22% of his La Liga playing time. However, Brighton also boasts the promising talents of Evan Ferguson and the substantial £30 million acquisition João Pedro, both of whom add further depth and competition to the mix. The challenge of finding the right position for each player becomes increasingly intricate as Brighton assesses its options.
Roberto De Zerbi’s squad faces the exciting challenge of a UEFA Europa League campaign, which undoubtedly promises ample playing time for Ansu Fati. The absence of a purchase option in the deal with Brighton suggests that Barcelona might still have faith in his potential to rediscover his best form. Presumably, they’re hoping that Brighton’s knack for nurturing talent, as seen with players like Marc Cucurella, Alexis Mac Allister, Moisés Caicedo, and Mitoma in recent years, can work its magic on Fati as well.
While it might have been somewhat unjust to place the label of ‘the next Messi’ on Fati (perhaps he can carve out his unique path, reminiscent of a Glenn Murray?), one thing is for certain – the upcoming year promises to be an intriguing chapter in his career, and it’s equally captivating for us as spectators. Who knows? This move to Brighton could very well mark the beginning of Fati’s journey back to realizing his incredible potential.