Ansu Fati takes Lionel Messi’s number 10 at Barcelona
There are mixed opinions on the new number 10 at Barcelona, but this might be the club’s solution to move on after a tough summer.
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Playing at one of the most successful soccer clubs in history like FC Barcelona is a high honor for any player, but 18-year-old talent Ansu Fati will now have to deal with the pressure of vesting the shirt number of club legend Lionel Messi.
He was given his new shirt after a training session on Sept. 1. Fati previously sported the numbers 22 and 17 on his back.
The Argentine forward wore the number 10 shirt in La Liga since 2008, inheriting it from Brazilian midfielder Ronaldinho.
Messi had to leave this summer and joined Paris Saint-Germain because the team from Catalonia had a debt that topped $1.6 billion and were unable to re-sign him after his contract expired.
It was revealed that his previous contract at the club saw earning around $168.5 million per year from 2017 to 2021.
The 34-year-old was in tears during a press conference when he announced he was leaving the institution he had been at since 2001.
Some fans were angered by this departure because they believe that if the recent Copa America winner truly loved Barcelona then he would have stayed and played for free.
Spanish law prohibits employees from agreeing to new contracts that offer them less than half of their previous earnings.
Messi did agree to a five-year deal that gave him a 50% pay cut, but the club’s financial structure was in such a dire state that they could not complete the agreement.
“Our salaries represent 103% of the club’s total income. That’s 20% to 25% more than our competitors,” said Barcelona President Joan Laporta early last month. “We have found ourselves in a difficult situation to renegotiate the players’ contracts.”
Like Messi, Fati is also a product of the Barcelona youth academy called La Masia.
He was born in Guinea-Bissau, but has represented the Spanish national team at both youth and senior levels.
The young winger would have featured for “La Roja” at the Euros or Olympic Games this Summer had he not been recovering from three surgeries after enduring a blow to his meniscus back in November 2020. He is expected to return to full fitness later this month.
Fati burst on to the season during the 2019-2020 season, racking up 33 appearances in all competitions and scoring eight times.
In his time in Catalonia he has broken numerous league records.
At 16, he became FC Barcelona’s youngest goal scorer and second youngest debutant. In La Liga, he is recognized as the youngest player to score a brace in a match.
This might seem more impressive than Messi’s first season in the senior squad during the 2004-2005 campaign when he was 17, but that might be an unfair comparison.
In that season, he was limited to seven league appearances and netted one goal, but Barcelona was also experiencing a golden age, and breaking into the first 11 was more difficult for a youngster.
Messi was competing with legends of the game like Henrik Larsson, Deco and Samuel Eto’o for a starting spot.
He was not given a proper run of games until two seasons later, and then he more than doubled Fati’s best scoring tally. The eventual Barcelona captain scored 17 goals in 36 appearances across all competitions that season.
In Fati’s debut campaign, he had a shorter road to being a consistent element of the club’s lineup.
French winger Ousmane Dembélé proved to be an expensive injury-prone signing and Neymar’s supposed replacement, Philippe Coutinho, was loaned out to Bayern Munich in Germany.
By the time Messi took the number 10 shirt from Ronaldinho, he already had four seasons under his belt while Fati only had one and some change.
This is part of the reason as to why some fans are upset by the change, but there is also the argument for the club to retire the number for a few years or permanently given Messi’s contributions.
He is the team’s all-time top goal scorer and led the team to 10 La Liga and four Champions League titles.
1998 World Cup winner with France Frank Leboeuf told his colleagues on ESPN FC that he does not think retiring Messi’s number was necessary and welcomed the transition.
“We’re not in America. We don’t work like that. It’s an American habit and it is not in our world of football,” he said. “It’s hard to be just behind Messi but it’s a way to see another era and to see that nobody is eternal.”
Maybe the club hierarchy at FC Barcelona wanted to give the number 10 shirt to another player quickly, so the institution and fanbase could start to forget their worst Summer transfer window, which saw them lose an icon.
Even if Messi’s former team never retired a number before, four other teams in Spain have.
This is a very common gesture in Italy for club legends, and Napoli famously retired the number 10 shirt for Diego Maradona.
Performances across the next couple of seasons will dictate if Fati does the number justice or if the pressure of wearing it will get to him.
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