When Barca youngster Gavi burst onto the scene at San Siro

By Sports Desk October 03, 2022

When Gavi made his international debut for Spain in October 2021, most onlookers would have been asking who this fresh-faced teen was.

By the end of the game, they were still asking that, but armed with the knowledge that whoever he was, he was astonishingly good at football for someone born a month after Greece had beaten Portugal in the Euro 2004 final.

Pablo Martin Paez Gavira made his La Roja debut against Italy in the Nations League at San Siro aged just 17 years and 62 days, becoming Spain's youngest-ever player, taking the record from Angel Zubieta, who had debuted in 1936.

Head coach Luis Enrique popped the Barcelona midfielder in from the start against Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella, and not only did he hold his own, he was arguably the best player on the pitch as Spain won 2-1 to end the Azzurri's 37-game undefeated streak.

Almost a year on from that night in Milan, Gavi will return to San Siro with Barca to take on Inter in the Champions League having established himself as a vital cog for both club and country, despite only turning 18 in August.

He recently signed a new contract at Camp Nou with a €1billion release clause, and Stats Perform has taken a look at what it is that makes Gavi not just the future for Barcelona and Spain, but also the present.

From school to Cule

Remarkably, Gavi had only made four starts for Barca before getting the nod for his country in that crucial Nations League game, showing the early impact made.

His debut for the Blaugrana came just over three weeks after his 17th birthday in the 2-1 home win against Getafe, before making his first start in a 0-0 draw away at Cadiz.

Barca may have been struggling at the time under Ronald Koeman, but the development of Gavi and Pedri as the potential future of their midfield reminded fans of the halcyon days of Xavi and Andres Iniesta dictating play for them.

It was therefore fitting that Xavi actually came back as head coach, and not only did it improve the team's fortunes, but it cemented Gavi's place even further and guaranteed he would be getting guidance from one of the best of all time in his position.

Naturally, given his inexplicably young age, the not-quite-a-man from Los Palacios y Villafranca continued to set records, or at least come close to breaking them.

His appearance at Cadiz at 17 years and 49 days made him the second-youngest player to make his first start for the club in the 21st century in LaLiga, only behind team-mate Ansu Fati (16 years and 318 days).

At 17 years and 80 days, Gavi became the youngest player to start his first Clasico in the 21st century, breaking the previous record held by Pedri set just a year prior.

Then he set another record for his country, but only just, aged 17 years and 304 days, he netted against the Czech Republic to become the youngest player to score for Spain in a competitive game, beating the mark Fati set previously by just one week.

Overall in his debut campaign, Gavi made 47 appearances for Barca (36 starts), helping them to finish second in LaLiga.

This season he has featured in all seven of their league games, as well as both Champions League clashes against Viktoria Plzen and Bayern Munich.

Arguably his most impressive achievement so far, though, remains that performance against an elite Italy midfield that had just won the Euros.

Another Barella challenge

He will come face-to-face with one of those midfielders again on Tuesday, as Barella and Inter welcome Barca to Milan.

Barella has emerged as one of the finest midfielders in Europe in the last few years, playing a key role in the Nerazzurri's Serie A title win in 2021.

Comparisons have been made between the Italian and Gavi, which may not make Barella feel all that good considering it makes him the veteran of the debate at the age of 25.

Their well-rounded performances in the middle of the park at club and international level are well-known, but just how do they compare?

Looking at the stats for their clubs last season, Barella made 48 appearances in all competitions for Inter while Gavi made 47 for Barca, albeit the former made 47 starts compared to 36 for the teenager.

Barella had 16 goal involvements (four goals, 12 assists), while Gavi had seven (two goals, five assists), and the Italian was more of a threat in attack generally, creating 81 chances from open play compared to 25 from the Spaniard.

He was also more involved on the ball, averaging 55.84 passes per 90 minutes against 45.15, though Gavi did boast a higher success rate, with 89.23 per cent of his passes finding a team-mate against 85.44 per cent from Barella.

The Inter man had a better tackle success rate of 59.77 per cent to 49.77 per cent, but the Barca youngster claimed more interceptions (32 to 29) despite playing fewer minutes.

The impressively combative nature of Gavi is also clear when comparing, as he committed 91 fouls to Barella's 37, which might not sound ideal but for a team that attacks as high as Barca do, tactical fouls are often vital to prevent swift counters.

It appears Barella has the edge on Gavi at the moment as an overall package, but that is hardly a surprise given the latter is more than seven years younger.

How their meeting goes at club level this week will be truly fascinating to observe, especially if Barella recalls their Nations League clash.

It could be argued that Gavi continues to be underrated by some.

With fellow prodigies Pedri and Fati also featuring regularly for Barca and Spain, while being more of a visible goal threat than Gavi, it is easy for him to get a bit lost in all the praise, though it does not seem to be slowing down his growth as a player.

In late August, Gavi made his 50th appearance for Barcelona, becoming the first LaLiga player born in 2003 or later to reach this figure across all competitions.

With his long-term future tied to the Catalan giants and with one of the greatest midfielders the game has ever seen guiding him, the sky really is the limit.

People will certainly know who he is when he takes to the field at San Siro on Tuesday.

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